Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Planning a Visit: Foiling the Criminals' Plans

I'm not an experienced world traveler. In fact, my international expeditions thus far in life have all taken place in Canada (which, honestly, is no different than being in the USA). I've heard stories from friends and loved ones about their travel experiences, though, and there is no shortage of anecdotes online. These, of course, are sprinkled with a healthy dose of horror stories--being mugged, being kidnapped, losing your passport and not being able to return home. All of this has made me very wary over the years of branching out in my destinations of choice.

Now, however, I find myself faced with the prospect of visiting not only one, but TWO very different countries: Guatemala next spring, and the Philippines in a year and a half.

What I'm most worried about is having my money, credit card and passport stolen. I'm inordinately afraid of pickpockets even here in the US (at Universal Studios, for example, I walk with my hands in my pockets so that I can be physically touching my money), and I've heard how much worse it is overseas. The easiest and most appealing solution that has been offered to me thus far is to carry everything in one of those under-your-shirt money belts. I've heard, though, that they can be quite bulky and uncomfortable, so I was curious which brand was the most preferred and what other options I might have. Tonight, I sat down to research my options in that regard.

The first thing I came across was actually an actual belt ... at least, at first glance. This has a hidden zippered compartment inside for storing money, a driver's license, a credit card, and even a single key. This option appeals to me, because I would wear a belt anyway--no added, uncomfortable bulk under my clothes required. Plus, it's just fun! I'd feel like James Bond--just a little bit!--with my Top Secret Compartment Belt. The downside is that it's obviously not big enough to carry my passport or boarding pass. In the US, I would just leave these things in my hotel room. Overseas ... not so much.

So I searched on, and found a wallet that's large enough to hold my passport, ticket, credit cards, money, and a partridge in a pear tree. As a bonus, it also blocks RFID,  thereby preventing technologically-savvy criminals from obtaining your electronically-stored information. It folds in half and hangs from a lanyard, which allows you to wear it around your neck and tuck it inside your shirt. While it's certainly safe from being pick-pocketed there, it's not in any way secret--people are gonna see it, and unscrupulous fellows will know that it holds your treasured goodies. This, experienced travelers warn, makes you a more tempting target for muggers. Ack!

Not satisfied with that option, I continued to search and came across the Hidden Pocket by Eagle Creek. Large enough for money, credit cards and passport, it hooks to your belt and then tucks inside your pants! That made me think it would be uncomfortable, but the reviews on almost unanimously agree that it's soft, light, and you hardly realize you're wearing it. And as long as your pants aren't super skin-tight, no one else can tell you're wearing it, either. Sounds like a winner to me!

So, after carefully considering the various options, I think I will probably go with both the belt and the hidden pocket. That way I can split my money and cards up, so even if one of my anti-pick-pocket devices fails, I only lose half of my stuff.

This research has also taught me some valuable lessons that I'd not have realized otherwise. The first is that things like the Hidden Pocket and the James Bond Belt aren't intended to be used as wallets--if people see you take them out and/or take money out of them, it sorta defeats the purpose and makes you a target for mugging. The experienced travelers advise to carry money for the day's activities in your pockets like normal, and use the hidden compartments for the rest of your money and things that you need to keep secure by keeping on your person because the housekeeping staff at the hotel can't be trusted.

Some also suggest carrying a decoy wallet--something to appease an attacker and buy you time to get away before they decide to search you more thoroughly.  They say, if you get held up, to THROW the decoy wallet as far as you can and then RUN in the opposite direction. While the robber is busy absconding with your decoy (which they purportedly won't open until they have left the scene of the crime), you escape to safety. Assuming, of course, that you don't get shot for irritating the bad guy when you throw it.

Who would've thought this would all be so complicated?!

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's been an interesting week or two in my Sponsorship life, and I feel all topsy-turvy ... but in a good way! I started Sponsoring Yojana in Guatemala, which I've already shared. I received her welcome kit in the mail a few days ago ... except not! Inside was information on a three-year-old girl in Honduras, causing me a brief moment of panic until I logged into my account to make sure Yojana was still listed there (she is!).  So that was just a paper mix-up, fixable with a simple email to Children International, and I'm looking forward to receiving Yojana's actual information soon!

Then I wrote my weekly Spotlight Child of the Week blog entry about Anna Marie. Right after I posted it, I decided I just had to Sponsor her myself! So I went back to her profile and clicked ... and alas, it told me someone had just Sponsored her. Happy for her, sad for me!

A few days later, I clicked on the link for her profile again. To my surprise, it still came up (on the old site, once a child was sponsored you couldn't even see their photo and basic info anymore). So out of curiosity I clicked on the, "Need to sleep on it? Request more info" link, and it let me put in my info! So I thought, "Okay ... when I receive her info, I'll make the decision once and for all."

Today, I was looking at my account to answer the discussion thread about water sources, and I had another mini heart attack--Anna Marie is listed on my account! And darn, but her name sure looks right listed there along side my other girls. Smile So I don't have to wait to receive her info in the mail to decide ... she is my tenth Sponsored child!

Without further ado, I introduce you to sixteen-year-old Anna Marie from Manila!

Anna has a younger sister and two younger brothers.They live in Manila with their parents on a monthly income of only $93 (earned by her father, who is a driver. Her mother is unemployed). Her favorite subjects in school are Math, Science, and Home Economics! They cook on a coal stove and get their water from a neighbor's faucet. They cannot afford electricity, though it is available in their community.

I can't wait to receive her first letter and start getting to know her! We'll only have a short two years and two months together before she'll turn nineteen and graduate from the program. We'll have to make the most of every moment! Luckily, my planned trip to the Philippines will happen before she graduates.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Spotlight Child of the Week, 10/17/2012

 I'm having a very hard time not sponsoring Anna Marie myself. This beautiful young woman lives with her parents and three siblings in the Philippines on only $93 per month. She has been waiting for a Sponsor for over a year, and is also on Children International's "Most Needy" list. The family cannot afford electricity and gets their water from a neighbor's faucet. Anna Marie enjoys reading and drawing (the latter of which is also listed as one of her talents). Against the odds, she is still attending school. Give her the support and encouragement she needs to finish her education and escape poverty into a better life.

Unsure about Sponsorship? Take a test-ride by teaming up with an experienced Sponsor--me! I would be happy to co-Sponsor with you ... and if you decided after all that Sponsorship just isn't for you, you can rest assured in the knowledge that I will maintain the Sponsorship myself rather than let our angel fall back into the waiting pool. If, on the other hand, you decide you love Sponsoring SO much that you'd like to continue solo, I will be content to step aside and allow you to build that one-to-one relationship!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Planning a Visit: Guatemala

So! After educating myself about exactly where Guatemala is located, I decided just for the heck of it to do some research into which airlines fly from here to there. Turns out American, United and Delta all do, and for FAR less than it's going to cost us to fly to the Philippines in 2014!

"Hmmmm," I thought to myself. "Baltimore to Guatemala City--with a layover in Miami--takes less than seven hours. That's doable for a four-day weekend!" This is particularly significant because in 2013, Julio and I will be doing a series of mini-vacations, one four-day weekend each month. We'll be alternating who plans each month--mine are the odd months.

After speaking with Julio, we decided that it's okay to trade days between our months ... so I'm thinking that March will be a three-day weekend, allowing for five days in May, which is when I'm thinking of making the trip.

Next step in the investigation process: pass agreements! I know we have one with Delta. A little research has revealed that we have an agreement with American as well, and it will cost a mere fraction of the commercial airfare to get there!

So it looks like this plan is a go! I'd better scurry myself to the Post Office tomorrow and get my Passport application rolling!


On the flip side, reading the State Department's warnings and advisories about traveling to Guatemala makes is sound ridiculously dangerous and downright terrifying. Yikes!

One More Angel

I have been contemplating for a while now taking on an older child who has lost their Sponsor. I have also contemplated branching out from the Philippines for the first time in ten years. And I was really intrigued by the notion of Sponsoring a child who speaks Cakchiquel. All of these things were lurking in the back of my brain as I took a gander at CI's brand new child search functions.

Which is how I wound up fulfilling all three notions in one go.

This beautiful young woman is Yojana. She's sixteen years old and lives in Guatemala with her parents and seven siblings (six of whom are girls! Wow!). They live in an adobe home with one bedroom and a kitchen. They have regulated electricity but get their water from a neighbor's well. I can't wait to get to know her better (as an added bonus, writing to her will give me a chance to exercise my rusty Spanish skills!).

Interestingly, on her profile when she was waiting for a Sponsor it listed both Spanish and Cakchiquel for the languages she speaks. But now on her profile on my account, it only lists Spanish. I'm pretty sure that's just an oversight, although it IS possible to forget your native language (Mother Teresa did!).

Her favorite subjects in school are math and languages, and her listed talents are drawing and painting--I can't wait to see the drawings on her letters!

I'm hopeful, too, that when she graduates the program in 2.5 years I'll be able to Sponsor one of her younger siblings and continue to build a relationship with the whole family.

So! Welcome to my Sponsorship family, Yojana!

Still Seeking Closure

I've written before about my Joan, and how she unexpectedly left the program and how Children International was unable to locate the family. I was looking at Joan's photos on Facebook again this evening, and I noticed in one of the photos that some of her friends were wearing pants that said "Sta Monica" on them. "Aha!" I thought to myself. "Maybe that's a school!"

It sure is. Colegio de Santa Monica, to be more precise, in Las PiƱas City. So my Joan is in college--that's very heartening to know! I wonder what she's studying. Sta. Monica has several different programs, including Nursing, Education and Business Management. She was always so focused on her studies in her letters, and she often told me that Math was her favorite subject.

Browsing further along, I noticed someone with the same last name had left a comment on one of her photos. "A sibling?" I wondered, and dug out one of her old family reports. Nope! But, that gave me the idea to search for her three siblings. I started with her oldest brother, Jeff, and found him right away. He still lives in Tabaco and although I cannot message Joan due to her Facebook settings, I could message him. He speaks English, according to his profile.

What would I say, though? Could I even send a message at all without seeming like a crazy stalker lady?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Spotlight Children of the Week, 10/12/2012

Children International has revamped its website! The new search features for looking for a waiting child are just awesome. So, to celebrate, I will share several young ladies who caught my eye!

One of the new changes is larger photos! Another change is the ability to view information for older children. Sixteen-year-old Marilyn, for example! She lives in the Philippines with her parents and two siblings. Their family of five struggles to survive on only $15 per month. Their house is plywood and corrugated metal, and they do not have electricity because they cannot afford it. Marilyn attends school, and enjoys playing with her siblings. She speaks Filipino and English (all children in the Philippines study English in school, but it wouldn't be listed on her profile unless she's fairly fluent).

Angie Elizabeth lives with her parents and two siblings in Honduras. She will be five years old in December, and she enjoys playing with toy cars and dolls. She's not in school yet, but she should start soon! On only $211 per month, her parents will struggle to provide her with uniforms and supplies for her studies. Sponsorship can help ease that burden and give her the hope and tools for a better tomorrow!

How could I not feature Rose Amelia?! She's wearing a Snoopy shirt! I very nearly Sponsored her on the spot. =) This four-year-old cutie lives in Chile with her mother and two siblings. Their family of four survives on $400 per month, which sounds like a lot compared to other children (especially in India and the Philippines), but the cost of living in Chile is much higher. Although she is very young, Rose already attends school--a promising first step towards a bright future!

Jennifer lives with her parents and three siblings in the Dominican Republic. She will celebrate her sixteenth birthday in November. She is fortunate to have electricity and running water available in her concrete-block house, and she is still attending school (beating the odds when so many girls her age have dropped out!). What she needs now is the support and encouragement of a friend to pursue a higher education and attain a level of independence and self-sustainability!

You can't help but be drawn in by Jairett Johana's spunk--her personality just leaps out of her photo! This sixteen-year-old lives with her mother and two siblings in Colombia. Their family of four survives on $200 per month. Jairett attends school, and in her free time she--like any teenage girl--likes to hang out with her friends. Her home is constructed of concrete blocks, with corrugated tile for the roof. The family is fortunate to have electricity and running water in their home.

Sixteen-year-old Azra has been waiting for a Sponsor for nearly a year. She, her two siblings and their parents live in India and struggle to get by on $85 per month. Their house is brick with a concrete roof, and although electricity is available in their home, they must retrieve water from a community faucet. Azra attends school and is a talented artist.

Unsure about Sponsorship? Take a test-ride by teaming up with an experienced Sponsor--me! I would be happy to co-Sponsor with you ... and if you decided after all that Sponsorship just isn't for you, you can rest assured in the knowledge that I will maintain the Sponsorship myself rather than let our angel fall back into the waiting pool. If, on the other hand, you decide you love Sponsoring SO much that you'd like to continue solo, I will be content to step aside and allow you to build that one-to-one relationship!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another Great Saturday!

The pattern continues to hold true--when I open my mailbox on any given Saturday, I can expect to find an envelope of joyfulness inside!

This week's envelope contained two CP letters. One is from Maria, and the other is from Joyce. They both live in Tabaco, and their correspondence, so far, has tended to arrive together.

Dear Ms. Dillon,

Hello. How are you doing? I hope that you and your family are in good condition. I received your letter today. I was so excited to open it. Well, what are you planning for your today's vacation? Me, right this time I'm busy to write a letter from you and hope you receive it in a short time. To tell you, really, I'm so tired because my friends playing with me, but I stop playing when I got your letter.

Yes, to be a teacher someday is one of my dreams, so before that I promise you to study hard. It's because for you and my family. I read also that you are going to pense,l vani. Wow!! That also fun. You promise me to happening from tell me more about what's the went is. God bless.

Yours Truly,
Maria Cristina P.

Wow! What a letter! I think this may be the first she's written entirely on her own, without guidance or suggestions from an older relative or a CI volunteer. This probably also explains the sudden change from her previously perfect grammar.

It made me smile instantly when I read that she was excited to receive my letter, and I love that she asks questions about my vacations (her interpretation of "Pennsylvania" made me giggle). It sounds like my letter was delivered to her at home, rather than her having to come to the center to pick it up.

Dear Ms. Dillon,

Hi! Good day! I hope all are well like us here in our locality. About me, we had many activities in our school. My birthday, my family and me attended mass and my mother cooked a "pansit" that we shared every one of us. In school, we celebrated our Nutrition Month National Language, with a parade and program. We wear our National costume during the parade in the celebration of our National Language. This week, we have on Intrams. We have our sportfest and then games. One of the  highlights is also the search for Mr. and Ms. Intrams of 2012. I participated in the search but unfortunately my partner is win not me. I still happy, because I gave my best and another experience to cherish. I'm very happy for all the things happened to me. Thank you for the card and all the benefits you had given to me. God Bless.

Sincerely Yours,
Joyce T.

Pansit is any of a variety of noodle dishes, and it is tradition to eat pansit on one's birthday. The long noodles symbolize long life and good health. I have learned something new today!

I wish I could see her all dressed up in her National costume. I have a pen-pal in Norway who used to write about her national costume, as well. I've always felt it was a shame that a national costume isn't a part of our heritage and history here in the United States.

She shows great maturity as she writes about not winning Ms. Intrams 2012. I think it's wonderful that she is so active and participates in so many things at school.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Letter from Hazel!

I love opening my mailbox and finding a Children International envelope inside! This one held a CP letter from Hazel!

Dear Shannon,

Hello, how are you? Me and my family are in good health. Since it's rainy season here in the Philippines, I also enjoy taking a bath in the rain, but I'm afraid of lightning. After that I review my lesson although our school is suspend for almost one week, still I'm doing my assignment to be ready for our class discussion. Thank you for the post card, letter. It's a very beautiful card.

Again, thank you for writing to us! God bless you always.

Your Sponsored Child,
Hazel Ann

She bathes in the rain? Oh my. What does she do, I wonder, when it's NOT the rainy season? According to the most recent family record I have, Hazel's family has running water in their home. I guess I had always assumed that meant she had a shower of some kind.

I'm not surprised in the least to hear that school was suspended--I'm actually surprised that it was only for a week! The photos of the flooding looked pretty devastating. I'm glad to know she was able to return to school pretty quickly.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Children Who Leave the Program

From time to time, a Sponsor will received distressing news: "Your child has left the Program." This can occurr for a myriad of reasons--the family moved outside the program area, the family's circumstances have improved and they no longer have need of the services, the child has declined to participate further, the child or family is unwilling to meet participation requirements ... Whatever the reason, it is always a sad day for the Sponsor when this notice is received. There seem to have been a lot of LiftOne Sponsors receiving this notification lately, which has many of us on pins and needles, wondering if one of our children will be next.

Sometimes, Children International is able to provide some measure of closure. If they are still in contact with the family, a final letter of farewell can be sent. At the very least, they are usually able to tell the Sponsor why the child left the program. No amount of closure, however, will fill in the gap that the child's absence leaves in a Sponsor's heart. The Sponsor will always wonder if their child is safe, and healthy and happy.

Such is the case with me and my Joan. Her family moved unexpectedly, and did not leave a forwarding address. Children International was unable to locate them, and so I don't even know the circumstances surrounding her move. For years, I have hoped that the change was a positive one for her and her family, and that she is doing well.

On impulse one evening, I typed her name into the search engine on Facebook. Lo and behold! Two profiles popped up with her name. I cannot see much on either one, due to the privacy settings. But one profile is definitely her--I can tell from the cover photos, which are the only ones I can see.

Joan looks happy and healthy in her photos. Her clothes are clean and in good condition. In several of her photos, she is holding some type of smart phone. So it would appear that her family's situation DID improve when they moved, and she is now leading the life of an average teenage girl. This warms my heart--even if I cannot communicate with her, at least I know she is okay.

Hopefully one day she will confirm my friend request, and we will be able to reconnect. I miss her.

Spotlight Child of the Week, 10/1/2012

Hello, dear readers! I missed last week due to vacation, so I will double up this week with two lovely ladies!

This cutie pie is Jemmarie! She and her seven siblings live with their parents in Manila in the Philippines. Their family of nine struggles to get by on only $112 per month. Jemmarie counts singing and dancing among her talents. She enjoys reading, and her favorite game is Hide and Seek. She turned nine this past May--make her next birthday the happiest of her young life, secure with the promise of Sponsorship!

Seven-year-old Shama speaks Urdu and lives with her father in India. Their small family survives on $96 per month. She enjoys playing with dolls and has a talent for drawing. Shama will turn eight in December--give her an early gift of Sponsorship, and bring peace of mind and hope for the future to her and her father!

Unsure about Sponsorship? Take a test-ride by teaming up with an experienced Sponsor--me! I would be happy to co-Sponsor with you ... and if you decided after all that Sponsorship just isn't for you, you can rest assured in the knowledge that I will maintain the Sponsorship myself rather than let our angel fall back into the waiting pool. If, on the other hand, you decide you love Sponsoring SO much that you'd like to continue solo, I will be content to step aside and allow you to build that one-to-one relationship!