Kugasaruthy & Satheeska: Two young girls and the transformational power of CERI’s Food Security Program

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In 2009, the Batticaloa District of Sri Lanka finally witnessed an end to the devastating 30-year civil war that decimated the region and its people. Batticaloa is the fourth most impoverished district in Sri Lanka, and home to the CERI office and the epicenter of CERI programs in the area. Nearly 20 percent of its inhabitants live at or below the poverty line, earning the equivalent of $25.50 per month.

According to UNICEF, nearly one of every five children in Sri Lanka is born with low birth weight and approximately 29 percent of children under five years old are considered underweight. To address this epidemic, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) launched the Food Security Program (FSP).

In 2016, CERI Sri Lanka implemented the Food Security Program in Parathy Kiramam, Kiran Division, one of the poorest areas in Batticaloa, and the sixth village to be touched by the program since its inception. CERI’s initial goal of serving a group of 12 to 15 children quickly changed, however, when 34 underweight children showed up to the program. Two of these young children were Kugasaruthy, age 7, and Satheeska, age 5, both of whom weighed only 27 pounds.

Although they are young, Kugasaruthy and Satheeska know firsthand the ravages of civil war, which had left their father disabled. He was attacked by an elephant while seeking shelter during a shooting. As he ran for safety, he was shot three times. Barely alive, he was rescued and taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. Unfortunately, during surgery, a medical mistake resulted in a severed nerve, rendering the young father’s left arm useless. Unable to work with the use of both hands, it was incredibly difficult to find work and provide for his family.

The girls’ mother, Jeyanthini, 27, also suffered in the aftermath of these tragedies. The couple experienced feelings of inferiority due to their extreme poverty, causing them to withdraw from the outside world. Jeyanthini prohibited her daughters from playing with the other children in the village, kept them from attending school and confined them to their small home.

In spring 2016, Jeyanthini and her family were selected to participate in CERI’s Food Security Program, an opportunity she initially rejected. However, after learning more about the services, she accepted the offer, her heart filled with the hope of helping her family.

During the 12-day program, Jeyanthini learned to cook simple, healthy meals while her children participated in activities at the Children’s Club. After living in sheltered isolation, Kugasaruthy and Satheeska made friends and learned how to play with other children. With each passing day in the program, their energy and enthusiasm increased.

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Before long, Jeyanthini started to flourish as well. She began to share stories about her life during the cooking sessions, talking excitedly with the other mothers about the positive differences she witnessed in her children’s behavior as a result of their participation in the program.

“My girls are very happy to take part in the sessions,” she said. “They eat more while they are with other children than they eat at home when they’re alone. I feel an invisible love that surrounds my children, and peace and happiness cover our family daily as the girls return home after the session.”

Jeyanthini began allowing her daughters to play with the other children in the village, as well as attend school.

Participation in the program has also improved the sisters’ health. Kugasaruthy and Satheeska have both gained weight, expanded their social skills and boosted their self-esteem, and overall, enhanced their quality of life. Playing with their peers offered new experiences and opportunities for exploration, learning and development. New toys, new friends and organized games stimulated their growth and capacity, and CERI staff used game times to teach children how to play well together, model positive behavior, and show the love of God through respect for one another and good sportsmanship.

The FSP helped Kugasaruthy and Satheeska grow physically and emotionally in a very visible and profound way. Still, the girls remain underweight in comparison to their American counterparts. While the average weight of an American seven-year old is 49 pounds, Kugasaruthy is approximately 30 lbs. and little Satheeska at age four weighed in after the program at 27.5 pounds. Nevertheless, the sisters are on their way to healing, inside and out.

Bonita Nirmala Samuel, the CERI Sri Lanka Interim National Program Director describes her team’s feelings about the Food Security Program implementation in Parathy Kiramam.

“We thank God for this wonderful opportunity to serve others,” she says, “and to have successfully reached these families most in need.”

Sadly, more than 53 percent of children in Sri Lanka under 5 years old are classified as underweight (calculated as weight-to-age ratio), and nearly 72 percent of local households do not have adequate sanitation or water facilities. Each year, local divisions of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health in Batticaloa ask CERI to address the nutritional needs of area children through the Food Security Program.

The FSP addresses the acute needs in these villages for healthy food, nutrition education, intentional cooking skills, and information on the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation. The FSP offers Sri Lankan moms the tools needed to confront child malnutrition and common, yet life-threatening health conditions like diarrhea, intestinal worms and infections.

Between 2013 and 2015, CERI’s Food Security Program served more than 400 underweight children and their families. Each year the program has been in operation, a growing proportion of participating children are on track for healthy weight gain. This year, CERI Sri Lanka is serving 135 children and their families in six impoverished villages across the Batticaloa district.

Through the FSP, CERI hopes to reach even more families like Kugasaruthy’s and Satheeka’s, and one day, see Sri Lanka rise above the hunger, poverty and despair through the power of God’s love. Together, with open, loving hearts and a mission to nourish the body and the spirit, CERI staff and the Sri Lankan people transform and rebuild families and communities.

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From East Texas to Eastern Europe With Love

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In November of 2008, Diane Stone stepped into a sparse but tidy supply closet in the recreation room of an East Texas group home and stumbled across a couple of plastic looms. Nearly eight years and 2,400 hats later, she and nine other women have knitted their way across the Atlantic Ocean, connecting two organizations in the BCFS system in a meaningful way, and most importantly providing warmth and compassion to orphans in Eastern Europe.

Diane has served as a day program leader at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), a residential community for adults with disabilities, for almost a decade.

When she first found the Knifty Knitter looms, Diane thought, “Maybe the residents could learn how to make hats with these!”

In the first year of knitting, Diane’s group created 200 hats. The number has grown every year since, reaching 370 hats in 2015.

All of the hats are sent overseas and distributed to orphanages in Moldova in Eastern Europe every December by Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), the international branch of BCFS.

Remarkably, BVT has not had to purchase yarn for any of the 2,400 hats they’ve created since the knitting group began. According to Diane, volunteers collect trunk loads of yarn donations from their churches. Arts and crafts have always been a part of BVT’s day habilitation program, but it was important to Diane that the residents “use their time and talents to serve others, and feel the joy that brings.”

By making hats, BVT meets a very real need. Not only are Moldova’s winter temperatures gravely cold, but utilities and energy resources are scarce. It is difficult to keep buildings warm when the sun goes down, so the children can wear BVT’s knitted hats all hours of the night and day.

When the first batch of hats arrived in Moldova, the CERI team sent a report back to Tyler, Texas, thanking BVT villagers profusely. Eight years later, tears still well up in Diane’s eyes as she remembers what they told her.

“The kids don’t ever get a choice in what they wear,” she said. “They just wear whatever they are given.”

But, in this case it was different! CERI workers laid out the hats, with their brilliant array of colors, almost as many shades and patterns as there were hats, and let them pick!

“The kids didn’t know what to do. Orphanage workers had to take them by the hand and show them how to make a choice.”

Diane’s knitting group has expanded to become an official class at BVT. But the core group of nine knitters continues to meet every morning, sharing life and ministry with each other. “We are just one big family here at BVT,” Diane says. “I have never been anywhere with an atmosphere like this.”

Community service has always been a part of the lifestyle of BVT residents and day program participants. Staff and residents are involved with Meals on Wheels, the East Texas Food Bank, Jesus Closet Clothing Ministry, and other local nonprofits. Expanding their local volunteer efforts to have a global impact was a logical – and inspiring – next step.bvt2

Casa Dulce Casa

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Many of the youth and young adults CERI serves in Moldova face a constant struggle to meet their basic needs – their living environment is often unstable, food is sparse, and hand-me-down, ill-fitting clothing and shoes do little to protect them from the cold, harsh winters. Moldova is one of the poorest nations in Europe, and the primary source country for victims of human trafficking, where impoverished youth in this former Soviet republic are especially vulnerable.

In 2011, responding to the plight of homelessness facing young adults in Moldova, CERI opened two transitional apartments, one for males and another for females ages 16 to 23 years old. In these apartments, CERI provides free, safe and stable housing to young men and women who are at a dire crossroads in life.

While living in the apartments, the young adults participate in CERI’s Transitional Care program which provides case management, education and career services, counseling, life skills trainings, medical treatment referrals, volunteer opportunities and more. The CERI apartments house 10 to 12 young adults at any given time who are working towards earning a college degree or completing a vocational training program so they can find a job and transition out to live on their own.

As part of this unique program, a Christian mentor lives in the apartment building with the young adults and serves as the “parental figure” who encourages, supports and guides them. The mentor helps them build their life skills by teaching them how to prepare healthy and affordable meals; how to budget and save money; how to keep their apartments clean and organized; and proper personal hygiene practices, among many other things. The mentor also organizes a weekly Bible study group which just recently completed the book How To Love God and Our Neighbor. Through this book, they learned practical ways to show love and cultivate healthy relationships by looking to God as the supreme example.

“The living conditions [in the CERI apartments] are very good. I like the meetings with the girls,” says Nadejda, who currently lives there. “Usually we cook together. We have an excellent mentor. She is a good example for us and every day we learn something new from her.”

Through the support of faithful donors, CERI is able to provide essential services to vulnerable youth who could have easily fallen victim to unconscionable suffering and abuse, but thankfully are now in a loving environment, breaking a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and hopelessness.

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India’s Son Returns to Give Back CERI expands to India led by Ian Anand Forber-Pratt

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Whether you’re in a rural Indian village or in the hustle and bustle of a crowded urban street, it’s clear: India is a vibrant, intoxicating nation, bursting with color and so full of life. The food, the smells, the sounds, the ancient temples, the varied dialects, and the sense of order hidden beautifully in the chaos – a faint-of-heart traveler might even say it borders on sensory overload. This proud nation of warm and resilient people is also, unfortunately, the source of some staggering social and economic epidemics.

India is home to 1.2 billion people, twenty-two percent of whom fall below the international poverty line. In 2015, the average annual income of each family equated to a meager $4 per day.* Imagine the futility of trying to stretch these few dollars to pay for safe housing, medical care, food, clothing, education and other essentials.

Poverty coupled with lack of education, unemployment, child labor, homelessness, substance abuse, physical and mental health needs, child abuse and neglect, violence and inability to access resources are just some of the horrific challenges India’s children face every day. In response, the international arm of BCFS, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), launched a new organization in New Delhi, India, in partnership with other thought leaders and agencies, to strengthen families and protect children.

The Centre of Excellence in Alternative Care of Children will support and strengthen family-based care and protection for millions of children in India through proactive initiatives that will bridge the gap between government policies relevant to child care and protection and how these initiatives are implemented at the ground level.

Heading up this transformative program is scholar, researcher and sociologist, Ian Anand Forber-Pratt, a man following his lifelong dream of bringing progressive alternative child care to India, and promoting the idea that every child deserves to live in a healthy, happy, loving family setting. Ian aims to revolutionize the social service systems for children in his native India to include foster care and kinship care for orphan children.

Born in Kolkata, India, Ian was adopted from a home for unwed mothers when he was two months old by a Canadian mother and an American father. Ian was raised and educated in the United States, along with his adopted sister from India, Anjali, and his brother and sister (biological to his adoptive parents). His adoptive parents, determined to connect Ian and Anjali to their Indian heritage, exposed them to Indian cultural events where they learned about native foods, dance and language. However, it was not until his first trip back to India in 2006 when he said his “internal circuits” really connected with his ancestry.

“I felt at home, and not at home, in the same emotion,” Ian recalls of this trip. “I finally felt like I’d found a sense of purpose. I was going to use the gifts I’d been given in life to honor my adoptive parents and give back to the country that gave me life.” Even before that memorable trip, however, Ian dreamed of giving back to his birth country, he was just unsure of exactly how.

Ian ventured out to be a catalyst for change, taking those first few steps, no matter how small. Two years and thousands of emails and phone calls to potential partner agencies mustered Ian only one connection with another organization. However, he remained dedicated and slowly started to see results. He knew he needed to collaborate with existing service providers to make a real impact. New connections trickled in from partnering agencies, including important policy makers, government officials and leaders in social services. This established a network of advocates that would, in the next ten years, have the power to change state government and pass critical policies.

Today, critical legislation and social service guidelines are in place, including the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015, Central Adoption Resource Authority Guidelines on Adoption 2015, the Model Guidelines on Foster Care 2016 and the Integrated Child Protection Scheme 2014. Ian served on advisory committees for both state and national legislation on foster care in India.

Together with partners from governmental and non-governmental sectors, the Centre of Excellence is slated to continue making significant changes and much-needed advancements in India’s child care and protection system.

In the words of renowned human rights advocate, Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Leaders and visionaries like Ian and CERI are spearheading that change in India, every day.

Partners of the Centre of Excellence include the Core Assets Group, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, and Washington University Visit http://www.AlternativeCareIndia.org

*Sources: Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook; World Bank

CERI Sponsors Care for Moldova’s “Forgotten Children”

By Maria Ostafi and Yvonne Paris Rhodes

In Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, it’s common for parents to leave their children behind and travel to neighboring countries in search of work. Thousands of children are left behind each year to fend for themselves, stay with other family members, or become the ward of state-run institutions like orphanages or group homes.

Like many Moldovan children, Viorel Doibani and his younger brother Danu spent most of their childhood without their parents. The boys’ father was a criminal sentenced to a lengthy prison term. He terminated his parental rights and had no contact with his sons whatsoever. Their mother, who was homeless and suffered health problems, traveled abroad in search of a steady job. She dreamed of saving enough money to buy a house where she and her boys could live.

But without his parents or any family members to care for him, Viorel lived in a dingy, overcrowded state-run orphanage in Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova.

When children in Moldovan institutions age out of care or the facility shuts down – which is happening more frequently in recent years – the youth and children are simply turned out onto the streets to fend for themselves. When Viorel aged-out of care at the orphanage as a teenager, he found himself homeless, alone and with nowhere to turn.

BCFS’ overseas division, Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), operates sponsorship programs in Eastern Europe that help youth transitioning into adulthood by providing vocational training, education on human trafficking, and guidance on financial management and social values.

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In Viorel’s darkest hour, CERI’s Transitional Care sponsor back in the U.S. helped provide him education, resources and motivation to stand on his own two feet. Thanks to financial and emotional support of his CERI sponsorship, Viorel began attending a local high school, where he earned a reputation as the best student in class because of his work ethic and responsible nature.

Viorel attended CERI’s recreational summer camps, where he was even able to meet and spend time with his CERI sponsor. At the summer camps, CERI taught him about God’s love, and he decided to turn his life over to God. He was committed to changing his heart and his circumstances. He began attending church regularly and was soon baptized.

“My sponsor is a very important person in my life,” says Viorel. “I’m so thankful for the help I received from my sponsor and from CERI. I’ve experienced so many good changes in my life.”

Viorel is hopeful about his future, and says his plan is to become a successful person with a good job.

Browse the profiles of children and youth like Viorel awaiting sponsorship at CERIkids.org. Change a child’s life today – become a sponsor!