One Child at a Time, Charity Alters Lives: For More Than 75 years, Children International has Helped Children Break Free from the Circle of Poverty

Article Katherine Bontrager | Photography Courtesy of Children International

During a visit to Ecuador as a director for Children International several years ago, Stilwell resident Dean Oskvig recalls a chance meeting with a small girl who made a very big impression.

“It was an 8-year-old girl on the side of a mountain near Quito,” the president and CEO of Black & Veatch Energy at Black & Veatch remembers. “She was taken out of school to care for her two younger siblings while her father worked as a laborer somewhere in the city. It bothered me to think that she had little to no hope of escaping a life of poverty.”

Through Children International, Oskvig decided on the spot to sponsor the young girl. “She’s an example of what is and what can be,” he says simply.

The charity was established in 1936 to help children meet their basic needs to lead healthier lives while becoming better educated. Since its inception, the reach of the charity has spread, yet the mission remains: To help children living in crushing poverty.

“In the 1980s, the organization began providing one-to-one sponsorship opportunities for our supporters to help poverty-stricken children throughout the world,” explains Dolores Kitchin, the organization’s director of Public Relations. “Now we’re working in 11 countries and help more than 340,000 children in Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Mexico, Philippines, Zambia and in Little Rock, Ark.”

More than one million children have been sponsored through the program, but Kitchin adds that when one considers the influence that sponsorship has on an entire family and the community, the number of poor children impacted is “tremendous.”

As a non-political and secular organization, a child typically comes from a low income family earning less than $2 a day, typically living in a slum with a house made of scraps of wood or plastic and often with dirt floors. “Usually, the family has little access to clean water and is often forced to use an open field for sanitation purposes,” Kitchin says. “The family’s biggest struggles are earning enough to provide food for its children and ensure the children can go to school.”

“Children International’s goal is to prepare children and youth to become self-reliant adults,” continues Kitchin. “In a whole child

approach, we provide medical care, dental care, nutritional support, clothing, shoes, household items and educational tuition, uniforms, transportation costs and school supplies to children from 3 to 19 years. As a child reaches adolescence, their needs change. So we tailor programs specifically to address those needs. Those programs concentrate on leadership skills, social skills, personal financial management, sports leagues, vocational and job-skills training.”

Nearly all of the organization’s cash contributions come from private donations, specifically in the form of sponsors. Sponsors are found through different media channels, including television, Internet, direct mail and face-to-face fundraising. “Face-to-face fundraising harkens back to basics—a traditional, grassroots efforts, which has always proven to be effective in reaching people,” Kitchin says.

Oskvig is just one such sponsor whose life has been touched by the efforts of Children International. In fact, he’s an active board member and longtime supporter. Currently, he sponsors 10-year-old Kiara from Ecuador. Kiara’s father works tirelessly as a day laborer for little money to support his family of six.

Oskvig finds that Children International means the difference between hope and despair for the children it serves. “That for the most part, the people we serve are doing the best they can with what they have. What Children International provides gives them a chance to break the cycle of poverty through health and nutrition services, education support and social development. What is most gratifying to me is to see the mid to late teenagers who have been sponsored since the age of 3 or 4. They are clearly better prepared physically, intellectually and socially for adult life.”

With his expansive background as a board member, Oskvig says he’s confident that Children International is an effective and efficient humanitarian organization. “It is one of the most operationally tuned organizations I’ve ever been associated with. Decisions are timely, and accountability is practiced top to bottom. That’s coupled with a deep understanding and caring for the people served.”

In fact, several consumer magazines have recognized Children International as a top charity and for operating as a top relief organization in a time of natural disasters safeguarding sponsored children and their families.

“It’s the respect I have for the leadership of CI, including my board peers, and the impact the organization has on individual lives,” Oskvig continues. “We’re not going to change the world, but we will make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals. And that’s good enough. One of the board members said it best: ‘The hunger and malnutrition going onin this world is simply wrong. And while we adults are in charge, we have a responsibility to do something.’ It made me feel even more accountable.”

Oskvig has seen firsthand the gratitude in the eyes of the child, the parents, and grandparents—proof that he’s actively changing a life for the better. And if his friends ask him about whether to sponsor a child, Oskvig tells them, “Don’t wait. Your money will be well spent and you will make a difference in a life.”

As Kitchin can attest, there are thousands of children desperately waiting for a caring sponsor. “By sponsoring a child for $25 a month, the child will receive medical and dental care, and educational support. That single sponsorship will help relieve a financial burden from the child’s family and allow them to shift that money to the family’s other needs.”

For more information, or to sponsor a child, visit Children.org.