This morning three people are providing information about organizations that help our neighbors. Our speaker are Jan Hamilton, Debra Honey and Andrea Thompson McCall
Good Morning, my name is Jan Hamilton. I am the first of three to share with you this morning. The Mission and Outreach Team has planned the service today and in part we want to share some information concerning three charitable organizations. These are groups that you may or may not be familiar with, each will be presented by a member of our church community who has a relationship with the organization. On your way out this morning please do stop and ask any of us questions, we would love to share our experiences with you.
First, some history. Harry and I sponsor a young lady in Guatemala (have for 15 years) and this winter we went on an Unbound Awareness Trip to learn more about the organization and to meet Yuri (our sponsored youth). After years of writing and receiving letters from her It was amazing to meet Yuri, she is a now a college student who will graduate in Nov with a teacher’s degree. During the middle of the week Harry and I decided to sponsor another child and selected Daysi’s profile, she is a 6-year-old Mayan girl who had just started attending school. By visiting the Unbound center and meeting sponsored families our loyalty and commitment to Unbound increased and we became Ambassadors. That means that I love to talk and Harry will help you with paperwork.
Unbound is a global community of compassion, their mission is to help those in need in huge three areas (Latin America, Africa and Asia). The focus of this faith based organization is grounded in the Gospel, although founded by five Catholics 30 years ago, it is no longer tied to a specific religion.
Staff share that they see potential not poverty when they work with families and communities. Local decisions regarding distribution of funds are made by the community. Parents make decision regarding sponsorship funds to families. Unbound believes in the wisdom of mothers and works closely with small groups of women in villages to empower them as leaders for the betterment of the families and greater community. While on our awareness trip we witnessed many projects that were started by groups of local mothers and funded by Unbound (examples, water filtering and aquafarming).
As is true of many cultures they serve, Unbound honors the dignity of elders. For that reason, Unbound offers sponsorship of elders in addition to children and youth. While most US based charities serve only children Unbound works with elders as well to improve their life and that of their village.
Sponsors like ourselves contribute each month helping the family of the child or elder to improve their living conditions, obtain good nutrition, and seek education. Truly the sacrifice we make is small, I like to say it is only coffee money. Most impressive is that 92% of the funds raised support the families.
As ambassadors of Unbound we want to spread the word about Unbound’s good work and energize others to get involved. We have materials on display as well as profiles of those in need of sponsorship. It would be our pleasure to help you become a sponsor. Think of this as a great Father’s Day gift, one that can help families prosper to keep them together. Perhaps in the future you will take an Unbound Awareness Trip that will truly be life changing.
Comments by Debra Honey
I’d like to share with you one of my favorite quotes from a speech delivered by Robert F. Kennedy:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Keep it simple. I like the idea of a tiny ripple evolving into monumental change. From something small, big things can happen. Keeping it simple works for me.
In the late 1990’s, the Reverend Fred Lipp, former pastor at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland (and a dear friend of mine), was struck by a photograph he’d seen of an open air market in Cambodia, in which an old woman was selling live birds. When purchased, the customer would make a wish and release the bird to fly freely, upon which the customer’s wish would be granted.
Fred liked that story. It captured his imagination. He wrote a children’s story that resulted in the 2001 publication of his award-winning book, “The Caged Bird of Phnom Penh”.
Fred then traveled to Cambodia to visit Phnom Penh and to venture into the remote villages. He was deeply struck by the plight of girls in Cambodia, who were routinely were denied an education beyond primary years because their parents felt they served a better purpose by entering the workforce at the tender age of ten. The jobs available to these young girls were either working in rice fields or the sex industry.
Fred returned to Maine with a purpose. He started a new ripple. He kept it simple. He did the math, and calculated that a $250 donation would result in providing a year of education in her village school as well as providing the girl’s family with the lost revenue.
Fred launched a nonprofit organization now known as the Cambodian Scholarship Foundation, which is dedicated to educating and empowering adolescent girls in Cambodia. CASF works with local communities to identify students who show motivation, merit, and need. It provides funding, training, and mentoring to lead students through secondary school to higher education, acquiring the skills they need for a sustainable future.
The organization keeps it simple. While it remains based in Portland, it has hired a very small staff in Cambodia that recruits students most likely to succeed with financial support. Those selected are continually mentored and counseled by the staff throughout their education years.
Fred’s tiny ripple that began with a photo, that resulted in a beautiful children’s book, that evolved into a life-changing journey, grew into an organization that to date has helped over 70 Cambodian girls receive scholarships that have funded them through middle school, high school, and university in Cambodia.
We recently learned that one of the young women who graduated from a university in Cambodia through our program has received a full scholarship from the Davis Fellows for Peace project to attend the Middlebury College Chinese School this summer. Panha arrives in the US this week and prior to going to Vermont, she will travel to Portland to be a featured guest at our silent auction fundraiser on June 21 at the Salt Water Grille to which you all are cordially invited! The event includes finger foods and myriad auction items from all corners of Maine and the world that will be displayed in the upstairs area of Saltwater Grille overlooking Portland Harbor. Of course, Fred will be there. We plan to keep it simple…but very special.
Fred is now close to 80 years and has stepped down from full time work with the foundation. The board hired a part time executive director to coordinate programs. I was asked to join the board three years ago. We have a very low profile but highly functioning board that includes a teacher from Saco, an artist from Canada, a professor from France, an international educator currently teaching in South America, a financial advisor from Portland, and am international educator who had worked for the organization in Cambodia for several years and who now resides back in her home state of Maine. As you might imagine, our board meetings always include Skype in order to accommodate the inclusion of us all wherever we happen to be on the planet on our four annual meeting days. Fred returns whenever asked to lend us his expertise, and to spark us with his creative energy. He and his wife currently live in North Whitefield, where they raise sheep and grow vegetables. He continues to amaze me.
Keeping it simple, making tiny ripples, and working together to make positive change in the lives of girls from Cambodia is what we strive to do to keep Fred’s vision alive. It’s been a privilege to be part of the Cambodian Scholarship Foundation, and an honor to share this story with you this morning.
Comments by Andrea Thompson McCall
Thanks for having me today, and thanks to Jan and Debra for speaking so well about poverty across the continent and around the world. The needs are real and great, and I hope you’re moved to help with meeting them. I’m here to talk about needs that are also real and great, but much closer to home – less than 3 miles away, as a matter of fact – and I hope you’ll be moved to help with meeting them, too.
Most Thursdays at Williston Immanuel United Church in Portland, the basement fellowship hall is full of near neighbors, nearly 100 each week whose needs are great and whose courage is breathtaking. Almost all have recently left their homes and families in Central Africa, giving up their jobs and material possessions as well as their language and culture, and coming here to Maine, literally to save their lives and those of their families. Their stories have become part of me…
Among them is Helen, a woman in her late 60s caring for three grandchildren she brought from Angola, where civil war has waged for nearly 30 years. She doesn’t know if the children’s parents are alive or dead. They have safety here, but they have next to nothing else.
Another is Gil, a young man who took part in the peaceful protest of a brutal regime in Congo, and then was targeted to be silenced – permanently. His family took up a collection to get him out of the country, and he arrived here in winter with no warm clothes, no English, no friends, no money.
And Odette, a school administrator from Rwanda, who left in the middle of the night with only what she could carry, because she was tortured and threatened for refusing to turn over control of the employees’ retirement fund to corrupt government officials. She couldn’t tell her husband or young children she was leaving, and she still can’t tell them where she is, without putting them at risk, too.
It makes me proud to know that many of these refugees have heard –-some while still in Africa– “If you can get to the U.S., go to Portland, Maine: It’s a safe place, a good place, and the people are kind and will help you.”
Refugees do find safety here, and they are grateful. But now they must depend upon the kindness of strangers, because they have nearly nothing, and no way to earn — Most can’t work legally, even if they speak English and have training and skills that we need in Maine.
The Community Assistance program at Williston Immanuel offers staple food, household products, and diapers. It’s one of only 2 places in Portland where people can get diapers. (Imagine being in a small apartment or a homeless shelter with an infant and no washing machine…)
We also offer modest help with essential costs, like medical care and English classes, bus tickets and phone service. (We’re the only place I know of that will help with phones, which are not considered a necessity by General Assistance. But imagine looking for an apartment or a job, making an appointment with a doctor or an immigration attorney, or sending a child to school, without a phone, to say nothing of contacting family members still in Africa…)
Nearly all the resources and staffing for this program come from the congregation at Williston Immanuel, a congregation a lot like ours. Existing resources and staffing enable us to help about 50 people each week, three weeks a month. But far more than 50 people come every Thursday, so we have to conduct a lottery to determine who’ll get help and who won’t. It hurts to turn away people in need, especially after we’ve held their hands and learned their names and looked into their eyes.
You can help, and I hope you will!
I hope you’ll help by contributing food or diapers or cash, so that we can do more to help more people, and turn away fewer without any help at all.
And I hope you’ll consider whether you might help by joining us! If you can give your time on Thursday mornings, you could become part of this “loaves and fishes” experience. Our crew is very thin, and one or two more regular volunteers or substitutes would ease things a lot. It’s about 4 hours of work, and the conditions are challenging, but the pay is fabulous: deep, deep satisfaction, and a heart filled to overflowing!
A parting word from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing… “They asked him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or clothe you when you were naked?” And Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
I’ll be happy to talk with you after the service if you’re interested in getting involved.
Thank you for listening; thank you for caring.