Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Compassion International Textbook Fund -- Helping Kids Dream Big

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Here in the United States, Labor Day weekend has passed and school doors have reopened. When the days start to shorten and the sunlight shimmers just so on the living room walls, I remember the challenges and joys of my own childhood school days. I realize now how blessed I was to be able to wear nice clothes and carry my new book bag on the first day of school.

Around the world, 80 percent of primary-school-age children are able to attend school. In the poorest countries, however, too many children are unable to go to school or even learn to read. For example, only 66 percent of children in the least developed countries go to school, and only 49 percent of secondary-school-age children are in school.

Girls are particularly affected by this disparity. Girls make up 53 percent of primary-school-aged kids and 52 percent of secondary school-aged kids who are not in school. Of the 130 million children who do not attend school and are functionally illiterate, 73 million are girls.

The good news is that caring people are helping children to break the barrier of extreme poverty. Compassion International is a faith-based, child-centered organization that works to release children from poverty. For a little over a year, I have been sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Her name is Joan and she lives in Uganda. In her letters, she often mentions her dream of becoming a nurse so that she can help the sick -- and I want her to know that she is worthy of that dream.

If you would like to learn more about helping children dream big, Compassion International's Text Book Fund is a good place to start. Donations enable Compassion to purchase textbooks and other learning materials for children at their child development centers. And while you're on the website, you can learn about sponsoring a child.

I have watched Joan, my sponsored child, express better and greater plans for her future. Every child deserves this chance to know that they are loved and valued!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Remember Human Trafficking Victims This Labor Day

In the United States, Labor Day was approved as a legal holiday in 1894. It is a day to pay tribute to the contributions of workers, and to remember the sacrifices that led to improved safety and working conditions. It's also a good day to learn about a form of labor that sadly still exists in the United States and the rest of the world: slavery and human trafficking. We can learn to recognize the warning signs of labor trafficking and help put an end to this practice.

Modern-day slavery often occurs in plain sight, in businesses ranging from farms to nail salons. Domestic servants and door-to-door sales crews --whether foreign nationals or United States citizens -- may be victims of trafficking. According to the International Labour Organization, women and girls make up 55 percent of trafficking victims worldwide. Ninety percent of trafficked individuals are exploited in the private sector, and 68 percent of these victims perform forced labor in areas such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and domestic servitude.

Traffickers use tactics such as intimidation, lies, violence, and recruitment debt to keep trafficked laborers in slavery. The most vulnerable people --- migrant laborers and runaways, for example -- are often enticed with false promises of prosperity.

Fortunately, everyone can learn the warning signs of labor trafficking. Informed people can learn to spot the signs and report a tip without endangering themselves or the victims. Here are a few indicators, among many others, that a worker may be a victim of trafficking:

  • Worker is not allowed to speak without a third party
  • Worker does not have control over personal identification documents
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts or location
  • Appears malnourished or physically abused
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Reluctance or fearfulness at the topic of law enforcement
  • Vague or inconsistent information about employer
Find out more about reporting suspected trafficking at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center web page. There you will learn important information, including how to report a tip using the hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BeFree (233733). 

Knowledge is power, so let's set aside some time this Labor Day weekend to learn about this illegal and abusive form of labor. We really can make a difference!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Snow Monkey Named Carly: Lessons in Hope and Compassion

I have always been saddened and angered when I see reports of poaching and exploitation of animals. After the recent news coverage of the killing of Cecil the lion and the practice of trophy hunting, I searched for a way that I could join in the work to protect wildlife. I have always admired the conservation work of Born Free USA  -- part of the Born Free Foundation in the UK, which was founded by actress Virginia McKenna and her son, Will Travers. McKenna and her late husband, Bill Travers, portrayed Joy and George Adamson in the 1966 movie Born Free, which tells the true story of Elsa the lioness and her return to the wild.   

A couple of weeks ago, I read about the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, which is located near San Antonio, Texas. The sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates abused primates including macaques or snow monkeys, baboons and vervets. The primates have previously lived as exotic pets in cages, or as laboratory animals. At the sanctuary, they can live in a natural, free-range environment that resembles their native habitats.

I decided to sponsor one of the animals at the sanctuary -- a Japanese macaque named Carly. Today, I received a special packet in the mail, which included a photo of Carly, as well as a certificate, a pin, and newsletters from Born Free USA.

Like the Japanese macaque in the image below, Carly has thick, grayish fur and loves to climb trees and forage for nuts, fruits and insects. In their native habitat in the mountains of Japan, macaques live in colonies and form strong social bonds.

Japanese macaques are native to the mountains of Japan.
Image by Yiannis Theologos Michellis via Flickr.

I read that before she arrived at the Born Free Primate Sanctuary in 2005, Carly had not been able to do any of these things. Kept as a "pet" in a garage, she spent all her time in a small cage that had been welded shut, with no sunshine, no climbing, and no fresh air. The floor of the cage was littered with rotting junk food and waste. Perhaps most damaging of all, Carly was isolated and had no social interaction -- and showed signs of malnutrition and abnormal behavior. At the Born Free sanctuary, months passed before Carly was able to bond with other macaques.

As I looked at Carly's picture and read her story, I was grateful to learn that she now lives with two other snow monkeys who had had similar traumas. In their huge enclosure, they can climb, eat, and socialize in a natural environment with a tree, grass, shrubs and a skyway. Eventually, Carly and her companions will probably live in the free-range section of the sanctuary. 

Snow monkeys grooming
Image by Petra Bensted via Flickr

I love reading and sharing this story of hope, healing and compassion. With hard work and dedication from Born Free USA and similar organizations, animals who have been neglected, isolated, and traumatized actually help each other heal. Maybe we humans can learn a thing or two from these beautiful creatures. Amid the horrifying stories of trophy hunting and poaching, we can promote healing and hope, one animal at a time.

For more information on sponsoring a primate at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary, visit this page