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Do you remember your favorite book when you were learning to read as a child? Visualize it. It probably had bright, colorful pictures to illustrate the story. Likely your parents read it to you before bed, or you curled up to engross yourself in it in a cozy reading corner of your elementary school classroom with beanbag chairs or plush carpet.

But what if you didn’t have a book like that? Or what if you did but your parents couldn’t read it to you? This is often the reality for children growing up in Nepal. Children have school books that are black and white text and don’t have pictures and colors to engage their senses, and they often don’t have access to storybooks. This has a long-term impact, as only 59.63 percent of adults in Nepal are literate — only 48.84 percent for women.

This was the reality for Jhalak, a third-grade student living in Sindhuli, eastern Nepal. He struggled to even read his own name, and many of his friends couldn’t either. Because of the importance of literacy and struggles with it around the world, World Vision began a program to boost literacy and increase reading rates.

There are three main ways World Vision helps to do this: training teachers with more engaging methods, establishing reading camps outside of schools, and helping parents create a nurturing environment at home that encourages reading. The result? In two years, children who participated in the program read 1.5 times better than children who didn’t participate. Nationally, the stats are all moving in the right direction:

  • Children who can read with comprehension by sixth grade has increased by 8.1 percent.
  • First grade promotion rates have increased from 78.4 percent in 2014 to 83.1 percent in 2016.
  • Enrollment rates for sixth through eighth grades increased from 74.6 percent to 80.2 percent in two years.
  • Children ages 5 to 12 who are out of school has dropped from 15 percent in 2014 to 11.3 percent.

Because of people like you who have given to World Vision’s programs, literacy rates are improving across Nepal. Here’s how the program works that’s making it happen.

Improving classrooms

The first part of the program focuses on providing training and materials for teachers to help them better engage children in learning and reading.

World Vision helped train 51 teachers from 20 schools in the Sindhuli district with more creative methods of teaching. Dipak Raj Pokhrel serves as the principal of Shree Mangala School and noted the change in his school after World Vision’s programming help.

“The entire concept of teaching and learning has changed here,” he says. “Now students are taught through interesting approaches such as singing, dancing, and playing.”

One student, Ganga, says, “I like it when I get to sing and dance in the class. I do not feel like I am studying.”

Yet Ganga is learning and showing great signs of improvement through the new teaching methods. Her teacher, Shanta Dahal, says, “Ganga used to be a slower learner in the beginning. She had difficulty learning and memorizing new words, but now she is learning fast after we began teaching her through songs, dance, and games.”

“We only get to see attractive, colorful books in expensive private schools . . . ,” Shanta says. “Because of this, the children also felt discouraged at times. Moreover, the children who come to this school are usually from poor families who cannot afford to pay fees of expensive private schools. But now, with all these new books and learning materials, we feel as if our school is no less than any private school. The quality of education has improved for sure.”

Dipak has noticed a measurable difference across all the classes as well.

“The learning ability and speed of students [learning] has really improved,” he says. “Their grades are gradually improving too.”

During an event at the school, Yadav Prasad Acharya, section officer from the ministry of education, visited and was impressed with the changes he saw.

“A building is only the body of the school, but the real soul is the learning process,” Yadav says. “I am happy World Vision has supported not only the body but also the soul of this school by enhancing the learning process through child-friendly teaching initiatives.”

Reading camps

On the other side of the country in Kailali district, 9-year-old Prem and his parents were visiting his cousins in a neighboring community. But upon arriving, Prem suddenly realized it was Saturday. He had to leave. He asked his cousin to borrow a bike, and he rode all the way back home — so he could attend reading camp.

Reading camps are the second component of the program and provide another space for children to practice reading and further learn outside the formal school environment. Volunteer teachers lead children in songs, drawing, and other activities all designed to help them learn to read. Kids can also make resources to take home that will help them practice learning their letters and words.

Prem doesn’t enjoy attending school, but he loves attending reading camp. So every Saturday, he spends 90 minutes at the program learning from Raj Kumari, the facilitator.

“Even when the 90-minute class finishes, they want to stay more and learn more,” Raj says. “We usually have to stay for a longer time.”

She says when the program started, she had about five students attending, and now she has about 30. Hers is one of more than 442 reading camps across the country. In Kailali alone, more than 2,300 children participate.

Now Prem regularly brings home drawings to decorate his family’s house, and he often teaches his father, Dipendra, the songs he learns at reading camp.

“He can read better; he can draw better,” Dipendra says. “ . . . I am very happy with the changes in him.”

Back in Sindhuli, since 2016, more than 780 children like Jhalak have participated in reading camps. There, he learned how to pronounce words and how to write them from a volunteer teacher named Dor Kumari.

“My reading camp teacher is very loving and patient,” Jhalek says. “I used to be embarrassed when someone would ask me to read, but I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Reading corners

Dor, Raj, and other reading camp teachers spend a lot of time not only with the kids but also educating the whole community to become involved in children’s learning. Each month, the camp teachers meet with parents and formal teachers to discuss how children are improving at school and suggest ways to continue fostering it. 

Teachers have conducted more than 150 reading awareness workshops to help parents better understand how to promote literacy at home.

One of those ways is the third component of the program: reading corners in children’s homes. These corners are designated spaces where children can study, practice reading, and where parents can spend time with them and encourage their learning. It gives the children spaces where they can hang the resources they receive and projects they make at reading camp to create a consistent study space. In Sindhuli, families created more than 140 reading corners to bolster learning at home. Jhalak’s mom, Chitra Kumari, saw a difference in her children after creating a reading corner.

“It has been very beneficial, as my children love to study surrounded by interesting reading materials that they can point to and read,” she says. “I try to sit with Jhalak and his sister every evening when they are studying in the reading corner.

“In a matter of months, their reading skills have improved. I am very proud of my son.”

And Jhalak isn’t a one-off example. On top of the national stats, in Jhalak’s district alone, the number of children who can read with comprehension by sixth grade has improved from 56.4 percent in 2014 to 71.4 percent in 2016. And numbers are similar in Prem’s community as well, going from 33.3 percent in 2014 to 49.4 percent in 2017.

As this literacy programming continues, more children will come to cherish the joy of reading and the opportunities it presents as they grow up.

 

Barun Bajracharya and Nissi Thapa of World Vision’s staff in Nepal contributed to this story.

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On Giving Tuesday, you can help children and families in developing countries — and even here in the U.S. It’s made possible through World Vision’s partnership with Thirty-One Gifts for Giving Tuesday 2018.

This is the fifth year World Vision and Thirty-One Gifts, which sells purses, totes, and home décor, will partner to double your Giving Tuesday gift with a product match. With any donation you make for Giving Tuesday – Nov. 27, 2018 – Thirty-One Gifts will match it in product donation up to $2 million with apparel, towels, and thermals to help women and children in need. Last year, many products went to help families in Zambia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and El Salvador.  Additionally, 37 pallets were distributed in the U.S. through the help of World Vision partners to assist survivors of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

“World Vision is providing amazing programs and resources that allow us to support women and families all over the world who are truly the most vulnerable and who may be ignored otherwise,” says Wendy Bradshaw, executive director of community affairs and philanthropy at Thirty-One Gifts.

We spoke with Wendy to learn more about why Thirty-One Gifts works with World Vision and the impact Giving Tuesday will have.

Why does Thirty-One Gifts partner with World Vision?

We first met World Vision because our founder, Cindy Monroe, and her husband were personally committed. Cindy said, ‘This is something I think our consultants will engage with and support.’ There’s such mission alignment with both of us being faith-based organizations and a platform and mission to serve others. Your mission and ours say the same thing: provide tools for women and families to meet their full potential. It was as if we met a sister in our goals to help others.

How did you initially partner with World Vision?

We love the women hygiene kit process. We provide the bag, and then put the products you provide in our bag. We have amazing consultants that gather in July for our annual sales conference, and we have a give-back that we do through the kit program. This year, we assembled 2,500 kits.

When we walk in, you see people gushing and just excited to be part of something bigger than the conference. They write prayerful notes and pray over each one for the ladies that will receive these bags. We don’t want people to think they’re just getting stuff – they’re getting prayer and heartfelt notes from us to cheer them on in a tough time.

Many kits that were built last year were distributed to people affected by the hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico. We never would have imagined that those kits were destined to help Americans shortly thereafter. Some of them were made by women who are from the areas where World Vision distributed them, so they came full-circle to support communities where our people live and work. Each kit also contains a note of encouragement, and they certainly went to people who needed an emotional boost after everything they experienced.

Why has Thirty-One Gifts expanded that partnership with World Vision for Giving Tuesday?

We love Giving Tuesday as a whole. It’s a time of year where there’s so much hustle and bustle, and the holidays are full of year-end projects at work, holiday parties, and activities with the kids. But taking a day to think about others who are less fortunate makes Giving Tuesday such a special day.

For us, saying we can double your gift is a fun message. We’re proud to be partnered with World Vision again, and we’re looking forward to another big year.

It’s magical when you can put two organizations together to double their reach. We’re committed and passionate about supporting women and families around the world, and we’re going to take donations and double them, so you can’t beat an investment you’re making in someone else that way.

What kinds of products will people in need receive this year?

It’s a mixture of apparel, thermals, and towels that people will receive this year.

 

You + World Vision’s local staff = help, hope, and love to people in nearly 100 countries.

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Praying the Scriptures is one of the most powerful ways to talk to God. This season, pray Psalm 139 over your sponsored child using the prompts below that correspond with verses in the Psalm.

Psalm 139

1  You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.

Thank God that he sees and knows your sponsored child.

2  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

4  Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

5  You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

Thank God for his protection on your sponsored child.

6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

7  Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Praise God that your sponsored child is never alone. Ask that your sponsored child senses his presence.

8  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10  even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Praise God for his guidance, and ask for continual guidance as your sponsored child grows.

11  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

12  even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Thank God for how he has uniquely and lovingly created your sponsored child with dignity.

14  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Praise God for creating your sponsored child.

15  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Ask God to reveal his great plans for your sponsored child and their life.

17  How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!

Pray that your sponsored child learns to love God.

18  Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you.

19  If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!

Pray for God’s protection from anyone who would want to harm your sponsored child or their family and community.

20  They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.

21  Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?

22  I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.

23  Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Ask God for his leadership in your sponsored child’s life.

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Rubina, or Ruby as her friends call her, had to drop out of school after just the fifth grade. Her father died when she was 13, and her 16-year-old sister had to provide for the family by working at a print shop making envelopes in Delhi, India. Ruby worked alongside her to help increase the output.

When she was 16, Ruby married a local mechanic named Mohd. The couple had two boys, and she was determined that they would get the education she wasn’t able to get. But tragedy struck when Mohd died of tuberculosis after battling the disease for a year and a half.

An artisan with Gifts With a Cause makes The Grace Collection Charm Braclet.
Ruby makes The Grace Collection Charm Bracelet. She works for a fair-trade organization, which pays her fairly and ensures she has a safe working environment. (Photo courtesy of Gifts With a Cause)

Ruby was once again forced to work and struggled to provide for her family.

But in 2014, she began working with a fair trade group making jewelry. She earns fair wages, works in a safe and healthy environment, and she receives education assistance to ensure her boys can attend school. On top of that, she enjoys working with the other women to create beautiful pieces.

Patricia Heaton wears items from The Grace Collection by Patricia Heaton, a hand-crafted jewelry line created in partnership with Gifts With a Cause.
Patricia Heaton wears items from The Grace Collection by Patricia Heaton, a hand-crafted jewelry line created in partnership with Gifts With a Cause. (©2018 World Vision/photo by Diana Ragland)

One of the bracelets Ruby makes is The Grace Collection Charm Bracelet, which is part of The Grace Collection by Patricia Heaton, a jewelry line available in the 2018 Christmas Gift Catalog that was sourced by our partner, California-based Gifts With a Cause. Patricia has supported World Vision’s work for many years and was recognized at the Television Industry Advocacy Awards for her work and commitment.

In addition to making jewelry, Ruby is also responsible for running quality assurance on the pieces she and the other 11 artisans create and then packing the jewelry. She enjoys her work and is able to provide for her family, and the best part is that her boys are now in the sixth grade and ninth grade, and she dreams that they’ll get great jobs that will make their futures bright.

 

Make a donation to receive a hand-crafted gift from The Grace Collection.

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A song begins to play on an old CD player in a dark, one-room home in Khulna, Bangladesh, but Tania Akter hits the next button. Another song starts, but she shakes her head disapprovingly and again hits the skip button. And again. And again. And again. But after several skips, a catchy beat begins to play, and her eyes light up and quickly shift around the room looking hesitant, but only for a moment as the hesitation succumbs to the allure of the beat.

She closes her eyes, and the grace with which the 16-year-old carries herself day-in and day-out now directs every part of her body as it makes time with the music, emotionally transporting her far from her poverty-stricken neighborhood. Her fingers and arms rhythmically float through the air, and she turns in circles as her head, hips, and feet follow direction from the song pumping through her veins.

The music transforms her, freedom replacing her burdens and joy replacing her hardships. For a moment, she lets down the composure that consumes her life, and she doesn’t hear the people who call her names or the boss who yells at her to work more. She doesn’t worry about how she will provide for her father and 10-year-old sister or what she will cook them for dinner. She doesn’t feel the pain she endures working each day but rather simply the song in her heart.

She just dances. To a favorite song. Like so many other 16-year-old girls enjoy doing.

The accident

When Tania was 5, life felt more normal. Her mother was in their home taking care of her and her sister, Suriaya, who was just a baby at the time. Her father, Somir Hawlader, worked selling cosmetics at a traveling fair.

Tania didn’t have to work. She could play with her friends. She even used to go to school.

But nine years ago, while Somir was working, men robbed him. And it wasn’t enough to just rob him and move on to another victim. Instead, they brutally attacked him.

“They snatched me and threw acid on my eyes,” Somir says. “They broke my arm and hit my head. After about 10 minutes, I felt my eyes becoming paralyzed, and I couldn’t see.”

Somir was now blind.

He couldn’t work. He couldn’t care for his family. Now he relied completely on others, and it took its toll on his wife. She left him a year later, leaving Tania, then 6, to run the house and care for Suriaya, who was just 18 months old.

The struggle to provide

As a child Tania stepped up, and even while attending school each day she would go to the market to buy food and cook it. Her favorite meal to make is dim bhuna, or egg curry. She also learned how to do all the cleaning, laundry, and household chores.

The family needs between US$37 and US$75 a month to cover all their expenses. Somir receives a government ration of about US$6.25 a month because of his disability, but it’s not enough to support his daughters, so he turned to begging on the streets. He typically begs three days a week and earns about US$2.50 a day.

He has to be careful though, as the government has tried to curtail begging. “I can’t go on the street, or they will catch me, so I am afraid of how to provide for my family,” Somir says.

The government helps people who beg by instead providing them with cups to sell tea on the streets. It’s a great idea in theory, but Somir isn’t able to see the currency people give him to make change or know if he’s being cheated, and he can’t tell how much tea he’s using in the water or how full the cup is when he pours.

“If I would like to sell tea, I would need to take my younger daughter,” he says. “I can’t take my older daughter because people will stare at her, and I’m concerned for her safety.”

It’s a common concern for parents of girls in Bangladesh, where women are seen as inferior, treated differently than men, and often married off younger than the legal age of 18. To avoid bringing unwanted sexual attention to Tania, he takes Suriaya, now 10, but says, “she would miss school.”

She usually is out of class one day a week, which seems nearly harmless, but multiplied week after week, year after year, Suriaya will quickly fall behind and may eventually drop out. Tania doesn’t want to see her sister leave school like she finally had to three years ago.

“I miss school. I liked to study Bangla — I like the rhymes and poems,” she says. Tania can still read, but very slowly and says, “I have forgotten many things.

“I want to be a nurse. I will feel good when I’m able to help the children here and provide treatment support, and if they get cut, I will help them get dressings.”

Work instead of school

Instead of school and progressing toward becoming a nurse, Tania spent many of her days peeling piles of icy shrimp — squatting for hours with little rest in order to avoid sitting on a dirty, wet cement floor at a local fish depot.

“I get pain in my knees and in my waist,” she says. She could stand to take a break and help relieve the pain, but in eight hours of work, she only took the equivalent of about 20 minutes worth of breaks throughout the shift.

Beyond being laborious, the work was also harmful, as there’s an incredibly sharp part of the fish that is like a razor blade. “I’m really sad when I get cut with the saw of the fish,” Tania says. “I get severe pain.”

The shrimp are in large barrels of ice, so she also struggled to keep her hands warm as she worked. “I put water in a pot, and when my fingers get hard, I dip them in the water,” she says.

Even at room temperature, the water helped bring some small relief to her chilled hands. It was important she kept her fingers warm, not just for comfort or health but because when she lost some of the feeling and they were hard to move, it increased the likelihood of getting hurt. “There’s more chance to get cut when I can’t peel properly, so then I get cut almost every time,” Tania says.

During the off-season, she worked for just a few hours, a couple days a week to make between US 50 and 75 cents a day. During the busy season, a boss would come to her home and wake her in the middle of the night — if that’s when the shrimp arrived — and she had to get up and go in. For her overnight work of about seven to eight hours, she might earn about US$1.85.

“When they bring enough shrimp, I have enough money, but when they don’t, I lack,” Tania says.

A hope to learn

Fortunately, the monotony of peeling shrimp didn’t peel away at Tania’s dreams.

To help with her and other children’s dreams, World Vision began a Child-Friendly Learning and Resource Center (CFLRC) in May 2017 in Tania’s community.

The center is part of a new project called Jiboner Jannya, which meanswell-being of life,” and aims to help about 51,000 adults and children like Tania in the region. The program is working to protect some of the most vulnerable children who are at risk of the worst forms of child labor, abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Program facilitators use games, skits, and group activities to teach children life skills, such as how to work past disagreements by finding solutions that benefit both parties. But children also learn about their rights to protection and the dangers of labor, trafficking, and abuse, says Augustine Amal D’Rosario, the area coordinator for the project.

Tania and other children attend the center for a few hours each day, but that cuts into their work and other household responsibilities, so in leading by example, World Vision staff also work with the children’s employers and families to find solutions that work for everyone.

Provash Chandra Biswas, the project manager, explains that staff members work hard to educate employers about why children need to attend the center. They gain their support and agreement to allow the kids to attend for a small part of the day.

But with fewer hours to work, that can harm the families, so staff also need to work with parents like Somir to teach them how the center will benefit their children and even why kids need to learn and be protected. By spending time with the parents to educate them about the program, answer their questions, and also learn about their struggles, families feel empowered to send their children to the CFLRC.

“I like the programs. Whenever World Vision runs a program, they take care of their children. They ensure their participation and make sure they reach home safely,” says Somir, speaking about his experience with Suriaya attending a different program when she was younger.

Additionally, World Vision provides income assistance to help families compensate for the wages lost by their children attending the center in the near term. But that’s just a temporary solution. To see long-term change, parents learn new job skills that can help them create better, sustainable livelihoods for their families as well.

At the center, Tania was learning with the hopes of catching up on her education so she might re-enter formal schooling. But as she was studying, she became too old to go back, so now she has new dreams of building a tailoring business. In addition to educational opportunities, the CFLRC also provides vocational training for older children so they can better support their families and not be engaged in harmful labor.

Tania used to work in a dangerous shrimp depot in Bangladesh. Now, with World Vision’s help, she has received skills training to more safely provide for her family.
Tania works on her sewing machine World Vision provided as part of her skills training. She now earns more money and is working safely. (©2018 World Vision/photo by George Sarkar)

In the summer of 2017, Tania received two months of tailoring training, and World Vision also provided her with a sewing machine and fabric so she could start her own business. She now works at home, where she is safe, and she has enough time to care for her father and sister. With the 80 taka (US$1) she’s earning every day, she can afford three meals for her family. But even though Tania is still working, she at least now can sleep without fear of being called into work, and she has more time to rest, watch television, play, and — most importantly — dance.

“Thanks, World Vision, for rescuing me from shrimp work,” Tania says. “Once my dream was to become a nurse, but now my ultimate goal is to establish a big tailoring store and feed my family.”

 

George Sarkar of World Vision in Bangladesh contributed to this story.

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Mike Weaver never wanted to be a world traveler. He was content touring the U.S. as the lead singer for the popular Christian band Big Daddy Weave.

But growing up, his parents sponsored children around the world, so when World Vision invited him and the band overseas to see the work firsthand, he was hesitant but open.

“When I began to travel, I began to associate faces with the work, and I’m haunted by these faces in the best way. I feel like I’ve seen the face of Jesus in these faces,” Mike says. “I see the effect of the work in the faces of children all over the world that we have met, and I feel the importance of Big Daddy Weave in this is to be ambassadors for those little faces, to put those faces in the way of people in America.”

Mike Weaver, singer for Big Daddy Weave, eats lunch and shares family photos with his sponsored child, Kimhuoy Hak and her family.
Mike Weaver, singer for Big Daddy Weave, eats lunch and shares family photos with his sponsored child, Kimhuoy Hak, and her family in Cambodia. (©2015 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt)

Mike and his wife, Kandice, are passionate about child sponsorship — they sponsor five children, and the band has gotten nearly 30,000 children sponsored at its concerts. World Vision recently spoke with Mike about sponsorship, how he came to be a world traveler, and how that impacts him today.

What stood out most to you when you began seeing World Vision’s work?

On our first trip to Ecuador in 2007, we were at 13,000 feet in elevation, and I said, “Wow, there’s a lot of fog,” and they said, “No, we’re in the clouds.” I’ll never forget the kids who came to greet us. We met at a school. These little kids came poking through the clouds, and we called them the faces in the clouds. World Vision had put in a school for kids who had never gone to school. It was opening doors that no one in their culture had ever opened to them. It was the love of God in the form of a school on top of a mountain.

Our second trip was to Africa, and I remember sweating the entire time. We showed up in Tanzania, and it was not the most impressive field of corn I had ever seen, but when I found out that no one had ever grown anything there before, it rocked me. These farmers were so excited to share with us how World Vision had helped them get water to this piece of desert, and now they can feed their families because of this piece of dirt. That corn was the love of God coming out of the ground.

When was the moment that you really wanted to travel abroad?

I became a world traveler in 2012 when I met the first child my family had sponsored; his name is Babayetu. God just did a thing in my heart, and I loved him. Those hours I had with him, we didn’t need a translator. We were smiling and holding hands, and he was showing me where he lived. They don’t have very much, but they threw us a party. I fell in love with him and his family.

I’m listening to all the other kids, and nobody is calling him by his name, and I was bummed because I love that name. It made my name seem super boring. Instead of calling him Babayetu, they were calling him Boniface. I don’t care what continent you’re on, that sounded like name-calling. So I asked the translator.

She found out that Boniface was the name he was given after he received Jesus. Because of their interaction with World Vision, he decided to make Jesus the Lord of his life. When they baptized him and brought him out of the water, they gave him a new name — Boniface, which means a better ending, a happier ending. I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” That was the moment I became a world traveler. Until then, I knew it was important, but I had no idea the sense of urgency with it.

 

 

We were about to leave and Babayetu came up to me, and he has tears in his eyes but he’s holding it together — there’s a manly thing in Maasai culture, and the boys are supposed to be tough. The translator is with us, and he speaks directly to me and translates, “This has been a happy day. When are you coming to see me again?”

Then I’m messed up, and I said, “I don’t know. I’ve never been to Africa, and I don’t know when I’m coming back again, but I promise you this, because this has been a happy day for me too, when I get back to America, I will tell every person I know about you and the chance we have to be a part of people’s lives like yours.” Then the band started asking, “Where are we going to go next?”

Where did you go next?

We wanted to see World Vision fight sex trafficking, so we went to Cambodia, and we felt the pain of Cambodia. We walked around the Cambodian Killing Fields. There are literally shallow graves and skeletons coming out of the ground because the killing was absolutely brutal. My brother said, “It’s like the earth is screaming.” There was a genocide museum, and they have pictures, and I couldn’t finish the tour. I remember leaving and sitting on a stump outside just trying to imagine and understand how people can do this to other people.

 

 

We saw all kinds of stuff with World Vision, but what I remember the most is visiting kids that live in the trash. They are treated like the trash they live in by their culture, and nobody misses them when they disappear into human trafficking. We showed up, and it was snack time. The kids were all excited, and they’re all shocked by the size of me  —  they’re looking at me like they had seen Godzilla — but I’d smile, and they’d know it’s all good.

Members of the Christian rock band, Big Daddy Weave, see World Vision's street children outreach work in Cambodia. World Vision provides snacks and games for kids and teaches them how to avoid people who would hurt them by forcing them into trafficking.
Mike Weaver of Big Daddy Weave sees World Vision’s street children outreach work in Cambodia. World Vision provides snacks and games for kids and teaches them how to avoid people who would hurt them by forcing them into trafficking. (©2015 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt)

We started playing games, and you’d think we had brought Disney World to them. They’re so starved for someone to take care of them. They’re so starved for someone to pay attention to them — and that’s how the traffickers can get to them so easily.

Our friends from World Vision are everywhere in that town. Every night in Phnom Penh, they’re somewhere telling stories and bringing snacks. World Vision is telling them, “You’re not trash because you live in the trash. You’re very precious. But there are people who want to take you away to a life that’s not good for you, and this is how you look out for that.” It’s teaching them to be street smart. They’re being the love of God to these kids.

When you see such suffering like you did in Cambodia, how do you process that?

I don’t know how to process all of it, honestly. Something I brought back from Cambodia was just hurt. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, and I’d sit downstairs, and it dawned on me at one point what the hurt is, what the uncomfortable is — it’s God’s pain. I’ve sat in my living room in the middle of the night when my time is messed up from traveling and cried my guts out, and said, “God I’ll cry with you.” I cried with God in my living room and hurt with him because he hurts for this. He’s God, and he could snap his fingers, and it could all be gone, but there’s a way of seeing things he’s carrying out.

We have a huge privilege to represent the poorest of the poor to the body of Jesus in America and to try to make it real for them the way that people hurt around the world and to learn how to be a voice for them. It’s a giant privilege for me, and it’s a huge honor.

How do you talk about hard topics like child protection with your own children?

We speak in general terms with them. My son Eli is 10 years old — he can understand some things his 6-year-old sister can’t. And he’s ready to now, so as he’s able, we introduce him to some of the harder things. We talk about slavery; we don’t talk about sexual exploitation. He can understand “slave” because he’s studied the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln is one of his favorite presidents because he helped abolish slavery, so he can understand slavery, but he can’t understand some of the things with it. As the Lord opens doors for that, we love to speak into that, but as far as our kids go, we keep it general, and they have a sense that we’re helping this child on the sponsorship packet. That’s how we look at it — we’re praying for this one.

Mike Weaver, singer for Big Daddy Weave, plants a tree with his sponsored child, Kimhuoy Hak.
Mike Weaver, singer for Big Daddy Weave, plants a tree with his sponsored child, Kimhuoy Hak. (©2015 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt)

You recently saw child protection work in a different context in Armenia, so what was that like?

We heard about this very cold place where people who had stoves in their houses were dying because they didn’t have the money to heat their houses. So we went.

Big Daddy Weave band members (left to right) Joe Shirk, Brian Beihl, Jeremy Redmon, and Mike Weaver walk through a neighborhood with colorful, painted houses in Amasia, Armenia. For a service project, World Vision youth club members knew of this street of wooden houses in the community that would need painting again soon. Instead of opting for the same white houses they had always been, the young adults came up with an eye-catching color scheme.
Big Daddy Weave band members (left to right) Joe Shirk, Brian Beihl, Jeremy Redmon, and Mike Weaver walk through a neighborhood in Amasia, Armenia. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Eugene Lee)

So much has happened to Armenia. They had this earthquake that tore up the country, and the collapse of the Soviet Union has prevented it from rebuilding.

We met this little guy named Gagik. He is a member of a family of six. The family lives in a storage container. I remember standing outside this storage container in this blizzard, saying, “Who lives like this?” Many of the dads in Armenia leave the country to find a job. Many of them never come back. Gagik’s dad had stayed there, but it made it really hard to provide. It’s never enough. His mom has a degree to teach biology, but it would take a year to save up enough money — a year’s salary is $4,000 — to bribe somebody for a job because [the system] is crooked. But Gagik has a condition that causes his brain to swell, and they had to take out a $2,000 loan to get treatment that’s only a temporary fix.

Big Daddy Weave band members Brian Beihl (left) and Mike Weaver (right) pray for 10-month-old Gagik and his medical problems.
Big Daddy Weave band members Brian Beihl (left) and Mike Weaver (right) pray for 10-month-old Gagik and his medical problems. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Eugene Lee)

They have no idea how they’ll pay it back, and they’ll have to do it again, but they’re all smiling because we came to visit them. They were so hospitable. It was unreal. The story didn’t have a happy ending. You feel the tension. Now we get to share that with people every night. I’ll say, “Where’s the hope in this story? There’s hope in all these other stories. The hope is you — I’m looking at the hope, and it’s you.”

 

Thoughts from dummer Brian Beihl

Big Daddy Weave’s drummer Brian Beihl also spoke with us about his experiences traveling to see World Vision’s work.

“The thing I really like about World Vision is they don’t go into an area and just start doing something,” Brian says. “They find out what that area really needs and what they can do to help that.”

Brian Beihl, drummer for Big Daddy Weave, spends time with Srey Soa Sim, a sponsored child in Cambodia.
Brian Beihl, drummer for Big Daddy Weave, spends time with Srey Soa Sim, a sponsored child in Cambodia. (©2015 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt)

He shared more about his experience in Armenia in December 2017.

What did you learn on your trip to Armenia?

We got to see how World Vision is helping empower families. In Armenia, they traditionally favor the male children to carry on the family name, work, and make money. For so long, they’ve had that mindset that male children are preferred. We got to see how World Vision helps incorporate the whole family and is helping to change families’ mentality.

Who most stood out to you that you met in Armenia?

We met a guy who has this beehive honey business, and he does bee therapy, which I’ve never heard of before. It’s an outdoor shed-looking thing and has windows, and there are benches inside. They put the beehives in there, and you go in and sit, and the sound and the pollen they generate from flying around is supposed to calm you. He’ll sell hives to people, so they have a way to make money by making and selling honey. It was cool to see him taking this and making it into a business.

Then there was a lady named Hermine. She’s trying to support her family on the little income she has. It blows my mind — her monthly salary is $100 and it’s taken everything she’s making to support her kids and pay rent for her house. To see the hurt she had to go through, and her husband leaving to go find work and not coming back, it’s hard. World Vision helped her find a job working as a beautician.

Big Daddy Weave band members (left to right) Joe Shirk, Brian Beihl, Mike Weaver, and Jeremy Redmon visit Hermine Mkhitaryan's family at their home in Tchambarak, Armenia.
Big Daddy Weave band members (left to right) Joe Shirk, Brian Beihl, Mike Weaver, and Jeremy Redmon visit Hermine Mkhitaryan’s family at their home in Tchambarak, Armenia. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Eugene Lee)

How did God work in you on the trip?

No matter what we go through, no matter the hardships, it’s always keeping our eyes on him. He ultimately is our provider for everything. He provided everything through his Son. For me, it’s knowing that he will provide what they need, allowing them to know who Jesus is and accept Christ. Much of the country is Christian — it was the first Christian nation — so their reliance is on Christ, even in dealing with corrupt government officials and the past communist regime. Through that, God makes a way and will provide. He always does. It may not be on our time frame, but he’ll do it.

Big Daddy Weave band members (righ to left) Mike Weaver, Jeremy Redmon, and Brian Beihl light candles at Etchmiadzin Cathedral Armenian Apostolic Church in Vagharshapat, Armenia. According to scholars it was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia (early fourth century — between 301 and 303), and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world.
Big Daddy Weave band members (righ to left) Mike Weaver, Jeremy Redmon, and Brian Beihl light candles at Etchmiadzin Cathedral Armenian Apostolic Church in Vagharshapat, Armenia. According to scholars it was the first cathedral built in ancient Armenia and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world. (©2017 World Vision/photo by Eugene Lee)

How does all of this impact how you interact with people on the tour?

We see a lot of hurting people out here on the road. Every night when we’re doing our shows, you see so much brokenness. It’s kind of crazy because we have this mentality and culture that we’ve created here of “I can do this” — the self-this, self-that kind of thing. It’s having a reliance on Christ and just focusing in on him and showing people, “Hey, we’re not meant to do these things on our own.” We need his strength to provide for us. We need his strength to pick us up in times of trouble. We need his strength to carry us.

It’s been cool to share those moments with people and to see the light click that, “Hey, I don’t have to do this on my own — I can rely on him.” He wants us to call on him. It’s been great to share that with people and say, “You’re not alone. I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve dealt with that. I want to try to do things on my own, but I have to realize I can’t. I have to rely on him.”

How does that transformation then change others?

We have seen what World Vision does through sponsorship, getting those emails from World Vision saying, “Hey, just so you know, we’ve pulled out of an area because it’s now self-sustaining.” That’s because of people who have come to our shows and supported and sponsored those kids. They can say, “Wow! I was part of that! I helped with that!” Then they go and share that and spread it with others.

 

Hear Big Daddy Weave music and find out where to see them live in concert, or get updates from Big Daddy Weave about their partnership with World Vision.

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