Unlikely Pen Pals


Once a month, a woman in East Texas sends a letter to a little girl in Sri Lanka. The two are separated by oceans, continents, decades, culture and language, but none of this can keep them apart. One writes in English, the other responds in Tamil. One has lost a mother, the other a daughter. Both are humble, and both rely on God to provide not only the things they know they need, but the needs they have yet to discover.
“I just have to see what God provides and what evolves, but I’m wanting to be there involved in her life, the rest of her life, in some part,” said Linda Frazier, a child sponsor. Linda has been sponsoring 12-year-old Selvika* for over a year, and already she is the reason Selvika has celebrated a birthday for the first time, the reason she has a table to study at when she gets home from school, the reason she has a bed to sleep on at night.
Like other child sponsors, Linda commits a monthly gift to Selvika that provides a loving home environment, counseling, education, food and clothing for her in Sri Lanka. Selvika lost her mother to cancer in the spring of 2020 and has lived with her aunt and uncle ever since. Selvika would like to become a doctor one day, to look after people like her mother and prevent losses like the one she has had to live through.
Selvika with her mom, who passed away in 2020
Linda is a house manager at Breckenridge Village of Tyler (BVT), where she lives and works daily to help adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has worked there for 12 years and has been a foster parent for 20 years. Helping others is an important part of her life as a Christian, and she feels God has led her in many ways to be with the right people at the right time, enabling her to be a voice and force for good.
Linda with those she helps at BVT (2021)
Sponsorship is not only a gift but an investment. A sponsor changes a child’s life, but so does a child change a sponsor, and not always as expected.
Linda plans to keep supporting Selvika as long as she can, giving a portion of what God has provided her to provide for someone else. Meanwhile, Selvika plans to keep making Linda and her family proud. “Your prayers and assistance have been so supportive to me,” Selvika wrote to Linda one month. “I will accomplish my mother’s dreams and your expectations, and will surely become a successful person in life.”
Selvika with her aunt and brothers (2021)

There are many children waiting for a sponsor.

Will you invest in a child’s life? 

A father’s will to provide

South African father

Like most people with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, Shadrack Mvelase receives a disability pension. But it is not enough for a single father raising four children.

The Mvelase family lives in Roosboom, a district of Ladysmith, South Africa. Roosboom is situated in a rural part of the country, far from the industry of the city. Shadrack has cared for his whole family—a pair of twins, a child and grandchild—since his wife died of AIDS in 2010.

Shadrick with his family (2020).

When the CERI team first met Shadrack in 2016, we planted a food gardens in his neighborhood to help families become self-sustainable and rely less on the government.

We invested in Shadrack and his family so that his children could stay with him, rather than transitioning to an orphanage or facility out of necessity. In turn, Shadrack has invested in his children and works hard to support his family.

CERI also built a new house for the Mvelase family in partnership with Mpilonhle Sanctuary Organisation and continues to provide counseling and health assistance.

Mvelase family’s new home (left). Their previous house (right).

Around the world, CERI helps families of all kinds find ways to stay together. CERI has helped families for 20 years in locations like South Africa, India, Moldova and Sri Lanka through the sponsorship of children and the help of local staff who can offer direct care and meet families where they are.

CERI staff visiting Shadrack.

CERI continues to stand by the Mvelase family, but more importantly, Shadrack continues to protect and provide for his family. 

Help dads like Shadrack support their families.

A donation as small as $25 has the power to change a life.

“No one should be alone.”

Cathy child sponsor

May is National Foster Care Month. CERI is part of the global movement to grow foster care around the world. Here’s the story of one mom making a difference for kids at home and abroad.

Cathy Via-Reque’s identity as a mother is complex and layered—one that’s been tested by many unexpected twists and turns.

Cathy grew up in the Midwest, where she married, had two children, and eventually separated from her first husband. In the midst of the pain of separation, Cathy experienced additional heartbreak: the realization that her children would soon make cherished memories without her. There were snowball fights and inside jokes she may never know. But becoming content with that new reality would be the first of many lessons in her journey.

Cathy with her 2 children (2013)

After Cathy had her own children, she found that her desire to foster or adopt only became stronger. “I love my kids so much, and I give them all I can,” Cathy said. “Everybody needs a parent to love them. No one should be alone.” She came to realize even helping one child can make a difference: “If you help one child, that’s one less child that has to go through life without a parent.”

When Cathy married her husband, Alfonso, they formed a new family. It took time for both Cathy and Alfonso to learn how to parent in a blended family, but soon enough it came naturally. Cathy shared her passion for foster care and adoption with Alfonso early in their relationship, but Alfonso was hesitant to restart the parenting process later in life. They prayed together for God to guide them, and Cathy never forgot her dream to give a child the gift of family.

Cathy & Alfonso with their children (2018)

Soon, the Via-Reques moved from Chicago to San Antonio, where they found a church, built community, and found new ways to give back. Cathy sponsors a child through CERI and volunteers with St. Jude’s Ranch, to name a few. 

After years of deliberation and prayer, the Via-Reque family adopted their 3-year-old daughter, Mary, in 2020. Mary became part of the Via-Reque family just as COVID-19 stay-at-home orders took place, a blessing during these crucial first years.

Via-Reque family celebrates on Mary’s adoption day (2020)

Becoming a parent to Mary looks different. It is wholly unique, yet wholly the same. It is motherhood. Complicated, scary, selfless; a journey of patience like the rings of a tree, each layer building a foundation strong enough to survive the years to come.

Support foster families just like Cathy’s.

Change one life, change the world.

Not an Easy Life, but a Full One

Moldovan children with food

For Daniela, being a single mother comes with the tough decision of what to prioritize: money or food? Both take time—and time is hard to come by between her part-time work and four children at home.

Before the pandemic, the economy of Daniela’s home country, Moldova, was projected to grow by 6.9% by the end of 2021. Now, it’s expected to decrease -0.6% instead. For Daniela’s family, work became more difficult to find, and they became cut off from family and friends due to isolation.

Throughout the pandemic, CERI has played an important role in keeping Moldovan children from going hungry. While we have always met needs, the importance of a family’s income and stable sources of food have never been as apparent as now.

Food is one of the simplest ways to help children around the world. It’s also one of the most important. No one understands that truth more than Daniela, who works long hours simply to provide her four children their next meal.

“I want my children to have a better life than me and never want for basic things,” Daniela told us. She works hard today with the hope that her children will find stable careers and a steadier life as adults than she has been able to provide them. For the last five years, Daniela has raised her family alone and is the only source of income.

Without CERI, Daniela’s family life would be difficult. She could not afford fresh fruits and would not have the social services that are vital to their physical, emotional and relational growth. The children would lack social interactions and counseling services. Daniela would miss out on valuable parent trainings.


Moldova mom with children
Daniela with 3 of her children

Regular CERI food packs provide Daniela with essential ingredients so she can focus on her goals for her family. Thanks to supporters like you, Daniela does not worry so often about her family’s next meal.

“When my children are full, I feel good and peaceful,” says Daniela.

For a single mother of four impacted by the pandemic, having one less meal to worry about can make a world of difference.

Your gift feeds a family—and provides peace of mind.

It only takes $25.

I gave, Jesus multiplied

generosity_Sri Lanka

Feeding the multitude. Based on John 6:1-13.

By Eileen Neave Purkeypile, Director of Marketing & Development

Can you imagine being the boy with the 5 loaves and 2 fish?

It wasn’t the super organized mom who packs lots of snacks that saved the day. It wasn’t the wealthy businessman from the village that provided for everyone out of his abundance. It wasn’t even the disciple who should’ve planned the day’s itinerary better knowing how long-winded Jesus could be.

It was a young boy with a sharing spirit that made the impossible possible. A simple contribution, together with Jesus’ blessing, provided food to thousands.

The number of people facing hunger today doubled to 265 million in 2020 because of COVID-19. That’s millions of families without enough food and energy to work, go to school or simply live a normal life. Childhood, and their hope of adulthood, is at risk for millions of children because of hunger.

When the disciples came to Jesus asking him to fix the situation, He said, “You give them something to eat.” Jesus could’ve done it without anyone’s help, but He chose to seek the contribution of one person to feed the multitude. 

I believe the same applies today. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, and when we give what we have, He multiplies it. Not only that, He blesses us. Can you imagine the little boy’s reaction when he saw loaf after loaf come out of his small basket?

The Bible says, “One who is generous will be blessed, because he gives some of his food to the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9)

Today, there is a much larger multitude facing hunger, and not just from missing a meal. Jesus looks to you and says, “You give them something to eat.”

Do you want to be part of the miracles God is doing today? When you give, Jesus multiplies.

I can picture the beaming grin on that boy’s face as he walked home. When he arrived, his mother must have asked what had happened. Still in utter amazement, his words were surely, “I gave, Jesus multiplied.”

Will you give and watch Jesus multiply?

With just $25, you can feed a family for one week. 

Father’s Change of Heart Changes Girl’s Future

Father’s Change of Heart Changes Girl’s Future

Nakeem*, a Rohingya living in a refugee settlement in India, grew up in a society where men take care of matters outside the home and women are confined to their houses, expected to be submissive and compliant. This was the only life Nakeem had ever known. He followed his forefathers’ example by resolving family conflict through violence and religious authority. 

But when he had a daughter at the age of 35, his life began to change.

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) has provided services to the Rohingya community in India since 2018. Through an after-school program as well as counseling and healthcare services, our work provides opportunities for children and support families as they become self-sufficient. When we first met Nakeem, he had no interest in our work and little willingness to allow his daughter to participate. His behavior was no different than most men in the community who believed women should not be educated or participate in public events. This included playing with other children, going to school and speaking in front of men.

Children learning at CERI's community center in India.

Children learning at CERI’s community center in India.

These were the circumstances young Fathima, Nakeem’s 4-year-old daughter, faced every day. The challenges girls face around the world to grow up educated and successful are staggering. Women currently make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people, according to the United Nations.

And only 39% of girls living in rural communities are able to attend school at the secondary level. The only path forward available to many young girls is to be married at an early age. One out of three girls in the Global South, or about 12 million worldwide, are married before the age of 18.

In the summer of 2019, a team of CERI volunteers, in partnership with a local hospital, organized a mobile clinic in the community. Doctors gave checkups to the residents and nurses administered medicine and filled out prescriptions. Some women in the community encouraged their neighbors to get checkups and began helping the doctors with translation. The whole community of 260+ received medical help. Just as importantly, something changed inside Nakeem during that time.

Fathima attends CERI's community center.

Fathima attends CERI’s community center.

One day, Nakeem walked through the doors of the community center and asked staff to teach his daughter, Fathima. He said, “I want her to become a doctor.”

At the mobile clinic, Nakeem had seen, for the first time in his life, women doctors helping people in his community. He was struck by the realization that education was a real opportunity for Fathima and his family. Soon after, other men followed Nakeem’s example and brought their wives and daughters to the education center.

Nakeem learns about domestic violence at CERI's community center.

Nakeem learns about domestic violence at CERI’s community center.

“I will do whatever I can to support my daughter,” Nakeem said.

After that, Nakeem’s wife started bringing Fathima to the center every day, encouraging her to learn new things. Nakeem’s attitude at home had also changed as he became less strict and more understanding.

Fathima and her mom learn at CERI's community center.

Fathima and her mom learn at CERI’s community center.

There are still major needs in Fathima’s life and community. However, her father’s change of heart started something powerful. A new door of opportunity is now open for marginalized children and women. 

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

A change of heart can change a life.

Your gift supports and strengthens families like Nakeem’s.

South Africa: Where the Pandemic Never Ended

South Africa_pandemic

The impacts of COVID-19 on the health and economies of each nation the virus has touched are significant. Yet as members of a shared world, we have found a small but somewhat morbid relief in the pandemic: we are not doing great, but who is?

For comparison, imagine instead a pandemic without a collective experience. A disease more lethal and life-altering that leads you to feel ignored by the world, with no efforts to develop a vaccine or cure for a virus that kills thousands, infects newborns and renders children orphans. Such is the experience of many living in South Africa, a country ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

In South Africa, an estimated 70,000 people aged 15 to 24 were newly infected with HIV in 2019 alone, according to UNICEF. While the number of infections has been in consistent decline over the past two decades, other numbers, such as orphanhood caused by parental deaths due to AIDS, have peaked as recently as 2010 and have seen little improvement in the time since.

One or both parents died due to AIDS

It is hard, however, to attempt understanding the damage of HIV/AIDS by numbers alone. Very real people exist in these numbers, their hopes and dreams as important as our own.

Sizwe and Sphiwe are two such people, living in the South African town of Ladysmith, where Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) has been operating since 2008. CERI’s work in South Africa, initially focused on services for children orphaned by AIDS, has recently developed into a full family strengthening and child protection program. Unfortunately, Sizwe and Sphiwe are HIV-positive, the two brothers having contracted the virus from their mother at birth – a common yet devastating experience in their part of the world.

Only two years ago, Sizwe and Sphiwe lost their mother to AIDS. Her name was Nobuhle. She was 28.

Sphiwe and Sizwe outside their home (2020)

Today the boys live with their aunt. Their new caregiver is single, her only source of income coming from a part-time job at a waste management facility. Yet she works to provide what she can for Sizwe and Sphiwe.

CERI’s goal is to bring stability and opportunities for healthy development into the lives of the two brothers, now 4 and 7 years old. First, through a vegetable garden for the family – a sustainable source of fresh food. Second, through a family strengthening program established to ensure everything from basic needs to social and emotional needs is met. The program provides case management, health services, food, clothing and access to education to local children without parental support.

Sphiwe and Sizwe with their relatives (2020)

What is next for Sizwe and Sphiwe depends as much on their support system as it depends on their goals. In partnership with compassionate individuals, CERI will ensure the brothers move forward in life and that their diagnosis does not become a death sentence. The coronavirus has shown us all what it may have been like to grow up as Sizwe and Sphiwe, but what we do with this new perspective is up to all of us.

CERI’s programs such as the one in South Africa, focused on individual, community and national engagement, aim to bring change in situations long-forgotten and in lives without hope. Whether it’s working to mitigate the effects of a new pandemic or to end the suffering of a much older one, CERI needs your help to make a difference.

Join us in the fight against orphanhood.

Will you invest in a child’s life? 

More Than a Grandparent

Like many Sri Lankan women, Shanthaledchumi married at a young age. Though she was legally a child when she became pregnant, she managed to become a loving mother to a beautiful daughter. And though they lived in poverty, Shanthaledchumi and her family lived a joyful life.

Years later, Shanthaledchumi and her husband became grandparents. Their granddaughter, Nagathevi, was born to their eldest daughter. But just before she was born, Nagathevi’s father left. And shortly after her birth, her mother died from a heart attack. Around the same time, Shanthaledchumi’s husband, a man who deeply loved others but could not love himself, died by suicide.

Shanthaledchumi loved and cared for her granddaughter, Nagathevi, as a parent would. Despite the immense losses their family experienced, Shanthaledchumi rose up to care for Nagathevi—because she had to, and because of her deep love for her. Their shared grief soon became their bond.  

Shanthaledchumi worked tirelessly to provide for Nagathevi. She faced plenty of setbacks, including significant health problems. But she never lost hope.

Shanthaledchumi’s granddaughter, Nagathevi

Her hope paid off in time. One of Shanthaledchumi’s sons was able to work as a laborer in the Middle East, sending money home and helping her meet the needs of the family. This assistance, combined with consistent support from Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), has stabilized the family’s economic and emotional standing.

Shanthaledchumi has served her children and grandchildren as a courageous mother. Her selflessness has created a better life for future generations. 

You can help families of all kinds thrive.

Give the gift of family today. 

CERI proposes strategies for ensuring South Asian children grow in families

South Asia is home to 25% of the world’s population. The region’s cultural complexity, as well as socio-economic and human rights challenges, prevent millions of vulnerable children from being raised in families. Instead, many of them live in religious or governmental institutions, which are opaque to community life and detrimental to healthy child development.  

The new publication titled A Review of the Literature on Institutionalization and Child Protection Reform in South Asia” reviewed the child protection policies and practices of all eight countries that are part of South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. With personal and program implementation experience from India and Sri Lanka, CERI staff have identified the gaps and formulated three strategies that could offer millions of children the chance to live with a loving family.

A Review of the Literature on Deinstitutionalisation and Child Protection Reform in South Asia

  1. A regional approach to deinstitutionalization will empower researchers to produce evidence that might be applicable to more than one country in the region, moving the reform needle forward for several countries at the same time.       
  2. Decentralized reform implementation would allow larger countries, like India or Pakistan, to make faster progress on the reform and keep its states accountable for their outcomes.
  3. South Asia has to capitalize on its traditional alternative care practices, such as informal foster care, and include them into the overall reform strategy as solutions.

Read the strategies that could offer millions of children a loving family.

A Family Reborn

A Family Reborn

When Veronica and Ilie’s parents divorced, their mother moved to Moscow and cut off all communication. But Veronica and Ilie’s father, Vadim, continued to raise his children in a loving environment. In 2013, though, the family encountered even more hardship. While they were away from home, the ceiling of their house collapsed. To cover the cost of repairs, Vadim borrowed money from a local bank. Then, while repairing the roof, Vadim stepped on a nail—a small accident that turned into a major setback with months of limited mobility. It would take four consecutive surgeries for Vadim to properly walk again.

During the same time, Vadim’s liver started to fail. This required more treatments and medical bills, but Vadim continued working. Before the home repairs were finished, Vadim had to take out yet another loan. Soon, Vadim and his family were in debt and struggling to make ends meet. 

Children in MoldovaVeronica and Ilie attending a CERI event.

As a last resort, the family moved into a spare room Vadim’s mother’s house. The house was unsafe and cold, especially during the brutal winters. Soon, Vadim made the difficult decision to take his children to an orphanage hoping to return for them once he had a safe place to bring them home to.

That was when Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) first met Veronica and Ilie. CERI has helped young people like Veronica and Ilie for 20 years across the country of Moldova, meeting basic needs and working to strengthen and support families. Our work has included slowly replacing orphanages in favor of in-country foster care and adoption, as well as equipping parents and caretakers with the resources they need to support their children.

At the Orhei orphanage in 2012, Veronica and Ilie enrolled in CERI’s foster-care program with our staff in Moldova. Their father, Vadim, remained engaged with the children and was also able to benefit from CERI, receiving counseling and case management services as well as parenting classes. Together with Veronica and Ilie, Vadim participated in Easter and Christmas celebrations at CERI, where they learned about God’s love and spent time as a family.  

CERI’s support eventually included a sponsor for Veronica, named Hannah. She became a mentor to Veronica and even traveled to Moldova from Texas twice. As a sponsor, Hannah provided monthly support to Veronica even when she could not be there. The Sandus also received support for other necessities like food, clothing, shoes and school supplies. Support like this ensured that Vadim’s children did not need to return to an orphanage. 

sponsor child Moldova

Veronica Sandus

Much has changed in the small family during the years they were served by CERI. Veronica graduated from a professional school with a specialty in tourism and hospitality. Ilie continued going to school and secured a job at a nearby factory. Both children now live in their renovated home, with their father. As for Vadim, he remarried and became a father again. His youngest daughter is named Anastasia, which translated from Greek means “Resurrection,” marking the rebirth of their family.

* Identifying details are modified to protect the privacy of the children and families we serve.

Help CERI keep families together.

One gift can change a life.