CERI works with leaders to protect thousands of orphans

Children advocacy India

A few weeks ago, while the western world slept, the government of India ordered 250,000 children to be taken out of orphanages and placed in homes with whatever family they had left. This was done without the time needed for preparation or support. The results could be devastating.

Ian Forber-Pratt, Director of Global Advocacy at Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI), took part in a webinar last week to address this exact issue, hosted by the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO).

The webinar, titled “Rapid Return of Children as a Result of COVID-19,” was a two-part series that addressed a coalition of around 200 advocates for orphans and children in institutional care around the world.

The event was both timely and necessary as, following the onset of COVID-19, many international governments took drastic measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Victims of such measures included the children living in orphanages and institutions, ordered to be returned to their closest family members with, in some cases, as little as two weeks to prepare.

The purpose of Ian’s discussion was to acknowledge the complexity of the situation and come up with reasonable and real solutions that could be put in place to give children a better chance at thriving in these emergency circumstances. Taking children out of institutional settings can prove dangerous as conditions vary but can include abuse, human trafficking, and other dangerous situations.

We have tens of thousands of children around the world that are in an unsafe position due to rapid return,” Ian said. He referenced a real case as an example, where a young girl had been sent back to her family and now faces the possibility of child marriage and the struggles of poverty and hunger.

Faced with a tough and unpredictable situation like the one brought on by governments’ response to COVID-19, Ian prescribed honest communication as the best solution. From staff to children to families, Ian reiterated that keeping the truth from anyone in hopes of having time to build a plan would only backfire, creating trauma and distrust in the long term. Instead, caregivers and leaders must be honest when they don’t know what’s going to happen next, and can find unity in a shared situation, he contended.

Ian was joined in CAFO’s webinar series by colleagues Mandy Howard, Nicole Wilke and Philip Goldman, each describing the situation through a blend of personal experience and research and suggesting the best next steps for the advocacy of an uncertain population in an uncertain time.

Learn the practical steps for responding to rapid return mandates.

Something is growing in South Africa

Something is growing in South Africa - Ceri Featured Image

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

People can overcome seemingly insurmountable hardships with just a little encouragement and a caring hand.

We see examples of this all over the world, but especially in South Africa where Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) started its work in 2008 with services for those fighting HIV/AIDS.

Take the example of young Karabo, a South African girl who lost her family to the scourge of AIDS. She has persevered with the aid of a community-based program that helped her reconnect with her family history when she was feeling alone in the world. A local organization working in partnership with CERI utilized a program called Memory Box designed to help orphans regain silenced family memories. After learning the circumstances of her mother’s death, Karabo was better able to connect with her peers and gained new meaning and purpose for her life.

Women attending the program on self-sustainability.

Another example is Entembi Mosley, a single mother of three and grandmother of five, who has lifted herself up with the aid of a CERI program focused on self-sustainability. A group of volunteers helped her set up a vegetable garden, empowering her to nourish and strengthen her family. Mosley’s garden has fed her family since 2016, generating enough for her to sell some of the produce as a further source of income.

Jaclyn Gamez, a registered nurse and a CERI volunteer, saw firsthand how much difference just a little help can make in the lives of people. She joined a CERI mission in 2016 to help build sustainable gardens and saw how the communities rose to the challenge. “Our team served many families in the Roosboom area and I know it made a difference,” she said. “The neighbors came and helped (build the gardens), and then there were neighbors that learned from the mission the year before, and so, since they knew how to build the sustainable gardens for themselves, they would help out those in the community who hadn’t done it before.”

Building sustainable gardens in South Africa.

CERI Executive Director, Connie Belciug, says the organization is focused on helping keep families together and healthy by strengthening them to care for their children. “We are committed to growing our contribution in South Africa and have re-established a year-round program, which will offer ongoing support to the resilient children and families of South Africa,” she said. “We work with our partner, Mpilonhle, a local nonprofit which has provided the cultural knowledge and support we needed for this next step.”

CERI takes its inspiration from former South African President Nelson Mandela who spoke boldly about justice, equality and reconciliation. 

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” – Nelson Mandela

Siphesihle Khumalo, CERI’s program director in South Africa..

Applying this notion beyond poverty, to orphanhood, family separation and oppression, CERI staff work with families and community partners to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children, fueling their innate resilience and restoring their dignity.

While this is a long journey filled with challenges along the way, every step is worth it. Improving lives, rebuilding communities and giving hope takes patience and endurance as Mandela said about his own long walk to freedom.

“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” – Nelson Mandela

Join our journey and support the resilient children and families of South Africa.

Our impact in India – reaching 12 states

Since 2016, CERI has worked to change laws that failed to fully protect the children of India. Today we continue to partner with India’s national and state governments by making policy recommendations that would extend life-changing services to families and children at risk. With laws and partnerships taken together, CERI’s influence in India is a visible one, reaching 12 states across the nation.

Last year was monumental as we initiated our first services that provide direct care to children and families, focused on displaced populations living in the urban slums of New Delhi. By establishing a community center in local refugee communities, we were able to provide after-school learning opportunities for children, tutoring for youth and counseling for families.

We believe that all children deserve equal access to opportunities in life. With this goal in mind, we work at every level of society to bring about holistic change. 

Through new partnerships, we are helping children grow in a loving family today and continue working on national and state policies that will shape a safe nation for young generations, offering them opportunities to reach their full potential. It takes systemic and concerted effort, from all of us, to change societies and shape a safer world for all children.

While we have done significant work in India, in 2020 we hope to strengthen what has been built, through greater training and support. Our goal is to build the country’s capacity to raise all children in safe and loving families.

Join our cause and protect children and families in India.

CERI joins Christian Alliance for Orphans

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) became a member of the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), an international advocacy organization that promotes the interests of orphans around the world.

CAFO unites more than 200 organizations in a concerted effort to provide orphan care, focused on the best interest of the child and on promoting family strengthening and preservation, by working with local churches in every nation. CAFO members believe the best environment for children is a safe, permanent family. When this is not possible, the goal for each child should be to move as far as possible along the “continuum of care” toward a permanent family. Care for children should always be as safe, nurturing and as close to family as possible.

Ian Anand Forber Pratt (left), CERI’s director of global advocacy, stands with Connie Belciug

Connie Belciug, executive director of CERI, says aligning with CAFO will help CERI make a bigger impact in helping orphans and equipping organizations working with vulnerable children around the world.

“Becoming a member is making a statement about our Christian values,” Connie said, “but it is also a recognition that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, a movement inspired by God, to promote and restore His original design for children and families, across the globe. This gives me hope and assurance that our organizational vision is achievable – a world where every child thrives in a loving family, a safe community and a child-friendly society.” 

In May 2020, CERI will participate and present at CAFO’s annual conference in Dallas, Texas, for the third year in a row.

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) is the overseas division of BCFS, a global system of health and human service non-profit organizations, with locations and programs throughout the United States as well as Eastern Europe, Latin America, South Asia and Africa. CERI provides community development, medical attention and spiritual guidance to struggling regions, cares for children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, teaches youth aging out of orphanages how to make it on their own and avoid becoming victims of human trafficking, and helps orphaned children find safe, loving homes.

Media Contact:
Children’s Emergency Relief International
Eileen Neave Purkeypile
eileen.purkeypile@cerikids.org

CERI co-authors important study on caring for children with special needs

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) partnered with Sarah’s Covenant Homes (SCH) in India to help transition children from residential to family-based care. The transformational change initiated by SCH reflects a global best practice of caring for children and the new approach India is taking in caring for children.

SCH has historically provided institutional and group-home services to children with disabilities and terminal illnesses. Through the help of caregivers, SCH has cared for 135 children in providing critical services missing in the local community. One year after beginning to change to family-based care, SCH reunified three children with their biological parents.

For most children living at SCH, a family-style group home is the best option because of their sensitive medical conditions. Trained and compassionate caregivers are a critical resource in providing group-home services. By sharing its experience in working with caregivers, SCH is empowering other organizations to provide quality care for children with special needs.

Article Summary

This article provides insights into SCH’s 11-year-history of successfully recruiting and retaining caregivers. Based on a review of the organization’s personnel files and interviews with tenured staff, this study determined that referral bonuses, transparent compensation, paid leave and workplace safety are the factors that favorably impact recruitment and retention of caregivers for children with medical conditions in India.

The United Nations to focus on children without parental care

The United Nations to focus on children without parental care - Post Feature Image

With the formal adoption of a resolution on the rights of children on December 18, 2019, the United Nations General Assembly has taken an important step towards addressing the difficult challenges of caring for children with and without parental support around the world.

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) has joined more than 250 international organizations in supporting this important agreement. The resolution includes many recommendations made by these groups including calls for improved data collection to find ways to avoid the unnecessary separation of children from their families and to protect them from trafficking and abuse.

“This is a victory for children without families and those at risk of losing them,” said Connie Belciug, PhD, Executive Director of CERI. “It is also important for child and family advocates from the member states, who now have bigger voices and an increased access to resources that will benefit those they fight for. CERI is proud to join other organizations in advocating for this resolution and we look forward to the outcomes it will produce.”

The 2019 Resolution on the Rights of the Child commits the 193 member nations to gradually shift support away from older systems of child institutionalization and focus instead on organizations that use family and community-based care models. There is also a commitment to ensure that young people leaving alternative care receive adequate support for their transition. With this new consensus language, children’s advocates can approach UN member states to welcome the commitments they have made in this resolution and urge that they follow through with them.

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) works with children, families, communities and governments to provide a family environment as the first and best option for children to grow in. CERI helps create a path to family for children, works with at-risk youth to achieve independence and strengthens families to provide the best home environment for their children.

How one foster family is reducing the effects of child neglect

How one foster family is reducing the effects of child neglect

Because the first few years of a child’s life is a crucial time for growth and development, a neglected boy in Moldova named Vladimir still struggles with the lasting damages caused to his brain. 

Even during her pregnancy, Vladimir’s mother suffered from an alcohol addiction and couldn’t prevent herself from drinking while he grew in her womb. And, after his birth, the addiction remained, and Vladimir was often neglected and left alone. By the time he was six years old, the years of neglect had taken their toll on his mental and physical development. 

Around that time, CERI was contacted about Vladimir’s older brother who lived with his grandmother. Although the grandmother did her best for Vladimir’s brother, she was elderly and had a house unfit for a child. We immediately looked at ways to help and searched for the boy’s mother to learn why she wasn’t caring for her son. 

Vladimir as a young boy

When we arrived at the mother’s house, we found the mother drunk and unconscious with Vladimir, then only a young child, outside. Worried neighbors tried to help when possible, but were unable to and therefore reached out to CERI. We learned that Vladimir often went hungry and was left alone outside, even in harsh winter times.

With the duty to do the best for each child, CERI stepped in and began the search to find the brothers a loving family that could care for them. Because of the neglect Vladimir had experienced, he needed immediate help. He had developmental delays that caused him struggle to learn– things as simple as how to eat properly, go to the restroom – making it difficult to find a family willing to shoulder such a daunting task. 

Vladimir enjoys taking care of animals

It was a difficult finding for the right caregivers and eventually a foster family was found. The Sirbu family was a caring family who had taken in several children before. Despite raising four children of their own, they’ve fostered eighteen others. Foster care in Moldova is gradually increasing and provides a stable and nurturing family environment to many children like Vladimir and his brother.

The Sirbu family had one wish – to give Vladimir and his brother a normal life. Through the parenting and financial support CERI provided, the Sirbus were able to take the brothers in. They immediately integrated them into their family and church activities and began working on Vladimir’s mental and physical development. It was a long process, but improvements began to show. 

Today, Vladimir is in eighth grade. He still has struggles, but his foster family is always there to help him through the challenges. He loves taking care of animals and excels in manual activities. He enjoys woodworking in particular – he recently made a chair at school, a profound achievement in his development.

Vladimir has grown with hope for the future

Vladimir was dealt the worst in the beginning of his life, but through the love of his foster family and CERI’s support, Vladimir’s been given a chance. He has a home, a plot in the family garden, warmth, love, and children he can call brothers and sisters. Most of all, he has hope for the future.

Without a loving family, a child’s future is at stake.  Your gift today helps more children like Vladimir find loving families and hope for the future.

A mother’s strength amidst life’s hardships

Silvia never knew what it was like to live in a loving home. At the age of ten, she was sent to live in an orphanage in Moldova, away from her mother who suffered from a severe alcohol addiction. Despite the care she received, she was only able to attend school till the eighth grade. As an adult, she started working at a sewing factory, then later as a janitor at a children’s shelter.

Eventually Silvia became a mother to two little girls: Olga and Nina. She didn’t know what it would be like to be a mother – let alone how one could be a good mother – nor did she have any role models from her past to guide her. She had no choice but to try her best and care for her children on her own, but none of it was natural for her.

Silvia’s daughters outside of their home

By the time the girls were two and four years old, Silvia chose to look for the outside help she’d never been given. Silvia and her daughters moved to a local shelter for women and children where they could be supported for some time. We first met Silvia when distributing winter boots for children living in the shelter. CERI immediately began to help Silvia with counseling, financial support, and encouragement. With the help of her case manager, Silvia also began to learn good parenting skills.

Soon her children had a new kind of parent, trained and equipped for the hardships of motherhood.

Silvia and her girls

But then it all took a turn for the worst. By the time her eldest daughter was ready to start first grade, Silvia was hospitalized. The doctors discovered that she had a tumor, and it had to be immediately removed were she to live. Fearing that her children would be forced into the same parentless childhood of her own, she asked CERI to help take care of her girls.

A CERI case manager looked after the girls and took them shopping for school supplies, shoes and clothing, and made sure Olga started first grade and Nina went into kindergarten. Against the odds, Silvia recovered from the surgery and was reunited with her daughters.

But the tumor grew back a year later, and she had to have another surgery. Once again, she recovered from her surgery, and came back to her children. Then once again, the tumor returned, and so she returned. Silvia has undergone four surgeries so far. Her daughters worry about losing her. Every time she must leave to have another surgery, they ask if she will return.

CERI Case Manager visiting Silvia and her daughters

Silvia is thankful for the support she has received. Her daughters mean the world to her and despite the health problems she faces, she wants to keep her daughters with her. What she wants the most for her daughters is for them to be raised at home, do well in school, have a career and good life.

Our boot distributions in Moldova connect us with families like Silvia’s. Through one pair of boots, we have the opportunity to transform an entire family forever.

Your gift will support mothers like Silvia through difficult times so they can help their children thrive in life.

How a few pots and pans kept one family together

How a few pots and pans kept one family together

What does it take for a mother to give up her own children? For some, it may be the pressures of being a single mother. For many, it may be a financial crisis after the death of the father. For all, it would be when putting food on the table was no longer possible. For a Sri Lankan woman named Jeyalalitha, it was all of this and more.

The lives of Jeyalalitha and her two daughters were never those of affluence or even stability. The daily income that her husband made as an unskilled laborer was enough to get by, but ever since he died from severe illness, Jeyalalitha has faced every hardship a mother should never have to endure.

Suddenly, it fell on Jeyalalitha to make money for the children, but it wasn’t that simple. With limited skills, few jobs were available to her. The only skill she could make money with was cooking, but she had very few customers. In order to keep her young teenage daughters safe, Jeyalalitha couldn’t leave the house to work all day.

As her daughters grew older, expenses grew. Neither the government nor local charities could help, and relatives were not supportive. Jeyalalitha worked hard to keep her daughters with her, but eventually made the hardest and most selfless decision a mother could make – to give the children up to an orphanage where their needs would be met.

Jeyalalitha’s daughters outside their home

Childhood is critical in a person’s life and family helps shape childhood. For Jeyalalitha’s daughters, growing up in a family ripped apart by death and poverty was no way for them to experience childhood. These young girls needed someone to care for them beyond what a worker at an orphanage could provide. They needed love and individual attention – they needed their mother.

Jeyalalitha’s story is not unique. In Sri Lanka, parents are resorted to placing their children in orphanages because of the lack of a stable income and opportunities to provide for the home. In the region where Jeyalalitha lives, about a 1,000 children live in orphanages, many of whom could live at home if the family was strengthened.

Jeyalalitha did not give up on her daughters. She visited them often and continued working hard to one day be able to provide for them. We met Jeyalalitha during this time. With the support of a few donors, we supported this hard-working single mother to do the best for her daughters.

Jeyalalitha processing food at home

CERI helped Jeyalalitha buy cooking utensils that would allow her to grow her food sales into small-scale food processing for a nearby hotel. Suddenly, she was able to work and gain a steady flow of income. More than that, she could prepare the food at home, allowing her to be with her daughters.

After two long years apart, her daughters now live with her again.

It’s one of the most beautiful and priceless things when a family can stay together, and it’s because of those who give that this has been made possible. Thanks to the help of a few, we helped one mother provide for her daughters so they could grow at home and have the love they need in life.

A few pots and pans helped one woman today so she could impact her children’s lives forever.

By supporting a family, like Jeyalalitha’s, you can give a child a home!

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

Meet the new faces at CERI!

Three interns joined us this fall to help us further our mission of aiding children and families across the globe. With combined passions for family, writing, and film making, our interns will help expand our reach.

Anna WimberlyMarketing Intern

“Family is the most important thing in my life. I wish everyone had a family who gave them love and support.”

Anna Wimberly is a marketing professional with experience in digital marketing. She is a graduate of the Academy of Economic Studies in Chisinau, Moldova, with a degree in economics. She has worked as an accountant and a marketing assistant for various companies in Moscow the past seven years before moving to San Antonio this past summer.

Anna was inspired as a youth by the character Scarlett O’Hara in the novel “Gone With the Wind” because she never gave up despite facing many difficulties. Anna enjoys watching documentary movies and speaks several languages, including Russian and Romanian.

Benjamin Creasy, Marketing Intern

“I am passionate about writing. One place I have never been, but would like to visit, is Paris.”

Benjamin Creasy is a recent graduate of Trinity University in San Antonio where he earned a degree in English. He did an internship last year for The San Antonio River Walk Association and also worked in the Gina Ortiz Jones 2018 Congressional Campaign.

Benjamin is excited about a career in marketing and helping companies promote a positive image. He was inspired by Ernest Hemingway and has a passion for writing.


Edward DeHerrera, Video Production Intern

“My mother is one of the bedrocks of my life, she sacrificed so much to give me the life I have today.”

Edward Deherrera graduated last year from the University of Colorado at Boulder with degrees in film production and political science. He has worked this past year as a videographer and video design associate and is looking forward to using his film production skills in his new assignment.

Edward is passionate about film making and wants to make a positive impact in the communities where he lives. The person who has most inspired his work is Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuaron.