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.

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 differenc

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

It only takes $25.

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.

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. 

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.

Young female refugee making history in India

Young female refugee making history in India - Ceri Featured Image

Sitting cross-legged on the floor in a small room, one story below street level, a group of teenagers smile and giggle as they listen to instructions on how to play a word game. This exercise is to ease introductions and break the ice for a youth empowerment session organized by Ummid Ki Udan (Hope’s Flight), an initiative of Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI). A group of CERI volunteers have joined in for what will be an enlightening afternoon.

Like most people their age, they start out a little shy. However, this group of 15 teenagers is far from average; they are Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma), known as the most persecuted minority in the world, according to the United Nations.

Tasmida (right) participating in the youth empowerment session.

For generations, the Rohingya have faced discrimination that erupted into extreme violence in 2017 and has since led to their mass migration into surrounding countries. Today, Rohingya refugees are not recognized as citizens of any country and therefore lack access to basics such as education, legal employment, and health care. These teenagers live in the Kanchan Kunj neighborhood of New Delhi in a makeshift settlement of shelters built with bamboo poles and tattered plastic tarps, waiting every day for official identity.

Some families have spent nearly a decade in the settlement, long enough to learn a new way of life; however, though these teenagers and their families face a list of complex problems that at times can seem impossible to overcome, thanks to CERI there is one obstacle they no longer must wait to overcome: educational achievement.

Rohingya refugees’ settlement in New Delhi.

After our first ice-breaker, a second begins. This time we delve a bit deeper into who each of the girls are, asking the group to share their goals and aspirations.

“Fashion designer,” says the one young lady who had added a bit of flare to her traditional burka, a pop of color with a plaid scarf.




These make up an impressive list of career paths these youth aspire to, but the underlying message from each choice is revealed when they share the inspiration and rationale behind it: “to help others.”

One young lady stands out from the group. She is the first Rohingya refugee in India – out of an estimated 40,000 – to be admitted to college. Her dream to help others will start as she pursues a formal education at Jamia Millia Islamia University in the fall, something she made happen with the help of CERI and the National Institute of Open School (NIOS) program. CERI not only helped enroll her in the program, but also provided tutoring, counseling, and other educational support through Ummid Ki Udan, where teachers and social workers work with participants to ensure they receive educational and personal support.

Tasmida with her senior school certificate.

Tasmida proudly holds her 12th class pass certificate (the equivalent of a high school diploma in the U.S.), making her the first female Rohingya refugee in India to do so.

Since its inception in late 2018, Ummid Ki Udan has prioritized educating children and youth in the Kanchan Kunj neighborhood, including Rohingya children. Tasmida was one of those youth who, despite the language barrier (most Rohingya speak Rohingya while the majority of New Delhi uses Hindi) and many other hardships, knew education was key and persisted in her studies, making the best of a truly hard situation.

Through a translator, Tasmida answers an important question I have for her: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

“I want to be a human rights lawyer,” she begins. 

“Maybe I will work for the United Nations. I want to help not only my family, but other refugees all over the world. I also want to be a role model for others who feel helpless and hopeless, to let them know even in the most difficult of times – in harsh living environments, in poverty – the dream to achieve is possible. Also, when your goal is to give back, your inner passion will guide you beyond what you might have even thought possible.”

Her words are universal, reflecting what most parents want for their children. Care and compassion are not lost in translation.

 Tasmida’s story also appeared in The Christian Science Monitor. You can read the story here.

Help children like Tasmida receive an education. 

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

 Tasmida’s story also appeared in The Christian Science Monitor. You can read the story here.

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.

Karabo, a child like any other…

A Child Like Any Other - Ceri Featured Post Image

When we first encountered young Karabo*, a 14-year old South African girl from Pholonhle in the North West Province, she was insecure, had low self-esteem and little hope for her future. She had experienced unspeakable tragedy having lost her mother just a few years earlier to AIDS and now felt like she was all alone in the world. She had never met her father and only knew that he was from Mozambique and had returned there before she was born.

The painfully shy teen found it difficult to connect with other people and had few friends. Karabo frequently skipped school because she said she felt inferior to the other kids.  She was upset because she believed the other children treated her differently and pitied her because she was an orphan, and this only made her want to withdraw even further.

Karabo had lived with her 26-year-old aunt and a 24-year-old uncle since the death of her mother. The circumstances of her mother’s death never came up in conversations between the family members, as it is customary in that culture to shield children from disturbing topics. However, this silence contributed to Karabo’s feelings of disconnectedness.

It wasn’t until Karabo met a therapist from Mpilonhle, a local organization working in partnership with CERI, that she began to have some hope of reconnecting with her roots. The therapist described a new program called Memory Box, a psycho-social intervention designed to help orphans regain silenced family memories. The program facilitates inter-generational dialogue and helps children and families regain their sense of self-worth.

The intervention was difficult for the whole family as Karabo’s aunt and uncle were still dealing with the loss of their sister as well. Karabo was saddened to learn about her mother’s illness and the troubles she had been through. But she also learned much about her family’s background, history and values. After therapy, Karabo’s relationship with her peers improved. She was better able to connect with them and make friends at school. She began attending school regularly again because she had found meaning, purpose and hope for her life.

Karabo now knew that she was a child like any other, with parents and a family, even though they were taken away by a terrible illness. She now had a better understanding of her place in the world and it gave her the confidence and stability she had been lacking. She could finally feel that she belonged.

Help more youth, like Karabo, find meaning and hope to thrive.

* Youth’s name was changed to protect her identity.