Learning to cope at 15

Renosha, a girl in Sri Lanka

Renosha was 15 years old when her mother died. As a young girl living in Sri Lanka, she didn’t know who she would live with next.

Her father was still alive, but he made his living by begging on the streets, often disappearing for days or weeks at a time. According to Mary Chryshanthan, one of CERI’s Case Managers in Sri Lanka, “It was not safe for Renosha to live in such an environment, with no relatives to support her. She could not live with her father.”

All this happened in 2019: Renosha lost her mother, experienced the stress of living with her father, and went to live in an institution (orphanage). This was just months before a virus would upend not only Renosha’s life, but the lives of people all around the world.

Renosha, a girl in Sri Lanka, with kids from the orphanage
Renosha with children from the orphanage. (2021)

During the pandemic, many children in institutions went to live with family, but not Renosha. Her father was her only living family member. And one day, she received the sudden, terrible news:

“Even after her father’s death, she had to identify and release her father’s body as the only child,” remembered Mary.  

Renosha had experienced so much trauma and tragedy in the span of a few short months. And the longer she spent in the orphanage, the more anxious, depressed, and hopeless she became. She had conflicts with other kids in the orphanage and started pushing back against the authority of the adults in charge. She was navigating the challenges and stresses of her teenage years without the support of family or the stability of a loving home.

Renosha, a girl in Sri Lanka, watering the garden
Renosha watering the garden at the orphanage. (2021)

“She did not know about a family structure; she felt sad and confused [about] not having a family or relatives,” Mary said.

Around the time of her father’s death, Renosha was given the opportunity to work with our team in Sri Lanka. We began providing services to children in Renosha’s orphanage to help ease the effects of trauma and help children cope.

One program that made a world of difference for Renosha? CERI’s stress management group sessions. The program taught kids how stressful situations affect the body and mind, tips and techniques for relaxing even amidst stress, and small group discussions where participants were invited to share about their pasts. During these sessions, Renosha was able to process her pain, reframe her past, and gain the strength to take on the future.

Renosha, a girl in Sri Lanka, receives counseling
Renosha with her case manager, Mary Chryshanthan. (2021)

We also provided Renosha with one-on-one counseling sessions to help her deal with her trauma. Renosha has made huge progress. Now, she gets along well with others, and she understands how to process her emotions in a healthy way.

“She has less conflicts with children in the institution now,” said Mary. “She is more understanding and has control of her emotions. She feels comfortable to share her emotions with others, and she takes time to talk with other children [there].”

Renosha got the help she needed when she needed it.

But there are thousands more just like Renosha who simply need someone to care.

The Gift of Being Together

Children from South Africa, Amahle and Siyanda,

Amahle and Siyanda, like many children, find great joy in the simplest things. For Amahle, a 12-year-old girl, it’s playing netball with her team at school. For 8-year-old Siyanda, it’s riding his scooter through their neighborhood.

And no matter what they’re doing, Amahle and Siyanda find their greatest joy in being together. Amahle looks after Siyanda, and Siyanda looks up to Amahle. They are each other’s family.

Their relationship—and the simple moments they spend together—are what make childhood special.

Children, Amahle and Siyanda, playing in the yard
Amahle and Siyanda playing in the yard. (2021)

But in many ways, Amahle and Siyanda are not like other children. Their chance at a happy and safe childhood is at risk. In April of this year, the siblings became orphans when their mom died of cancer.

Now, they’re vulnerable to the many challenges orphans face worldwide. We know that the childhood years are some of the most formative of a person’s lifeand Amahle and Siyanda are right in the middle of those years. The decisions they make (and the ones made for them) will shape their personalities, wellbeing, and future permanently.

Children, Amahle and Siyanda, with a CERI staff member
CERI staff, Siphesihle, visiting Amahle and Siyanda (2021)

When the siblings’ mother passed away, her dying wish was for her children to be placed in an orphanage. For a mother in her situation, it seemed like the only option. But if Amahle and Siyanda had been placed in an orphanage as their mother had requested, there was not promise they could stay together.

Beyond the risk of separation, orphanages in South Africa don’t always provide the best care for children, according to Siphesihle Khumalo, Program Director and Social Worker with CERI South Africa. Institutional care can’t always meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children in the same way a parent or a family does.

The aunt of Amahle and Siyanda
Amahle and Siyanda's aunt. (2021)

When CERI began working with Amahle and Siyanda, we were dedicated to giving them the best childhood possible. In this case, that meant finding a family for them to live with. After working closely with child protective services as well as a local community worker, we discovered that Amahle and Siyanda had a living aunt who could take them in. Together, Amahle and Siyanda’s care team decided the best situation would be to place the kids in foster care with their aunt and only living family member.

It wasn’t a perfect solution. Often in cases of orphanhood, the solutions are imperfect. But Amahle and Siyanda now have a chance to grow up with a loving caregiver within their own family—and they get to stay together.

Children, Amahle and Siyanda, with their aunt
Amahle and Siyanda with their aunt and CERI staff (2021)

We believe every childhood is valuable, and a child’s future should never be taken lightly. The story of Amahle and Siyanda is an example of how we can rally together and protect the joy and safety of childhood.

For now, Amahle and Siyanda live in a loving home together with their aunt, with whom they have a wonderful relationship. Amahle and Siyanda were given a second chance at childhood and the gift of being together—but there are millions of other children who are waiting for that same opportunity.

Can you give today so more kids can grow in a loving family?

You are the solution.

More Than an Education

Rukhsana with her son

When girls receive an education, an entire society benefits. But barriers like poverty, teen pregnancy, and child labor may keep about 20 million girls from attending school, according to data from the Right to Education Forum.

We recently met a young girl named Rukhsana whose dream is to go to school and give back to her community. She has faced many challenges in her journey, but she hasn’t given up. And because of you, she is now well on her way to her dreams. 

This is Rukhsana’s story of hope.

In 2017, Rukhsana and her family were forced to flee their home country of Myanmar because of genocide. While they were living in a refugee settlement in Bangladesh, Rukhsana began to share with her family her hopes for her future: most importantly, that she could finish high school, attend college, and work in a job that gives back to her community.

Rukhsana studying
Ruksana learning at a CERI community center in India. (2021)

In Rukhsana’s culture, however, girls are expected to get married—not pursue an education.

Soon, Rukhsana’s brother, who was living in India, heard of Rukhsana’s hopes. He promised her that, if she traveled to India to live with him, he would help her go to school.

So, at 15 years old, Rukhsana packed up her belongings, left her family, and traveled to India to follow her dreams. But three days after arriving in India, her brother arranged her marriage without her consent.

For many young girls just like Rukhsana, marriage and childbirth happen at a very young age. And often, without the young girl’s consent. Also, many schools will not permit a girl who is pregnant to go to school. 

Rukhsana receiving counseling from CERI staff
Rukshana receiving counseling from CERI staff. (2021)

Rukhsana and her new husband made a home in a refugee settlement in India, where Rukhsana soon gave birth to a son. Their living conditions were poor, and they often lacked adequate shelter or food. Rukhsana’s family lacked some of the most basic things, and she began experiencing depression and anxiety. Her hopes of an education seemed farther away than ever.

When our team connected with Rukhsana, we helped with food, clothing, and counseling sessions to help with her anxiety and depression. When Rukhsana had appendicitis and had to have surgery, donations like yours helped cover her medical bills. As we worked with Rukhsana, we learned of her ambitions of going to school and getting a job she could be proud of.

Rukhsana with her husband and son
Rukshana enjoying family time with her husband and son. (2021)

Rukhsana did not speak any Hindi or English at the time—India’s two primary languages. We helped her find the right language classes. We then worked with the local school system to enroll Rukshana in 9th grade. We are thrilled to share that she has recently completed grade 10.

“When I came to CERI, I got new hope and courage,” Rukhsana said. “I got the opportunity to get an education.”

Rukhsana now volunteers with CERI in India, where she mentors students, helping them navigate online learning. She also volunteers as a paralegal with a local organization that advocates for women who experience domestic violence.

Rukhsana's son playing ball
Rukhshans's son playing at a CERI community center in India. (2021)

Rukhsana is well on her way to fulfilling her dreams. But for her, education is about more than personal fulfillment.

“I want to become a Human Rights Activist after completing my education,” Rukhsana said. “I want my son to get a good education… I want to set an example. I will work for the betterment of my community and raise awareness about women’s rights.”

As a refugee and a young wife and mother, Rukhsana didn’t get to experience many of the simple joys of childhood. For her, education is one path toward changing the story. But she can’t achieve her dreams alone.

Do you want to help Rukhsana finish the story?

You are the solution.

Unlikely Pen Pals

Sponsor

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.

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.