May 232011
 

Orphans from Egypt have been empowered to take the first steps towards protecting their natural environment as a result of HCI’s 2011 Earth Day activities. These children celebrated international Earth Day with HCI’s team and were treated to a fun-filled day of activities promoting environmental awareness.

These children who are orphans from underprivileged backgrounds live a very basic life, they have the bare minimum and don’t normally get the opportunity to enjoy recreational and educational activities that enrich and address their psychosocial wellbeing. HCI’s Earth Day celebrations were therefore extremely beneficial to these children not only because of the new level of environmental awareness it bestowed but also because we did our best to address if only for one day the psychosocial wellbeing of these deprived children as we feel very strongly that if this facet is neglected it can lead to reduced social connectedness, a weakened coping mechanism and a loss of resilience.

Earth Day is an event that is intended to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s natural environment. Originally devised in 1970 when environmentalism seemed to many to be nothing but a fringe issue, environmentalism is now a very mainstream concern and promoting it a very worthwile cause. Earth Day which happens every 22nd April is currently celebrated in more than 175 countries every year. From it’s conception, the focus had been put on children and schools. This makes complete sense as Children have the most important role in keeping our planet healthy; they will still be the caretakers long after their parents and grandparents have passed away.

In Egypt, in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and our local partner Gozour NGO, 70 school children from the underprivileged Arab al Tarabeen area of Greater Cairo were transported to a local youth center where they were offered different environmental activities designed to be both fun and educational.

The children got a wonderful opportunity to interact firsthand with nature as they planted some 20 trees. The group was able to attend an environmental arts and crafts workshop where they fashioned some beautiful recycled art out of unwanted items, they were also introduced to recycling activities that can be easily carried out at home.

“Edutainment activities” such as storytelling and an environmental contest were offered. The children were excited to discover the important role trees play in our environment and listened attentively to the environmental information given. At the end of the day the children gathered to reflect on what they had learned and each one agreed to commit to “acts of Green” from recycling to using bicycles instead of cars.

During this celebration of Earth Day the children really came alive, they both enjoyed themselves thoroughly and were provided with the knowledge and tools to make the Earth a better place to live. Rania Abd Allah, one of the young students told us he would “never forget this special day” while Asmaa Atya stated that she had “enjoyed discovering new activities and getting new information about the Earth.”

This event was also significant as it was a one of the first meaningful attempts to address environmental issues within the Arab Al Tarabeen communities but we understand that the commitment to the environmental cause has to be kept up. As such, the science teachers at the local schools have undertaken to carry on discussing specific environmental issues regularly with the students as well as promised to carry out summer activities and organize a celebration of World Environment day coming up on June 5th thereby “nurturing the environmental seeds, planted for these young people”.

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Apr 012011
 

Arab Orphan Day

This year HCI celebrates Arab Orphan day in support of the tens of thousands of Arab orphans many of whom are sponsored by HCI’s regional Child Sponsorship Program, which is active in the poorest communities of Khartoum, Tripoli, Jerusalem, Cairo, Darfur and Gaza. HCI’s Child Sponsorship Program is designed to assist orphans and their families in both the short and long term. The sponsorship that is given to the orphan and their family helps towards living costs. Moreover, by enabling a child to receive a sound level of education you empower them to build for themselves a brighter future and to provide for their family too.

Declared by the Arab league in response to the many challenges faced by orphans, Arab Orphan Day falls on the first Friday of every April. It is designed to build awareness to the plight many of these children face, and to serve as a celebration of both them, and those who work tirelessly to improve their lives. On this day the goal is not to raise money, it is simply to give the children the chance to do what children do best: play, laugh, and make new friends. It is a day to remind orphans that they are not forgotten; they are valued and cherished.

The number of orphans and children from single mother-headed households in the Arab world has risen dramatically over the past few years due to war, natural disasters, and other crises. Poverty and economic hardship also have added to children born out of wedlock who are considered orphans. In a society where family is of the utmost importance, orphans throughout the Arab world are stigmatized, marginalized, severely disadvantaged and are often isolated. As a result, they are at risk of exploitation and may be forced into dangerous and degrading work, including child labor, and sexual exploitation.

Without financial and emotional support from a complete family environment, these orphans must bear responsibilities well beyond what should be required of someone their age. They run the risk of becoming adults inexperienced and unfamiliar with the values and skills normal for participation in society in a productive, positive, and sustainable manner.

Human Concern International works hard to reverse and prevent some of the disconcerting trends faced by orphans through designing and implementing several innovative educational, health and nutrition regional programs help to prevent the isolation of children, and rebuild damaged self esteem. We seek to empower these children, and their care-givers, so that they may become self-sufficient, happy, productive members of society.

Let us all wish them a happy and joyful day together!

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Feb 022011
 

From Survival to Long Term Sustainability

The number of orphans and children from single mother-headed households in the Arab world has risen dramatically over the past few years due to war, natural disasters, and other crises. Poverty and economic hardship also have added to children born out of wedlock who are considered orphans.

For the past decade, HCI has been addressing this problem by sponsoring orphans in the poorest communities in Palestine, Sudan, Lebanon and Egypt as part of HCI’s regional Child Sponsorship Program. There now are hundreds of orphans from Khartoum’s, Tripoli’s, Jerusalem’s, Darfur’s and Gaza’s poorest communities having their basic needs met through HCI –health care, nutrition, education, guidance–getting a shot at a brighter future.

HCI’s Child Sponsorship Program is designed to assist orphans and their families in both the short and long term. The sponsorship is given to the orphan and their family to help towards living costs. Moreover, by enabling a child to receive a sound level of education you empower them to build for themselves a brighter future and to provide for their family too.

Assisting the poor and needy is part of a long and sacred tradition in the Muslim World. HCI is pleased to be part of that tradition and to be able to work with local organizations to assure that contributions made reach those most in need. All orphans sponsored by the scheme are individually selected by HCI in partnership with grassroots partners. A child’s age, family size, family income and living conditions are looked at to assess need. Once sponsorship has begun HCI continues to maintain regular contact with the child to ensure wellbeing and that the child continues to progress through school. In Sudan for example, for about a dollar a day, you can help support a child in our Child Sponsorship Program.

Upon sponsorship, sponsors are sent an information pack with details of the orphan(s) they are sponsoring, such as their age, circumstance, schooling, information about their community and a local address for correspondence. In addition, HCI will continue to provide you with annual feedback updates on the child’s wellbeing and school reports.

Sponsorship continues until an orphan reaches the age of 16. As sponsored orphan approaches this age we give the sponsor the option either of continuing sponsorship under the HCI Higher Education Sponsorship Program or changing sponsorship to support a younger child.

HCI ensure that each orphan receives correspondences from the sponsor and it is translated if necessary. Sponsors can also correspond directly with the sponsored child.

Sponsorship costs between $60 and $30 per month for orphans in Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt and Sudan. This contributes to school fees, clothing and footwear for the orphan, and money for the orphan’s family. Please contact us if you are interested to sponsor a child.

LONG TERM SUSTAINABILITY

Entrepreneurship development, schooling support, higher education support, vocational training, psychosocial support programs, health services and several other programs have been developed by HCI to reduce immediate needs of orphans and to create greater opportunities for their future progress.

Their single mothers have also been supported through health services, food and non-food item distributions, awareness campaigns, access to finance, and the development of income generating activities to improve the economic health of the entire family to help them make the leap from survival to long term sustainability.

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May 042010
 

Though Human Concern International works every day to improve the lives of orphans, one day is particularly crucial: Arab Orphan Day. Declared by the Arab league as a response to the many challenges faced by orphans, it falls on the first Friday of every April. It is designed to build awareness of the plight many of these children face, and to serve as a celebration of both them, and those who work tirelessly to improve their lives. On this day the goal is not to raise money, it is simply to give the children the chance to do what children do best: play, laugh, and make new friends. It is a day to remind orphans that they are not forgotten; they are valued and cherished. HCI, along with our local partners, celebrated this day in the Middle East.

Orphans throughout the Arab world are stigmatized, marginalized and severely disadvantaged. In a society where family is of the utmost importance, they are often isolated. As a result, they are at risk of exploitation and may be forced into dangerous and degrading work, including child labor, and sexual exploitation. Without financial and emotional support from a complete family environment, they must bear responsibilities well beyond what should be required of someone their age. They run the risk of becoming adults inexperienced and unfamiliar with the values and skills normal for participation in society in a productive, positive, and sustainable manner.

Human Concern International has gone to great lengths to reverse and prevent some of the disconcerting trends faced by orphans. By providing financial and community support, our program can help to prevent the isolation of children, and rebuild damaged self esteem. We seek to empower these children, and their care-givers, so that they may become self-sufficient, happy, productive members of society.

Gaza:

Orphan DayOrphans in Gaza face perhaps the most difficult conditions in the entire region, and their numbers are growing. During the 2008-2009 Israeli incursions, nearly 1,500 children were orphaned in the space of less than a month. They must face the violence, deprivation and uncertainty of a life under siege without the stabilizing support of a complete family. On Arab Orphan Day HCI and its local partner, the Aid and Hope Program for Cancer Patients (AHP), took a group of orphaned children out for a day of fun. There was face painting, a playground, and the chance to relax for children living under extreme conditions. They were also given a good, healthy meal which included chicken and meat. This is very important, as meat is now prohibitively expensive for the majority of people in Gaza, and as a result children face a whole host of nutritional problems including iron deficiency, and a lack of protein. The children loved their food, and the chance to play together. They were eager to write letters for their sponsors, and were very reluctant to leave when the event finally ended.

Egypt:

Orphan DayOn Arab Orphan Day, HCI and its local partner, the Gozour Foundation, took a group of orphans between the ages of 5-16, along with their mothers, out for a day of carefree entertainment. They were brought to the “Fangoon” art school where they were given the chance to paint, make pottery and jewelry, and generally have fun. For both children and mothers it was a welcome relief from the stresses of their daily struggle to survive. Our organizers could not help but smile at the sight of the children having such fun together. A deteriorating economy and increased hunger means that these orphans face many challenges, but HCI is working to better the lives of as many as possible. The day also marked the commencement of HCI’s Child Sponsorship Program in Egypt, which will match donors with children in need, and give those children the financial support they require to have a fair chance at a productive life. The event raised awareness amongst local communities of the valuable work performed by HCI, and helped to strengthen links and support networks. We can be sure that the children will not forget their special day of fun, and as they finally had to go back to their homes they told us they were already looking forward to next year’s event.

Lebanon:

Orphan DayArab Orphan Day in Lebanon was celebrated in Tripoli by HCI taking 25 orphans out for a day of fun in cooperation with our local partner, the CIWS. They were given the chance to meet, play, and eat outdoors in a healthy environment with other children who face the same challenges of living as orphans in Lebanon. The children come from families who live in poverty, and survive on donations to make ends meet. The stress and uncertainty they face every day takes a severe emotional toll, and deprives them of a child’s basic right to play and develop healthily. On Arab Orphan Day we sought to provide them with some relief, if only for a short period. They live in crowded, poor neighborhoods where parks and public spaces are non-existent. The chance for them to visit a pleasant, outdoor environment was something they do not normally get to experience, and they loved every minute of it. They started the day with a great meal at the local “Yalla Yalla” restaurant, which also had an indoor playground which the children enjoyed immensely. After, they were taken to banks of the local river where they could relax, play, and enjoy each other’s company. The sound of the children, their mothers, and the volunteers all singing together was a welcome change from the often bleak picture of life in the Mediterranean’s poorest city. The day gave these children what they needed most, a chance to escape from the difficulties of daily life, and the knowledge that they are indeed loved and appreciated.

Rights Based Approach:

Orphan DayIn all of our activities, whether in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine or Sudan, HCI takes a rights based approach towards working with orphans. Our actions are intended to comply with, and realize, the articles set forth in the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This document, ratified by 192 nations, is a powerful tool in the global effort to enhance children’s right to education, health care and safety. Although it is the state’s responsibility to fulfill the obligations outlined in the convention, in practice limited resources means that this is not always possible. It is, therefore, incumbent on non state actors, like HCI, to fill the gaps. Children are vulnerable, and lack the political power to claim their rights themselves. The CRC is a powerful tool that places obligations which every nation must meet for the sake of their children. HCI, through our child sponsorship program and events like the Arab Orphan Day celebration, is working towards a day when all children can benefit from the rights of the CRC.

Future Challenges:

Orphan DayUnfortunately, the checkered, unstable political landscape of the Middle East has bred conflicts such as in Lebanon, Palestine and Sudan. The deaths of fathers and mothers in these events has created an altogether new tragedy, as the children they leave behind join the growing ranks of the region’s orphans. This means that HCI’s support will be needed ever more in the future. We must continue to work towards a day when orphan children will enjoy all of the same opportunities and joys as others, and rightfully take their place as full members of society. Though events like Arab Orphan Day are undeniably helpful, there is still much work to be done.

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Mar 152010
 

HCI presents the Child Sponsorship Program; the case of Majd from Gaza

HCI presents the Child Sponsorship Program; the case of Abdel Rahman and Bara’ Hashem from Lebanon

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Jun 092009
 

Farm to School LebanonTwo jobs were created at the Al Mona center for hearing imparities & mental development in Tripoli the week that Yazan, a member of the fundraising team in Canada visited the HCI team in Lebanon. The center, a subsidiary of the Charity of the Islamic Women Society was where the first meal of HCI’s Farm to School program was served to schoolchildren in Lebanon. Farm to school brings healthy food from small local low-income farms to underprivileged school children at schools located in low-income areas. Vulnerable women, particularly widows and women with special needs are employed to prepare these meals and the targeted local farmers are given agricultural support and assistance to improve their economic stability. The center’s students were served a nutritionist designed meal of locally produced organic sautéed green beans and beef served with rice and a yoghurt salad, with an apple each for dessert. “The kids enjoyed the meal and were really happy to be able to play with each other and make new friends afterwards” Inaam Aloosh, the president of the CIWS told us as we toured the premises and witnessed the students happily engaged in their lessons despite the many challenges they are faced with. The Al Mona center has been a longtime local partner of HCI and hundreds of children with special needs have been able to benefit from many of the facilities secured by HCI such as equipment for testing hearing abilities and a psychomotricity room that helps the children coordinate the movement of their bodies with their brains.

CSP LebanonWe drive away from Tripoli northwards until neighborhoods are replaced by slums; grimy and bare concrete homes in disrepair randomly layered over each other and navigable only by uneven dirt paths. We have reached Beddawi, our second destination for the day. We are here to visit Mona; a widow and a single mother of nine. Her son Abdel Hadi is one of the many orphans aided by HCI’s child sponsorship program. She runs a tiny dimly lit grocery shop which also includes a sewing machine in the corner that allows her to double as a seamstress “I am barely able to make ends meet on my own; Beddawi is a very poor area, there is hardly any work here, I don’t know what I would have done without the child sponsorship program” she says to us as we sit in her modest home waiting for Abdel Hadi and his siblings to arrive from school (despite her difficult situation, she makes sure that all the children get an education).

CSP LebanonWhen we enquire about how Abdel Hadi has been doing, she tells us that thanks to the his sponsorship he has recently been able to have surgery done in one eye to enable him to see better and will have the other one operated on soon. When he eventually arrives he greets us shyly and tells us about his day at school, he looks healthy and happy; it was worth the long bumpy journey to see his radiant smile. As he runs off to have lunch with his siblings we also remember that we have to head out to our next destination as well.

Micro credit lebanonEl Minieh is our next destination; we are here to visit Houriyeh, a widowed mother of two and a beneficiary of one of HCI’s micro credit programs. She welcomes us warmly and serves us chilled glasses of delicious fresh yogurt and tells us the story of how the yogurt came into being; “three years ago after my husband’s death, it was up to me to take care of the children on my own. I had heard of small microcredit loans that were being made available by HCI through a local partner and I decided to apply for one and buy a cow”. With this cow she was able to set up a small household dairy business that supplies the local community with fresh milk and yogurt. In addition to this, the manure produced by the cow is also bought by local farmers to be used as a natural fertilizer. Her cow eventually gave birth and she was able to sell the calf and settle her loan. It is amazing to witness firsthand how such a small sum of money has been able to impact this family’s life so positively; she tells us that thanks to this one cow she has been able to provide for her children and complete the construction of the house that her husband had started building before his death. We are impressed to learn that the yoghurt salad that was served at the first Farm to School meal in Tripoli was made of yoghurt provided by Houriyeh.

Agriculture ExtensionOur final destination for the day is in the Mhamra agricultural area; it is close to the Nahr Al Bared camp and was heavily affected by stray shelling from the 2007 Nahr Al Bared Conflict resulting in the loss of many harvests which dealt a crippling blow to the local farmers that are already caught in vicious cycles of debt. We are here to visit Khodor, one of these local farmers. Khodor and his six brothers own a small farm that they struggle to survive from.

Agricultre ExtensionHe tells us that he has been engaged for about six years now and will continue to be unable to get married until he manages to save up enough money to build a small home for his future wife and himself to start a family in. Right now the siblings and their families live together in a small modest house on the farm and their priority is keeping the farm productive as it is their only source of income. As part of HCI’s agriculture extension services project, Khodor’s land is being reviewed by a team of volunteer agricultural engineers to determine what can be done to improve its economic stability. It has been a long day, we have seen a lot. It is time for us to head back to Beirut to prepare for the next day.

People with special needsWe head southwards towards Nabatiye the next day to visit another one of HCI’s local partners: Tamkeen Association for Independent Living, which is a nonprofit non sectarian and non political entity that takes care of the disabled and works on their rehabilitation. They have been around since 1987 and HCI has had a long and active history with them: some of the many projects implemented by HCI include equipping the special education center, early intervention center and the physiotherapy treatment center for rehabilitation of disabled people (particularly landmine victims), securing emergency relief funds for those affected by the July 1996 war and the numerous conflicts the area has seen, a landmine and unexploded ordnance danger awareness program and a micro loan program for disabled people and their families among others. HCI’s latest project with Tamkeen is to provide agricultural backyard production assistance to the physically disabled; the importance of this project lies in the fact that the handicapped are able to secure an income through micro farming outside their houses, without the need to commute placing them on the path towards self sustainability and improving their self esteem. Until now 10 people with special needs have been given support via HCI to help improve the viability of their backyard farms.

People with special needsAs we are shown around the center we meet Ali and Abdallah. Nine year old Ali was born without legs and until a few weeks ago had spent his entire life moving around on a wheelchair. Now, thanks to artificial limbs secured by Tamkeen, he is overjoyed to be learning to walk for the first time in his life. Eight year old Abdalla, on the other hand lost his leg a few weeks ago when he inadvertently stepped on an unexploded ordnance while playing in a field near his home. He too will be provided with an artificial limb once his injuries fully heal. As we visit the different classrooms and meet more of the special needs children, we can’t help but admire the spirit the challenged show in the face of adversity and a feel a deep sense of gratitude and respect towards all the individuals and organizations that dedicate their time and efforts to make positive change and empowerment come into fruition.

As we drive Yazan to Beirut, we excitedly discuss new ideas that have started to bud as a result of our collective experiences coming together on the field. The visit has come to an end. We say our goodbyes and though we head off in different directions, our goals remain the same.

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Apr 012009
 

CSP Lebanon“My name is Abeer.

I snuck into the pocket space under the stairs and settled on a worn rubber tire. I took into myself a rusty-bladed knife in a box of wood shavings, and watched the crystal bubbles in clear olive-oil jugs, and mourned.

My fuzz-head torn-shorts brother sat cross-legged on the ground beside me, and he held my hand in his so brown, scab-kneed little urchin thinking thoughts deep by the rusty-handled hoes. We sat, us two, drifting between time and place, the air so still and dry it burned our skins- but did not burn the hurt engraved underneath-sitting amidst ruins of an ancient town, already forgetful of the fairy foot-falls of elfin children, the glorious frivolity in their pearly-toothed grins.

I inched close wondering- it was the first reverberating life motion, memories in this garden-climbing a shiny-leafed fig tree- Tripoli, Lebanon, and the scorching abyss of the dark planting hole, seeds dropped down deep, nothing shaded, only burnt-black bright migraine-sun-and brown-skinned children sitting hollow-eyed each on a ladder rung propped up against a pomegranate tree, dread in small hands gripping splintery wood, watching the dust settle amidst the rubble of a now-sky-roofed house.

CSP LebanonMy father is dead. My home, it is ruined, racked by the explosion that took so much away from us. Our family is destitute, our basic needs for food, clothing, shelter- they are all unmet. It is with despair we look to the future. We are deprived of the paternal care that gives us good homes and a chance at a decent education. We are deprived of the capable love that can erase the dread we face our future with, bring back the frivolity in our smiles and set our lives moving again in a direction where we will not have to watch the dust settle over our ruin.

But there is a beacon of hope. My little brother, Ahmed, only 5 years old, has been sponsored by HCI for two years now. It is the only source of income for my family now.”

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Oct 082008
 

“I’m already feeling nervous and it has only been few hours since I arrived. How do those permanently living here feel? How do they manage?” wondered Aminah Kandar, a visiting Board Member from HCI-Canada, during a field visit to Tripoli. Aminah was accompanied by HCI’s local partner CIWS, specifically to the troubled area of Bab Al Tebeneh. This area is where the poorest families in Tripoli live, and where the economical cycle is mostly dependent on recycling metal – a job that barely makes a living.

We stood there trying to locate the house of an HCI sponsored child, despite the wreckage, and the warning sign displaying “YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER THE BUILDING! MUNICIPALITY OF TRIPOLI” placed upfront, we went inside. The El-Sayed family that we were trying to reach, lives in this building where a massive explosion took place in middle of the night two months ago. This area has witnessed since April this year the deadliest clashes in Tripoli’s history. The northern city of Tripoli in Lebanon is the second most populated city yet the poorest city in Lebanon. This City of Tripoli is also known to be the poorest city on the Mediterranean sea.

Ahmed’s recently widowed mother, Fadileh, welcomed us inside her house surrounded by broken windows and cracked walls — a house that was shattered and wrecked from the intensity of the explosion. “We wear sleeping there”, Fadileh pointed out to the other room in house. “When the explosion happened, we woke up on a massive sound. I thought the building is falling over our heads,” Fadileh added. “I don’t know how did I reach for the children and ran towards the door. The shattered glass was all over the floor. I could hardly see from the dust and smoke. I was surrounded by my crying kids, but I could barely hear because my ears were bleeding. The smell of fire was increasing. I tried to unlock the door but it was stuck because of the intensity of the explosion. It was a total chaos. The neighbors finally managed to break in and helped us get out of the house. As I left the house, I distributed my six kids among my relatives in the near villages, and I came back here seeing if I could salvage anything,” she concluded with tears in her eyes.

Fadileh was widowed in 2002 when her husband suffered from a fatal fall while working, leaving her alone with 6 children aged 5 to 14 years old to take care of all by herself. Fadileh worked as a janitor for couple of months, but had to quit because of health problems.

Ahmed (5yrs) and his siblings were very excited about us; it is very rare that they get visitors from anyone. “I want to be an army officer” Ahmed said while smiling, “I want to protect my family”, he added. The Al Sayed family lives under extreme poverty and continuous insecurity like most of the Bab Al Tabaneh residents. Ahmed has been sponsored by HCI for two years. This sponsorship is currently the only source of income for the entire family.

Only 14 years old, and already engaged, the oldest daughter had dropped out of school. Fadileh thinks that her daughter’s future husband will substitute the needed male figure in her family, and will provide protection and security. We had a long discussion with Fadileh and her oldest daughter, Abeer, concerning early marriage, and the need and importance of Abeer’s education. Fadileh, agreed but added, “I had a dream to see my children either medical doctors or army officers, but right now I can’t afford the education of six children, even in a public school. I don’t have a job, and no one takes care of us, including my family and my relatives. I don’t want to imagine what would have happened to us without Ahmed’s sponsorship provided by HCI,” Fadileh concluded while remembering how Ahmed got sponsored by HCI two years ago.

Al Sayed family is one of many cases that HCI is supporting through the regional Child Sponsorship Program. This program provides not only financial support, but also hope; not only for the sponsored children, but in many cases, such as Al Sayed family, hope for the entire family. As we walked out of the building, hoping that we will continue supporting Fadileh and her family, Ahmed was waving good bye from the wrecked and unstable balcony, smiling at us and inspiring us to keep on working harder to not only help Ahmed but also others. Without this sponsorship, Ahmed and his entire family could have lived their entire life not knowing what hope is.

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