Stars in Her Eyes

Estrella means “star” in Spanish and her eyes reflect that as they sparkle with joy. But this wasn’t always the case for the young Dominican girl. I would get teased a lot, says Estrella of her life before Children of the Nations (COTN). “People would tell my mom not to let me look at them because they didn’t like the way I looked.” Estrella’s esotropia (condition of which one or both eyes turns inward) made it difficult for her to see. Her poor eyesight caused her to struggle in school and she was teased for her appearance. Her family struggled to afford food and clothing so paying expensive medical bills was out of the question.

Fortunately, visiting medical Venture teams from COTN treated Estrella and subsequently, she was able to have eye surgery.  “It has changed my life forever!” Estrella declares. “My total disposition changed after my surgeries. I have self-confidence and I am happy.”

Today, through COTN, Estrella attends school and enjoys nutritious meals. She receives important follow-up care through their medical clinic including prescription glasses that continue to correct her vision. Her surgery and continued care have helped her grow up a happy and confident young woman. None of this would have been possible without the generosity of medical Venture teams, the clinic staff, and partners who supported the clinic and children like Estrella.

The COTN clinic plays a crucial role in keeping children healthy and by offering lower cost medical care to the community of Barahona in pediatrics, gynecology, surgical procedures, and dentistry. Last year, thanks to the generosity and tireless work of COTN partners and volunteers, the clinic doubled in size.

Barb Kjose, a nurse and Venture team member, recalls the early days of the clinic: “We would come in the morning and there would be a line out way past the clinic. And we’d feel bad because we could not see all those who came.”  And now a second story has been added to the building, creating more space for surgery, dental care, and processing patients. The expansion has also moved the clinic’s laundry room and kitchen from an old shack to a more hygienic space within the building.

Estrella wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up. To everyone who supported the clinic, she says, “Thank you. . . Without the clinic, we would not have medical help. More people would suffer and have bad health, and I would still be suffering physically and emotionally with my crossed eyes.”

Thank you for helping children like Estrella ‘see’ their way to a healthier future.

 

If you would like to find out how you can go on a Medical Mission with COTN or other organizations, please come to the Global Outreach Talk on Medical Missions, Sunday, April 8, 12:15pm in S-140.

Alice’s Story

As the car rolled up to the large gated entrance of Malawi’s statehouse, Alice stared out of the window. She, along with Children of the Nations (COTN) Founders Chris and Debbie Clark (and several others from COTN), were meeting Malawi’s First Lady, Gertrude Mutharika. To herself, Alice thought, “How has this happened? Why out of all the children in Children of the Nations, did they pick me?” Alice recalls. “I couldn’t find answers, but in my heart, I said ‘thank you to God’ for helping me reach this far. I never dreamt of this happening.”

Alice had never experienced anything like this before. The guards greeted them by name, they walked through security and Alice did something she’d never done before—ride in an elevator. “I got in the elevator the wrong way,” Alice says laughing. Every moment of their visit was scheduled and full of formalities. When the First Lady arrived, they addressed her as, “Madam, your Excellency.” Alice was here to share her story with the First Lady.

After her parents died, Alice was sent to Mtsiliza to live with her grandparents, in a deeply impoverished village on the outskirts of Lilongwe. They couldn’t provide for her and the other six children living in their one-room mud-walled hut. Alice explained how she was often sick as a child. There was no money for doctors or medicine. She couldn’t go to school. She was always the last child to eat in the family. Her grandparents told her she could never hope to become anything.

Alice’s life changed dramatically the day she moved into COTN’s Children’s Homes.

But when COTN learned of the conditions she was living in, Alice was invited to live in COTN’s Children’s Home. Her life changed dramatically. Suddenly, she was part of a loving family and was given the physical, spiritual, emotional, and educational care she so desperately needed:  she had food daily; she went to school and became the first in her family to graduate from secondary school. Soon afterward, she graduated from university.

“You can list goals or accomplishments,” says Debbie Clark, “but when a child tells the depth of their story and where they’ve come from, that’s what brought so much life and what touched [the First Lady’s] heart.”

Alice explained that she looked up to the First Lady for her leadership and generous heart. When Alice finished, the First Lady stood up and gave her a hug. “The meeting felt so formal, except when Alice and Francisco (from COTN) began to share,” says Debbie. “It went from being so formal, to real.”

“Malawi’s First Lady is someone who is not easy to touch.,” says Alice. “She didn’t know much about COTN before this. She thought we just came from a nice place. When I mentioned my village, she said, ‘How can that happen? You don’t look like someone who has come from there. Wow, Children of the Nations is really doing a great job.”

“Alice did an incredible job,” Debbie says. “She was eloquent, but real and personable.”

To everyone’s surprise, the First Lady had one more request for Alice—she asked her to share her story again at a nationwide girls’ education event. Alice shared her story again in front of 300 girls, the President, the First Lady and the Chinese ambassador. Alice encouraged the girls to work hard and gave glory to God for her own success.

Alice is grateful and overwhelmed for these amazing opportunities to share her story. “This gave validity to her journey,” Chris Clark says. “Sometimes when you come from that background, you think you’ll never overcome.”

“I think God is showing me His greatness and how He makes good things from hard things,” says Alice. “I’m learning to trust Him.”

This summer, Alice Williams interned at CRISTA Camps as a camp counselor along with a fellow COTN Malawi University program graduate, Ndaona Chauluka. Alice and Ndaona are keynote speakers at COTN events throughout the USA until they return to Malawi in November.

Life in the Dominican Republic

The first time that my husband Kyle and I went to the Dominican Republic, the country captured our hearts. After that Impact Trip, we spent a summer at the Children of the Nations (COTN) base working with their I Love Baseball (ILB) ministry and producing media for their marketing team. Children of the Nations is an organization that believes in taking care of people with food and education while sharing the joy of Christ. I Love Baseball is a branch of COTN that provides baseball training for kids and an opportunity to stay in school in their communities. This helps end the cycle of poverty in the Dominican Republic because the boys have something to fall back on if they don’t make it in the big leagues. At the end of that summer, we left with rich friendships and everyone’s last question was “when are you coming back?” That question was answered when we returned this past fall.

It was such a joy to see the COTN staff members again and catch up. On our previous trip, we built some strong mentoring relationships with the boys in the ILB program. When we pulled up to the practice field, I had butterflies of excitement in my stomach.  It was incredible to experience picking up right where we left off.   However, we immediately saw how much they had grown in character as well as in height.

In the prior summer spent in the Dominican Republic, we gave the ILB kids opportunities to teach the younger kids how to play baseball. Many acted like they were too cool for school at first, but eventually more and more joined us to teach. When we returned in fall, they had created an afternoon practice that was fully run by the older boys. They invited the younger boys to join and the older ILB boys to be volunteer coaches. This was a rare moment where we got to plant something and watch it grow at the same time.

One of the things that Kyle and I are drawn to in the Dominican Republic is how they do community. America can be a very individualistic culture and the Dominican Republic is all about taking care of the group. For instance, when Dominicans make dinner, they make an extra plate of food because they know someone will stop by and join them. One of the most eye-opening conversations Kyle and I had with the ILB boys was when we realized that they didn’t know what a homeless person was. Their response was, “so Americans just let people live on the streets rather than invite them into their homes?” After a pause, we sadly answered “yes.” The Dominican Republic is a very different culture than we live in, but it made us ask the question, “What can we take back with us to the States?”

The community we have in the Dominican Republic is special and we are very grateful for those friendships.  Maybe we can’t bring everything back, but we can bring how much they value community. Until the next time we go back, we’ll continue to work on making that kind of community a reality here.

Find out more about Children of the Nation’s I Love Baseball program.