Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Carla is My Starfish (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)

Photo Credit:  Federico Stevanin

This week, random.org handed me Mama Kat prompt number one: List 22 things you've never done. I love this idea, but I am saving this prompt for an upcoming blog and going with number four: Share the story behind your current Facebook and/or Twitter profile photo.

Here is my current Facebook Profile:


And this is my Twitter Profile/Avatar:


Why is there a six-year-old named Carla on my Facebook Banner and serving as my Twitter avatar? Carla is there because she is my "starfish."

(If you are not familiar with the "Starfish Story," it is a story about how just one person can make a difference. A little girl is walking down the beach which is littered with hundreds of starfish who have been stranded at low tide. She picks up starfish after starfish and throws each one back into the sea, into safety. An adult walks by and scoffs at her actions, asking why her efforts matter, seeing as how there are far more starfish than she can personally help. Having just thrown a starfish back into the watery horizon, she turns to the man and says, "I made a difference to that one." Having had his perspective changed, he chooses a starfish of his own to serve. There is a very nice version of the story here if you would like a version to share.)

Carla turned six on August 13. She lives in Guatemala with her father, who grinds wheat when he can find work, her mother, and two sisters. Her family home has a dirt floor, board walls, a tin sheet for a roof, a rug over bricks for a bed, and firewood for cooking.  I have volunteered to tell Carla's story in hopes of connecting her with someone who will become her "sponsor" through http://www.hopeforafamily.org/, also known as the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA). Sponsorship costs $30 a month. Sponsors also exchange letters and photos with their sponsored children (CFCA serves aging people as well.)

My primary blog describing more about Carla's family and how sponsorship can literally change their lives is here.

My vlog in which I do magical things with some old grape soda and cooking oil in hopes of convincing someone to sponsor Carla is here:



My daughter Tenley and I met Silvia, a child we have sponsored since she was seven (she is now seventeen), in July. The difference between looking at a two-dimensional picture of Silvia on my mother-in-law's end table for years and the three-dimensional experience of hugging her, talking to her, and meeting her mother, is something I can hardly quantify. As with every experience I had in Guatemala, it was looking in the eyes of parents (especially moms) and seeing that we all want pretty much the same thing for our children: safety, happiness, and a life that has options, that galvanized my determination to continue helping.

Silvia (the Mom), Tenley, Paula, Silvia (the Daughter/Our Sponsored Child)

Then, during the week of our visit to Guatemala, we learned that if we chose to sponsor another child, we would get to meet him or her that week. Rapidly I went from saying, "yeah, we'll sponsor a child of our own (Silvia is technically my in-laws' sponsored child) once my husband gets a job" to my daughter's emails to my husband (since he had to be part of the decision) stating in no uncertain terms how we couldn't wait to sponsor a child. She was ready to give up a significant portion of her allowance monthly; the children (and their families' needs) were so compelling. I think I will always wonder what happened to Wendy, whose folder we left on the table with the others, in favor of Estela. The decision point? Which one, based on the biographical information available, did we think needed sponsorship the most? Since Estela is the youngest of ten children, in a family that survives on the equivalent of $50 a month, she became Tenley's sponsored child. Just like with Silvia's mom, when I looked in Estela's parents' eyes, I knew we were "in this together." Their gratitude was unequivocal - Estela now has a chance to go to school, to have improved nutrition and health care, and to exchange letters with Tenley (which will give her additional language training as she gets older).


Estela's parents look on as she meets Tenley.

I hope Wendy became someone else's starfish.

As we prepared to leave Guatemala, the CFCA staff talked with the 39 of us who had participated in the trip, about how we could make a difference and keep spreading the word once we returned to the states. At some point I asked for "just one" folder to start with, thinking "well I should ask for several but let's see how one goes."

That one is Carla. I got her folder (which contains pictures, biographical information, and sponsorship information), in mid-August and proceeded to blog, FB status, Tweet (in two languages), YouTube, and follow any trail that may lead to someone who could spread the word too. CFCA was gracious enough to put my post and Carla's picture on their main Facebook page. Many people have been awesome and helped by sharing the links. My friend Robin is donating her teaching time this Saturday (and YogaQuest is donating studio time) for a "donation" yoga where the pay is not a monetary contribution but an agreement to help get the word out via social media (or the old fashioned way -- remember that? -- where you actually talk to someone face to face!). Usually we have the folders for sixty days, but CFCA agreed to let me hang on to Carla's information for another week and a half.


I know I have written a pretty long blog tonight. I was so happy when I saw that Karma, in the form of Kat, gave me an opening in the prompt, "explain who is on your Facebook or Twitter profile."

If you'll bear with me just a bit more, I have a few requests.

First, if you would be willing to share Carla's story, it is as simple as tweeting this:

I am helping @biggreenpen with a CarlaNeedsaSponsor tweet! The blog http://bit.ly/ruQDOZ and the vlog http://youtu.be/Meqy5cdC_TY $30/mo #CFCA

And/or sharing the "Hope for Carla's Family" link on Facebook or in your blogs:

http://waytenmom.blogspot.com/2011/08/hope-for-family-carlas-family.html 

Lastly, many of you in the MamaKat community have shared comments and the like with me over the past year. I feel like I know many of you and you have a sense of what I am about. I could use some honest feedback about what strategies I might use for a campaign like this. Over the past sixty days I have become convinced that there has to be some extension beyond links, tweets, and other social media efforts (like speaking to small groups, etc.). But what do you need to hear in a request like this to feel compelled to share it forward, pursue it yourself, or want to become personally involved? How do you go from "Hm, that's interesting," to "Is that my starfish?" This is my first time doing this outreach for CFCA, and I could use some of your great intellect and common sense. Thanks in advance!!

I am going to randomly select two of the commenters to receive a $5 Starbucks gift card* as a way of saying "thanks." I will select the recipients on Wednesday, October 26.

In closing, I ask you who will be your starfish? And if you are a parent, how are you teaching your children that each starfish matters?

Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you. Andre Gide




Mama's

*Note: These are gift cards I was given by Tekara Organizational Effectiveness, Inc. as a "thank you" for some comments I had shared on one of their blogs. They are aware I am sharing these gift cards with you, and I thank Tyrell Mara and Tekara for their permission!










5 comments:

Arnebya said...

This was absolutely beautiful. I do want to do more, but financially, it's not in the cards right now, even with what should be a minimal amount to send. Right now, my starfish is a 44 yr old man I'm tutoring in reading. My daughters will start tutoring early next year to children younger than them. I hope to eventually be able to sponsor a child.

Jess said...

Beautiful story...

thefamilypracticeblog.com said...

I love that starfish story - I've heard it always as a boy walking down the beach. For some reason I like it more as a girl :)
Beautiful. Dropping by from Mama Kats.

√Član said...

What a great post. And how wonderful you had the opportunity to go to Guatemala and meet the child you had been sponsoring and the child you were about to sponsor.

My starfish is a little Somali boy named Mahad. He has two brothers who were born in Dadaab refugee camp, but he was born in the USA. He'll never have to see the inside of a refugee camp. Thinking about children keeps me going... No child should have to be raised in a refugee camp (Mahad's brothers spent 10 years in the camp).

Christian Foundation for Children and Aging said...

Paula, thanks again for this post.
We so appreciate your outreach on our behalf and inspiring so many other bloggers to start spreading the word about sponsorship.

I agree with all the other comments - this was beautiful!

~Shanxi, CFCA web editor and writer