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Although Mrs. Carmen teaches others, she also practices what she preaches — creating and selling products from “found” materials.
Children International is fortunate to have so many committed and passionate partners. From other nongovernmental organizations, private-sector businesses, governmental agencies to our most important partners — you! — together, we combine our strengths with others’ assets and know-how to make us even stronger and more effective.
One group of partners near and dear to our heart is our volunteer moms. Without them, we’d be seriously hampered as an organization. If sponsors are the heart of our movement, these passionate and dedicated souls are the oxygen running through it. Nearing 6,000 strong, our gratitude to each and every one of them is without bounds. Our volunteers do so much — trudging through rain and mud to remind a family of a dental checkup, helping us coordinate the distribution of shoes, opening their home to feed undernourished children in our nutrition program or any other myriad form of volunteerism. We wish we could highlight all of them.
So, in that spirit, we honor each of them while focusing on the story of one special volunteer mom whose life was transformed when she became more engaged with her community through Children International.
“Mrs. Carmen” (as she’s affectionately known) originally thought she was volunteering as a way to help transform other people’s lives. She truly had no idea how her own life would be altered.
You see, before becoming a volunteer mom at our Barranquilla, Colombia, agency about five years ago, Mrs. Carmen tells us that she was, “... a very boring person, frequently in a bad mood.” She explains, “When I started volunteering, I was separated from my husband and often felt sick, suffering from various pains in my legs and head. I felt weak and breathless.”
When Mrs. Carmen became a volunteer mother, however, her social circle grew exponentially. And with it, so did her sense of well-being. She began to get to know the staff and other volunteers at the community center. She describes how everyone was supportive and helpful, encouraging her to learn and do her best. “Those people were an incentive for me,” she explains, with a lump of emotion in her voice.
One of the things that helped her the most was attending courses and presentations on self-esteem offered at the community center. “In five months,” she confides, “I became a different person.”
Eventually, Mrs. Carmen was asked to take on more duties. She took training courses that qualified her to become a facilitator in our Social and Financial Education program. She learned a great deal even as she provided sponsored youth with a working knowledge of finances and resource management, in addition to helping them develop a sense of community-minded responsibility.
It was, in fact, one of these training courses that contributed significantly to Mrs. Carmen’s own financial transformation. She learned how to reuse materials that many people discard, creating and selling decorative art and other items, such as belts, purses and dishes, out of recycled material she finds. “Basically,” says Mrs. Carmen, “the only thing I buy are paints; the rest are found materials. I learned that wonderful works can result from things you find on the streets. This has helped me greatly with my income. And, with some of what I earn, I can get school supplies and personal things for my daughters.” The fact that she is helping to keep her community cleaner (through her own work and through teaching others) is a big bonus for Mrs. Carmen.
“I feel rejuvenated! All those who know me see the changes,” she says. Mrs. Carmen even credits CI with having saved her marriage. “When my husband noticed how I’d changed,” she adds, “he came back, and now he assists me in everything I do.”
“Now, I have more relationships, more friends. I have a lot of contact with children, and that has helped me as a therapy because I feel and I think of myself as if I were younger,” Mrs. Carmen adds, laughing.
A smile spreads across her face. With it, all traces of the hardships she weathered to find such peace of mind are erased.