Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Compassion Joys: September

I can't believe September is already over! This year has just FLOWN by! Here are my Compassion Joys from this month.

 Compassion Family


We got lots of letters this month! We heard from Kevenel (Haiti), Said (Tanzania), Sandier (Honduras), Mishel and Carlos (Peru), Caleb (Uganda), Victor and Mary (Kenya), and got first letters from Kajal in India and Reine in Burkina Faso! We also got an update email from Compassion about Said's leg, which I count as a letter because it was correspondence about one of my kiddos. : )

Photo Updates!

We had a few updates this month, as well! Pretty Mary had her photo updated. I love her skirt! We have had lots of pictures from Mary in the two years we've been writing- she had her photo updated not long after we got her, plus we've received two extra photos of her!

Little Brendita in Mexico had her photo updated as well! She looks so old now! I just love her- she's so cute!

And lastly, Bonifas in Tanzania had his photo updated! He looks like he is just about to crack a smile in this picture- but the really neat thing is that he's wearing one of the shirts I brought him in March! I saw the photo and thought "hey wait a minute- that looks familiar!"


Our wild man Elisha turned 8 on September 10! Happy birthday, Elisha!

Country Profiles!

I finished some more country profiles for my blog this month. If you have some free time, check out my posts on Bolivia and Bangladesh to learn more about those countries!

New Kids!

We were matched with two new correspondents this month! Back in July I had requested two girls to even out my number of kids. The first one showed up this month. Her name is Doeyu and she lives in Ghana! This is my first child in Ghana. I'm looking forward to getting to know her! She looks so cute in her pink princess dress!

The other new addition is Elifagason! He lives in Tanzania! Elifagason was a surprise because as I said, we had been on the list for two girls! He's so handsome. If I ever get to go back to Tanzania, I'm definitely going to have to take someone with me to help wrangle all these boys!

My mom also got two new sponsor kids this month- two tiny little girls in the Dominican Republic and Tanzania!

Seeds Planted!

As I said last month, I had an opportunity to set up some Compassion information at my fundraising booth at a craft festival. I'd call the booth a mild success- I brought in more money than I had before, but I didn't sell much, most everyone ignored the Compassion materials I had set out (the biggest acknowledgement was when a lady told her granddaughter not to touch the child packets: "we don't do that, we do (another program.)" BUT one of my friends who stopped by talked about being interested in becoming a sponsor, possibly sometime soon. She sees all my facebook posts about my kids and checked out Compassion's financial integrity after I started posting so frequently about my kiddos. I told her about the different options for financially supporting Compassion, and she took a brochure! I will find the right sponsor child for her! : )

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Tanzania and Kenya

Happy Mail Call Monday, everyone!!

Once again, this week we got three letters! The first one was from Said in Tanzania. 

Said's letter arrived almost exactly two months after it was written, and about two months after the last one. I love how some countries are getting to be really predictable and scheduled about their letters! Said shared well-wishes and said that he remembered I worked in a library, and he was praying for my work there. He said that he's hoping to enter class six next year, and that he mostly just likes netball and football. I knew he liked football, but it was fun to read that he likes netball as well! He asked which sports and what kind of food I like. He said thank you for always remembering him!

Next we heard from Victor in Kenya! 

Victor shared that his country is having problems due to "insecurity." He seems really concerned about the things that are going on there, which, as I've said before, is a bit of a departure from his usually incredibly positive attitude. He also said that where he lives, they've had enough rain to keep the cattle alive and most everyone is finished harvesting their crops. Victor said that he will have his grades from last term soon, and that he knows that he did much better than last term! Victor is so smart, determined, and studious- I can't imagine that his grades were very low before! He is probably the kind of kid that gets an A- and works really hard to make an A the next time around! Victor also thanked us for our letters, because they help him learn about my country and can help him with his studies. He is so inquisitive and loves to learn! As usual, he signed his letter "your beloving son, Victor."

Lastly, we have a letter from Mary in Kenya!

I knew that since a letter from Victor arrived Friday, a letter from Mary was not far behind! Mary's letter was wonderful and encouraging, as always. She said she and her family are doing well, and that she and her friends plant trees and collect clothes for the needy. Mary spent a lot of time addressing my individual prayer requests. For example, she told me to have faith that my mom will not lose her sight (she has been having problems with her vision) and said she was very glad that my mother-in-law Denise is cancer-free: "God has heard our prayers!" She said she is praying for my mom, as she is taking on some new responsibilities at work: "I will also pray for your mum because we have been taught today in church that every success comes after hardship and that God likes the hardworking people and I know that the work of her hand will be blessed." My favorite part was when she mentioned Brandon's uncle Dennis. Dennis has had liver disease for the past few years, and it has caused him to be very, very sick. He's been in and out of the hospital lately, he had a very strict special diet, and other problems. He's been on the transplant list almost since his diagnosis. At one point, when Dennis was in the hospital, I mentioned him as a prayer request in my letters to the kids. Mary wrote, "I will pray for Brandon's uncle Dennis because God is sooo just to his people and always comes at the right time." And what perfect timing God has- on Friday afternoon, a liver became available and Dennis had his surgery on Saturday morning! He's doing really well! 
Mary also said that her family has moved to a different home recently, and asked for prayer for them as her mom is looking for a new job. She also said that they will celebrate Kenyan independence day on December 12. In one of her recent letters, Mary included a picture of herself with her mom- they were holding a check for her school fees and supplies. I wrote and told Mary she looked very pretty in her purple jacket, and that purple was my favorite color. She wrote back and said in response that she liked the pink top I was wearing in a picture I sent her, because pink is her favorite! She said thanks for the letters and extras we've sent, and closed with "yours faithful, Mary." 

Adding my own prayer requests to my letters is something that I've been trying out lately. I always tell my kids that I am praying for them every day, but over the last few months I've made a point to add my own prayer requests (something short and simple) and ask "do you have any prayer requests to share with me?" We learned in Tanzania that the kids really do want to know how to pray for their sponsors, and I thought that opening up to them a little might encourage them to do the same. I think that I'm starting to see results from that! It's possible that including this aspect in my letters will also provide hesitant writers with something to talk about- like, Sharifa and Reine, who didn't say much in their first letters, might feel comfortable talking about the prayer requests we've shared, and open up a bit more. I'm looking forward to seeing the other kids' responses! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Outgoing Mail: Christmas

Well, poo. I was hoping to take some notes and some pictures to share- especially since I am sending so much stuff- and then remembered to do those things after I taped up the box! So I offer my apologies for a disjointed post of hazy recollections (and no pictures), but since I put my Christmas stuff out in the mail for the kiddos this week, I thought it would be a good time for an Outgoing Mail post!

Before I get into the Christmas details, let me tell you what else is on its way! 

We have lot of upcoming birthdays in October and November. Brenda, Prayer, Said, Carlos, and Mary will all be having birthdays soon. I put together a folder for each of them: Said got one with elephants; Mary got one covered in glitter (I hope she likes it as much as I do- I will admit to patting my hair with it in the hopes of some slight sparkle transference), Carlos got a manly blue folder which I decorated with giant soccer ball stickers, Prayer got a cool holofoil tie dye folder, and Brenda's was scratch-and-sniff with pictures of candy, because she has talked about candy several times in her letters (including telling me her best friend is her best friend because he shares is candy with her!) Inside each letter I included a birthday card, some activity sheets (United States seek-and-finds, among others), some sticker sheets, and a drawing done by yours truly. I'm always telling my kids I like to draw, and I like their pictures, so I hope they like the ones I sent them, too! I also sent a small gift for each of the kids. Carlos got a Spanish world atlas, Mary got a pretty journal, Said got a small coloring book for older kids, Prayer got a connect the dots book, and Brenda got a princess coloring book. As an added bonus, I included a fun Mickey Mouse workbook for Jayid, because he said in his last letter that he is working on English lessons. The book had a page for each letter of the alphabet, along with practice sentences and fun activities. It was basically a phonics book for younger children, but he's not that old and English would be his second language. I hope he likes it! 

And now onto Christmas! This was quite an undertaking- lately I have just been sending a few gifts at a time, for birthdays and special occasions. I actually made a chart/checklist for my kiddos to make sure that all 26 of them got everything I intended to send. I wrote out each of their names and numbers, along with a place for me to put a check mark for a card, a letter, and a gift. Then I marked each of the kids who spoke English, because I did have a few possible gifts to send that would work best for English speakers. Then I got to work! I wrote out a Christmas card for each child, and included the following inscription: "I hope you and your family have a happy Christmas and a blessed New Year! Lots of love, 
Jessi." Simple and easy to translate. All year long (well, since last Christmas) I have been setting aside Christmas cards that would be appropriate for sponsor kids- no mention of piles of presents or other stuff that wouldn't apply to them, no focus on snow, etc. I have leftover cards from years past, cards from the dollar store, cards that my aunt received as  thank you gifts from various charities, and cards that my mom got on clearance last year from her store. All in all I have enough cards for my own kiddos, plus about 150 left over to send to unsponsored kids! 

For my Christmas letter, I basically write out what my holiday routine is. I don't really talk about presents other than to say that my family members exchange gifts on Christmas Day- it would be inappropriate to talk about quantities or say something like "each person gives everyone presents," because even that sounds like a lot. By just saying "exchanging gifts", I leave it open to interpretation. And our kids want to know, too. In some countries, kids don't receive Christmas gifts until AFTER Christmas, because of cultural traditions. Or sometimes people just do gifts on Christmas Eve. By keeping it vague yet informational, I'm satisfying my kids' curiosity about my culture and my traditions while still staying sensitive to their own situations. A lot of my kids also like to talk about food in their culture, so I usually throw in a mention of my family sharing a meal together, and may add something like "one traditional food to have for Christmas in my country is turkey. Do you have turkeys where you live?" Again, I'm providing some vague information without going into great detail about the sheer volume of food (most of it incredibly unhealthy) we consume over the holidays. I also like to share a bit about snow in my Christmas letters, and tell my kids that where I live, snow is unpredictable- but it is lots of fun when it happens on Christmas. I ask them what the weather is like in their countries during Christmas, too. 

Finally, we get to the gifts! I know a lot of sponsors are always looking for fun ideas for stuff to send to their kids. I can't remember exactly what I sent to each child this year, but I can try to write down what I do recall. Hopefully my list will help if you are looking for ideas for gifts- and I'd love to hear about what other people are sending their kids, too!

  • The 12 youngest kids are getting small, super-skinny Christmas activity books I found at Hobby Lobby (pack of 12 for 4.99, continuously 40% off.) Even if they can't read the instructions on the activity pages, they can still color the pictures and share them with their friends! 
  • Two kids are getting student planners- probably Mary and Victor because they are the oldest English speakers. They are weekly planners with helpful tips like measurement charts, grammatical advice, and other nifty things. One had a car on it and the other had a butterfly. 
  • Some of the kids are getting mini wall calendars. Michaels has tons of designs for $1 each. Some of them are pretty yet gender-neutral, such as the calendar with colorful pictures (a rainbow lollipop for this month, a close-up of a pack of crayons the next.) There were also hot air balloons, lighthouses, kittens, puppies....and my favorite, dogs dressed in fancy costumes. Like, tiaras and feather boas. I know I sent that one to Patricia because for some reason I had the feeling she would get a kick out of it. 
  • Two of the kids got skinny drawing pads from Target's dollar spot. And one kid got a writing pad from the same place (it had Sesame Street characters so it wasn't as boring as it sounds!) 
  • One child got a pack of origami papers with instructions- it might have been Barry because I saw that the instructions came in English and French, and being from Burkina Faso, he speaks French. 
  • One child got a "sticker by number" kit from the Dollar Tree, which is exactly like paint by number, except with stickers
  • A few of the kids got coloring books, including Sofia the First, Sesame Street, and Bible stories
  • One or two of the girls got journals I found in the clearance bin at Michaels (regularly a dollar, they were 50% off!) 
  • Carlos got a mini Max Lucado book in Spanish
  • I found a Spanish word book thing at the used bookstore for one of the younger girls. I couldn't understand what it said, but I gathered that it was like a seek and find- "in this picture find one gorilla, two giraffes, three ostriches, etc.) It was skinny and paperback and I was happy because it was Spanish! 
  • Caleb got an atlas
  • Jayid got a Batman activity book, because Batman is semi-universal and he would have English help if he needed it. 
  • The littlest kids got super cute nativity coloring books my mom pulled from last year's Chrismas clearance. I've been hanging onto them all year!
  • The neatest new find: bookmark calendars. It's a stack of bookmarks bound together like a little flip book. When a new month starts, you can tear off the next bookmark- it has the calendar for the month on there along with a little picture (butterflies, lighthouses, Psalms, kittens, whatever.) The bookmarks, bound together, come in at just under a quarter of an inch, and because they are flexible and meet the requirements for Compassion and customs, they can be sent as-is. They're really neat- they can be found at Michaels in the dollar bins. Each bookmark calendar comes with three magnetic bookmark clips, which of course can't be sent to the kids, but you can just take everything out of the package, pop a label on the calendar, and voila. You have new magnetic bookmarks (I have a ton of them now!) 
All in all, between my stuff and the birthday folders my mom sent in the same box, we filled a large priority mail box to the brim! I hope all the kids like what I'm sending- now I need to work on restocking my box of paper gifts! I pretty well cleaned it out!

What are you sending your sponsor kids for Christmas? Have you found anything cool to send recently that you haven't seen or thought of before? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Peru and Honduras

Happy Mail Call Monday!

We received four letters this week! The first was from Mishel in Peru. 

Mishel wrote a short but sweet letter. She answered several of my past questions, but unfortunately, I don't remember what the questions were! She said that she has fun at the project and her mom makes fried foods for Holy Week. She really liked the little gifts I've been sending her, like stickers and notebooks. She asked that I pray for her family, and requested to see a picture of my friend Betty. I was happy to oblige in my reply letter. 

Next we heard from Carlos, also in Peru!

Carlos always writes really nice letters! He wished me a belated happy birthday, which was funny because I think this is the first time any of my kids has ever said anything about my birthday. Carlos said he was happy I was able to travel to Africa and see the kids and visit the Compassion centers, and he hopes that I can come to Peru someday. He also said that every country prepares ceviche differently, but Peru does it best! Carlos said that his family is doing "so-so" but that all families have times like these, and he knows God will help them be solved. He also said nobody is perfect but he tries to do good things, and that he hopes I will pray for him to "not get apart from God." Lastly he shared his mom's name (Corina) and asked that I pray for her. He closed his letter with "a big hug" and love. Carlos drew a really great picture of King David being anointed by the prophet Samuel! 

Then we heard from Eduardo in Honduras!

We have been writing to Eduardo for about 9 months now, and this is our second letter from him. In this letter, Eduardo mentioned getting the gifts that I was able to send when Kim visited Honduras back in May. I sent Eduardo a quart-sized bag with a Bible, some tiny notebooks, a multi-tool, a leather cord necklace, and some candy, pens, and pencils. Eduardo said that he liked the verse on the necklace and it was a nice keepsake (though he called it a keychain.) He also really liked the Bible and says that he reads it every night with his mom and his family. I also sent him a small photo album with pictures, and he said my mom is pretty (she is!) Eduardo asked that we keep praying for him, and we definitely will. 

Lastly, we heard from Said in Tanzania!

Said said his family is doing well and he is healthy. He thanked me for the letters that I send, and said he liked them. He said he remembers I work in a library, and that he is praying for me every day so I will do a good job at work! He is in class five now and he is hoping to move forward to class six next year. He said his favorite sports are football and netball. He asked which sports I like, and about my favorite foods! 

We've had two great weeks for letters! I hope that this upcoming week also brings lots of correspondence from our kiddos. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How to Pack a Shoebox

Recently I've found that several of my friends are preparing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for the first time. My former church has also decided to pack shoeboxes for their Christmas giving project rather than participating in an Angel Tree-type program. I really love working on my shoeboxes throughout the year, and am excited to see others joining in the fun!

I have a lot of experience packing shoeboxes, in addition to shopping for my kids, and I think I have a pretty good handle on what could go in shoeboxes and what kids living in poverty around the world would find helpful. So I decided to do a post about ideas for what to pack!

The way I see it, shoeboxes exist for two reasons: as a gift, and as a way to help others. I think it's a good goal to have a balance between those two things. When I visited my boys in Tanzania, I brought them each a bag of gifts, and I tried to include many things that were both fun and practical. Balance! And I think that's good for shoeboxes, too. That's why I try to include items that are going to be helpful and fun. That being said, I know people who lean more heavily toward the "practical" packing, and some who just pack fun stuff. Samaritan's Purse and OCC don't have rules as to whether a box should lean heavily to one side of that spectrum, because after all, this is your gift to a child. But I try to keep in mind the children who are going to be receiving the shoeboxes: children in poverty lead hard lives, and they often have to grow up too quickly. Many of them may not have any toys- they use trash for soccer balls and play tea party with old cans and boxes. They deserve to have fun. They also need help. The children receiving shoeboxes may not be enrolled in a program that ensures they have essentials like toothbrushes and toothpaste. Some of these kids only have castoffs to wear, or don't have any shoes. And a lot of schools don't provide school supplies- so if a child manages to get a (required) uniform and make it to school, they may not be able to learn very much if they don't have something as simple as pencils. To a family living in poverty, including things like personal hygiene items or school supplies can be a huge blessing.

Below I've listed out everything I can think of to go in a shoebox, both practical and fun. If you don't know where to start with your shoebox, try to pick a few things from both, and see how much room you have left. If you have any ideas to add, leave them in the comments!


  • Washcloth (regular or those fun "magic" ones!)
  • Bar soap (floating bars like Ivory work well for kids who bathe in rivers and lakes)
  • Soap container
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Combs and hairbrushes
  • Hair ties
  • Hats
  • T-shirts
  • Gloves and scarves
  • Shoes (flip flops work well because they're flat)
  • Socks (I like to find bright, colorful ones!)
  • Pencils and pencil sharpener
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Glue sticks
  • Manicure kits or nail files
  • Chapstick
  • Bandages or travel first-aid kits
  • Sewing kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Small flannel throw blanket (they fit pretty well if you roll them up tight!)
  • Drawstring bag
  • Plastic poncho (the little packet kind)
  • Kleenex (or fun, printed tissues!)
  • Tape measure
  • Fishing line and lures
  • Nails, screws, hammer, screwdriver (for older boys, in original packaging)
  • Plastic dishes (cups, collapsible cups, cutlery)
  • "Pillowcase" dresses
  • Bandanas
  • Mini wall calendars and pocket planners

  • Soccer ball with pump
  • Baseball or softball
  • Bouncy balls
  • Beach ball
  • Jacks
  • Playing cards
  • Travel games ("go fish", checkers and chess)
  • Card games ("Old Maid," etc)
  • Baby dolls
  • "Fashion" dolls (like Barbie)
  • Small Lego kits
  • Small stuffed animals
  • Toy cars and trucks
  • Kazoos 
  • Harmonicas
  • Tambourines
  • Recorders
  • Yo-yos
  • "Ball in a cup" and other simple handheld games
  • Tiny etch-a-sketch
  • Small purse
  • Plastic jewelry
  • Headbands
  • Barrettes
  • Hair clips
  • Bobby pins
  • Crayons
  • Colored pencils
  • Markers
  • Coloring books
  • Drawing pads
  • Construction paper pads
  • Stickers
  • Journals and diaries
  • Note pads
  • Balloons
  • Glitter and sequins
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Small craft kit (example: beading kit or friendship bracelet kit)
  • Slinky
  • Board books
  • Toy binoculars
  • Hacky sack ball
  • Jigsaw puzzle
  • Finger puppets
  • Action figures
  • Matching game
  • Pinwheels
  • Kites
  • Play doh
  • Silly Putty
  • Glow sticks
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Stamps and stamp pads
  • Watercolors and paintbrushes
  • Foam or balsa wood gliders (airplanes)
  • Marbles
  • Mini connect four
  • Rubik's cube
  • Spinning top
  • Plastic peg game 
  • Tote bags and fabric markers
  • Small purses
  • Watches (plastic, not glass face)
  • Fabric quarters (older girls)
  • Nail stickers
  • Jump ropes
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Folding fans
  • Candy*
*If you're going to pack candy, follow these guidelines. Wrap everything in plastic bags to keep out vermin and bugs. Don't get anything that melts, like chocolate. Don't get candy that's confused with food, like "fruit snacks", as those are categorized separately by customs and can't go in shoeboxes. Hard candies are good (mints, Werthers, those strawberry things everyone's grandma has, Lifesavers, Jolly Ranchers) as well as things like lollipops and gum. 

And here are some guidelines as to what cannot be packed in shoeboxes: 

  • Glass. Mirrors, glass watch faces, etc. It can break, and it's dangerous. 
  • Knives. Even pocket  knives or multitools with knives. These are gifts going to children, after all. Plus customs might frown on them. Knives are not allowed. 
  • Violent toys. Don't get an attitude because it's "not PC" or whatever. A lot of these kids come from countries that are currently or have been recently involved in war. The goal is not to remind them of that. Don't pack things like toy soldiers or water guns. 
  • Liquids. Including but not limited to: shampoo, conditioner, nail polish, lotion, sunscreen, body spray, bubbles, lip gloss, hand sanitizer, glue, roll-on items like deoderant (still full of liquid!) etc. Toothpaste may count as a liquid when you're traveling by airplane, but it's fine for shoeboxes. 
  • Food. Candy is not food. What is food? Koolaid packets. Gummies. Vitamins- chewables count as food as far as customs is concerned! Basically, if it's edible and isn't hard candy or gum, don't send it. 
  • Medicine. While things like tylenol, tums and vitamins would be beneficial to these families, they can't go through customs. And it's probably not safe to send them to kids, anyway. Don't send medicine. 
  • Money. This should be obvious, since most countries have different currency, but people still try to do it to be helpful. Pay your $7 shipping donation, but don't put any money in the shoeboxes. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Haiti, India, Honduras, Burkina Faso and Uganda

Happy Mail Call Monday! My letter drought is over!!!

This week we got several letters, starting with a letter from Kevenel in Haiti! 

Kevenel sent a form letter about his summer holidays, but didn't fill out any of the form! That made me laugh. The back of the letter was filled up with a message written by his dad though. Kevenel asked how we are doing, and said that he hoped we would pray for him to have more knowledge at school and at church. He also shared Psalm 23  with us, and said that he hoped I had a good summer vacation. Then he drew a really cute picture! 

Next we heard from our princess Kajal in India! 

Kajal is our most recent sponsored child, and it was very exciting to get a first letter from her. The front of the letter was a form which shared about her and her interests. She has a mom and a dad, a brother and a sister, and her favorite color is red. Her best friend's name is Moman and her favorite game is playing with dolls. In the freeform part of the letter, which was written by a CDC staff member, they said that Kajal was very happy we sponsored her and were "showing love on her." Kajal likes to visit the center and likes hearing Bible stories. Her dad is a farmer and her mom takes care of the home, and they live in a rural community. She is also studying "1st standard" in school. 

Next we got a letter from little Sandier in Honduras!

Sandier's letter was about his medical checkup! He shared his height and weight, and said that he walked to his medical checkup with his mom. He also got vitamins, medicine, and dewormer at his checkup. The letter was written by a CDC staff member, who said that Sandier is doing really well in kindergarten and knows his ABCs. He also said it is very hot where he lives, and he was glad to read that some storms in America were not where I live. He also said now he knows the "vocals", which is a mystery to me, and he's glad that we know each other. And he also said that he's never visited a library, but he wants to see one sometime! Sandier also drew a cute little picture of some spiky-haired people getting rained on! 

Then came a letter from Caleb in Uganda.

Caleb wrote a very beautiful letter. He started by telling me how lovely things are in his country at the date of his writing. "The place where I stay is good and attractive because of the cool and fresh air from the trees around and the beautiful flowers at home." For the rest of the letter, Caleb replied to my letter back in March telling him about my mother-in-law's kidney cancer diagnosis and her surgery. He encouraged me not to worry, "because our God is a living God. I believe that the Lord who created heaven and earth is with her." Then he shared a memory verse for me, from John 14: "Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give as the world does. Do not be worried and upset, do not be afraid. You heard me say to you, I am leaving, but I will come back to you. If you love me, you would be glad that I am going to the father, for he is greater than I." Then Caleb says, "this memory verse teaches me always to stay strong in Christ in whatever challenges I pass through." He is such a wonderful kid! It is hard to believe that he just turned 13! 

Then came my first letter from Reine Anna in Burkina Faso! 

This was the first letter I received from Burkina Faso. We got Reine around the same time that we got Barry, so hopefully a letter is on its way from him, too. I'm not sure what name Reine prefers, but I usually call her Reine in my letters. It is her "second" name out of three names. But Barry goes by his "third" name. I asked some other sponsors which name they would guess she prefers, and the general opinion was to wait and see what she wrote on her letter. Well guess what? She didn't sign it! Oh well. We'll figure it out someday. 

Reine wrote a very brief letter saying that she is on vacation and is helping her family at home. She also likes to play with friends. Under the prayer requests section, she asked that I pray for her  and for her grandmother. As for her questions for me, she wants to know about the seasons where I live, and how many people are in my class! : ) 

My last letter to share is not a letter at all, but rather an email from Compassion! In my last letter from Said, he mentioned hurting his leg. I was concerned because the letter was written this summer, after I saw him, and I knew that he broke his leg last fall and had surgery to repair the break. I was concerned that he may have injured it again. I checked with Compassion and they recommended sending a copy of my letter so they could do an inquiry. When I sent it in, I also wrote quite a bit bragging on the Compassion Tanzania staff and going on and on about how wonderful they were. : ) Here is the reply I received this week: 

"Dear Jessi,

Thank you so much for bringing your concerns about Said to us.  We have heard back from our Tanzania office with the following reply.

“We have communicated with the project workers concerning Said’s situation and this was their response.  It is true Said injured his leg in October last year and after initial treatment he was supposed to go for surgery.  On the other hand the letter which Said wrote was to inform his sponsor concerning his leg before she came to visit him.

Moreover in October last year Said went for leg surgery and we thank God it was successful; he is doing fine, but in winter season he feels pain because of the pieces of metal plate which was placed in his leg.  We thank God in March this year 2 pieces of  metal plates were removed and it has remained only one which will also be removed very soon from now.

He is doing fine in school as well as family and project.
Kindly pass our thanks to our dear sponsor for her caring heart.”

Praise the Lord that Said is doing well, and that he will soon be 'metal-free!' And I am so thankful for the caring staff at Compassion who helped me gain this information!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Country Profiles: Bangladesh

Here is my next installment in my series of country profiles!

The flag of Bangladesh features a red circle, representing the sun rising over Bengal, and a green background, representing the land. The circle is slightly offset so it looks centered when the flag is flying! 

The Land: 

Bangladesh is just slightly smaller than the state of Iowa, and is about the same size as the country Greece. The country is mostly made up of a fertile delta. There are hills to the east, and rivers run throughout the country. The largest rivers are the Padma (Ganges), the Jamuna, and the Meghna. Many areas of the country are rich in natural resources like gas and timber. There are many different types of plants and animals in Bangladesh- it is very biologically diverse. Bangladesh is home to the endangered Bengal tiger, the Indian civet (which is a tiny "big cat"), gibbons, monkeys, dolphins, and over 100 species of reptiles and 600 species of birds. There are a few Indian elephants still living in the country, but like all elephant populations, theirs is shrinking dramatically with each passing year. October through March is considered winter, which has cool, mild weather. June through October is the monsoon season, which brings most of the country's annual rainfall. Tidal waves, floods, and cyclones are common during this time. About a third of the country is flooded from late June to late September.


Bangladesh is extremely densely populated. The country is home to over 166 million people. That's about half the population of the United States, all crammed into an area the size of Iowa! Urbanization is increasing, but most Bangladeshis live in small villages, of which there are thousands. The capital is called Dhaka and more than 14 million people live there. Other popular cities are Chittagong, which has over 4 million people; Khulna, which has 1.6 million, and Rajshasi, which has just under a million. A small percentage of the population is made up of tribal groups, including a quarter of a million Biharis, who are Muslims who immigrated from Bihar, India. Bangladeshis really consider themselves a homogenous people- the term "melting pot" would apply well. They have an Indo-European heritage, with some Arab, Turkic, and Persian influence. In fact, Bangladesh was called East Pakistan (on the other side of India) until the early 1970s when they gained their independence. The people of West Bengal, which is technically in India, are of the same ethnic group as Bangladeshis, but they are mostly Hindu rather than Muslim. These people refer to themselves as Bangalis.


Bangla is the country's official language, and it is derived from Sanskrit. Because of the cultural influence, Bangla also contains some vocabulary from Persian, Arabic, and Turkic regions, as well as a bit of English thrown in. Bengali is another term for Bangla. The spoken language has many dialects throughout the country. The strongest "accent", which is very guttural, is spoken in eastern areas of the country. Most Bangla dialects are soft and musical. The Bihari people speak Urdu. Some of the small tribal groups sprinkled throughout the country may also speak their own languages. Due to the cultural influence of their neighbors in India, many Bangladeshis, especially young people, can understand Hindi.

A bit of the Bible in Bengali


Bangladesh is primarily Muslim, and  is  home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Almost 90% of the country is Muslim, and most of them are Sunni. Muslims in Bangladesh pray five times a day, and the midday prayer on Fridays is considered the most important. Hindus make up about 9% of the population in Bangladesh. The rest are mostly Buddhists. Religion has a strong influence on Bangladeshi society. Shoes are removed before entering mosques or temples, because they are dirty and unclean. Hindus do not eat beef, and Muslims do not eat pork. Fasting is widespread during the month of Ramadan due to the large population of Muslims, and because most of the country is already doing it, it is considered polite for non-Muslims to avoid eating, drinking, and smoking in public during this time. The fast is broken at sundown, at which point everyone chows down!

A small Catholic church in Bangladesh

The People: 

Bangladeshis might not smile a lot in public because a calm, serious face is considered a sign of maturity. This lack of smiling is not due to being unfriendly. In Bangladesh, it is customary to thank someone for doing a favor- however, the word "thanks" (Dhannabad) is not really used in everyday life. Instead, Bangladeshis say thanks with their actions- by returning the favor. In formal situations, a spoken thanks will probably be offered. Bangladeshis view the group as being more important than the individual, so family is very important to them. Friendships are expected to be strong and long-lasting.

Sadly, social classes still play a strong part in Bangladeshi society. For example, class is still a major consideration in choosing a spouse. The way a bride is treated by her in-laws is often determined  by her father's wealth, so if her father is poor, she may be treated badly by her husband's family. Social image and status are carefully guarded, and people may become very angry and irate if they feel they have been insulted or defamed. Many people in Bangladesh are content to live relatively simple lives, without a lot of material flash.

Most men in Bangladesh wear Western-style clothing, but women usually wear traditional sarees. Jewelry is an important part of every Bangladeshi woman's wardrobe. Most women don't wear pants. Some Muslim women wear burqas, but the government does not require head coverings for women. Some men wear white religious clothing- pajamas (like Western pajama bottoms) and a panjabi (a knee-length pajama top.) Men in rural villages sometimes wear a lungi, which is a circular piece of cloth knotted at the waist. This is worn with a genji, which is like an undershirt. Adults don't wear shorts.

If you're speaking to someone of the same sex, establishing eye contact in conversation shows sincerity. However, looking down shows respect for older people or those with higher social standing. Most of the time, it's considered impolite to cross your legs or smoke in the presence of an elder. It is also very rude to point the bottom of your shoe or foot at another person. There is also a cultural taboo about feet making contact with books. If your foot accidentally touches a book, you "apologize" by touching the book with the fingertips of your right hand, then touching your chest, and then lips. Pointing to things or people with your chin is considered polite, and whistling or winking in public is impolite. Beckoning with your index finger is extremely rude. Personal space between friends is small, but people put quite a bit of space between themselves and their superiors or subordinates.


The father is the head of the family, and all of a family's farmland, houses, cattle, and any other property are owned by him. In most cases, the father is the sole income earner, though that is changing. In urban areas, fathers and mothers are sharing more decision-making responsibilities. Fathers are responsible for funding their children's education and arranging their marriages. If a father dies, his property is inherited by all of his sons, and the eldest son gets a bit of extra land. The widowed mother is taken care of by her children, and the sons take over the responsibility of arranging marriages in the family. Children are expected to care for their elderly parents. Extended families often live together because living apart is too expensive. When mom and dad are away, grandparents or older siblings take charge.

Society in Bangladesh is definitely dominated by males. Women are dependent on their husbands and male relatives throughout their entire lives. Women are discouraged from being out alone after dark, and violence against women is common. Many women suffer domestic violence at home, and outside the home, they face sexual harassment, beatings, rape, and acid attacks. Women generally have a low status in society (except in the upper class) but there are movements to promote women's rights and safety. Traditionally, women would not work outside the home. Because of demand for labor (particularly in factories that produce clothing for Westerners), more and more women are going to work in unsafe conditions.


In urban areas, most homes in Bangladesh are considered modest and basic by Western standards. There are a few residential areas in the capital city of Dhaka that have elegant homes, but the rest of the city is filled with tall apartment buildings, tiny homes, and shanties. Apartments have no insulation, but instead have thick concrete walls. Refrigerators are a sign of wealth, so people keep them in the common area of the living room! In the urban slum areas, homes are usually made of bamboo with tin or bamboo roofs. In rural villages, people usually live in clusters of mud or bamboo huts.

Young Bangladeshis don't have many opportunities for socializing with kids of the opposite sex. Even men and women talking together is frowned upon in rural areas. Marriages are usually arranged by a ghatak, or matchmaker, which is often  a family member or friend. A couple may have a formal first meeting with family members at the bride's house. The bride is asked questions by the groom's family or friends, and then they have a feast. The couple may also have meetings at restaurants, chaperoned by family or friends. When a couple goes out together, they're expected to get married- people don't date just for fun. If a couple gets together on their own, without a matchmaker, the man must send a request for marriage to the woman's parents through his relatives. Both families agree on a dowry. Many parents see daughters as a financial drain on the family, and are therefore prone to marrying off their daughters while they are young- the thought being that if a girl is out of the house, she's no longer a financial burden. It is illegal for girls under the age of 18 to be married in Bangladesh, but families still do it anyway. Bangladesh has the highest rate of early marriage in all of Asia.

For weddings, the bride and groom's homes are decorated with lights. Bamboo gates are placed at the entrance to the home, and these are decorated with colorful cloths. Bangladeshi brides wear sarees and jewelry, and the grooms wear a shirwani (knee-length coat), a pagri (traditional cap), and nagra (flat shoes that curl upward in front). The bride's hands and face are covered in turmeric, and her palms, nails and fingers are dyed with a henna paste called mendi.

A Bangladeshi bride


Rice is the primary staple of the Bangladeshi diet. The people also regularly eat fish and dal, which is like a really thick lentil-based soup eaten with rice. Fish and beef are the most popular meats in the country, but they are too expensive for those living in poverty. Carrots and cucumbers are eaten raw, but all other vegetables are fried. There are many fruits available in Bangladesh, like tomatoes, jackfruit, mangoes, lychees, guava, watermelon, bananas and papaya. Popular spices include cumin, ginger, turmeric, pepper, and coriander. Dessert is not often eaten after meals, but some sweets are reserved for special occasions. Some popular sweets are rashogolla and kalojam, which are both dough boiled in syrup. Bangladeshis usually don't use forks and knives at home, but spoons may be used to eat sweets. Because the left hand is reserved for hygiene, food is only eaten with the right hand. Typically, Bangladeshis eat a light breakfast, snacks, a big lunch after noon, more snacks, and then a very late dinner- right before bed. People don't talk while they're eating, especially at home. Food is not passed around the table. Instead, people take their plates to the food and get their own servings. Men and women usually eat separately, and on special occasions, children often get to eat first.

Street food at a market


Many sports are popular in Bangladesh: cricket, soccer, field hockey, table tennis, and badminton, to name a few. Girls are usually discouraged from playing sports, but they are allowed to play handball. The most popular boys' game, ha-dudu, or ka-baddi, is played on a square court. Two teams each have 12 players. While continually saying “hadud-du-du,” one team's player enters the other side's area and tries to touch as many of the other players as possible. If he returns to his side while still repeating the words without having taken a breath, the other team loses the players he touched and his team gains an equal number of its own players back (from previous rounds). However, if he is trapped by the opposite team and is forced to take another breath, he is out and the opposing team gains one of its members back. The first team to eliminate all players on the other side wins. This game is played mostly in rural areas and is popular because it does not require a large area for playing. Visiting friends and relatives is a popular pastime among Bangladeshis. Most people don't travel for leisure. Some Bangladeshis race boats  on the rivers. Hindi movies from India are popular in Bangladesh, as are Hindi soap operas for families that have access to television. Exposure to Hindi media is a major reason why so many Bangladeshi youth understand at least some of the language.

The artistic tradition of Bangladesh is much older than the country itself, and Bangladeshis are proud of this aspect of their culture. Poetry, music, and literature are all greatly appreciated. Contemporary music and dance are heavily influenced by tradition. Architecture in Bangladesh can be visually stunning, particularly the mosques and temples.


Holidays in Bangladesh follow two calendars. Political and cultural holidays follow the Western calendar, while religious holidays follow the lunar calendar. The New Year is determined by a separate calendar-  a Bangla calendar. Some popular political holidays include Shaheed Dibash in February, which honors six people killed in a political protest in 1952; Independence Day; Labor Day; and Victory Day, when independence was actually achieved in Bangladesh. Muslim holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are very important to the primarily Islamic country. The Eid holidays are marked by prayer services and three days of feasting and visiting. Children bow and touch the feet of their elders to show respect. Then they receive gifts. Eid al-Adha is a holiday to remember Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and Bangladeshis celebrate the holiday by slaughtering livestock. They typically keep one-third of the meat, give away a third to the poor, and exchange the rest as gifts.


Like many other countries facing high rates of poverty, life expectancy is higher in urban areas where people have access to better sanitation and healthcare. Typhoid, malaria, cholera, and hepatitis present many challenges to Bangladeshis. The country also has a high infant mortality rate, due in part to widespread malnutrition. Nearly half of the children in Bangladesh face stunted growth, and 20% of the women in Bangladesh are malnutritioned, leading to low birthrates and other pregnancy-related risks. Hospital care is free in the country, but lack of adequate facilities and doctors means that free healthcare isn't as great a help as one would expect. Private clinics provide better care, but they're terribly expensive and therefore inaccessible to most Bangladeshis.


About half of the primary schools in Bangladesh are government-funded. The other half are often a least partially subsidized by the government in some way. However, the government often has trouble standardizing education in these independent schools, which leads to problems with curriculum and poorly-trained teachers. Public school classes are taught in Bengali, but some private schools offer some courses in English. Students attending religious schools will probably also learn at least some Arabic.

School-children in Bangladesh

From Compassion's website: 

"Compassion's work in Bangladesh began in 2003. Registered children are ready for sponsorship; more than 35,200 children are registered in more than 150 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches and denominations to help them provide Bangladeshi children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be."

There are many children in Bangladesh who are waiting for sponsors! Here are just a few. 

Mofachel is 4 years old, and his birthday is February 21. 

Popy is 12 years old, and her birthday is February 15. 

Sanjoy is  5 years old, and his birthday is November 29. 

Promila is 12 years old, and her birthday is October 10. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Title goes here.

I don't think I like blogs that share an overabundance of unnecessary information from people's personal lives. I don't think that my blog is that way. But sometimes I am a little saddened by the fact that 99.9% of the time, my posts are almost promotional. Don't get me wrong, I love Compassion and it's something I care very dearly about. But this did not start out as a sponsorship blog. The title and tagline are about me and my husband. I wish that I had more personal posts- not that I think people are dying to read them or whatever. But I wish that I had interesting photos and stories to share with you about my own life, not just for conversational purposes, but because then my life would be a happier thing. If I were posting about decorating my home or great furniture finds, that would mean we were in a better place financially and a persistent source of frustration in my life had been resolved. If I posted recipes and beautiful food photos, that would mean we had found the resources to shop for more than just peanut butter and hot dogs when we are actually able to go to the store. If I had back-to-school photos and cute stories to tell about little ones, that would mean my life's purpose had been achieved and my heart would be more complete.

So sometimes I am sorry that the only things I have to post about are sponsorship related.

I think all of the random and infrequent personal posts I've done lately- maybe this year- are about struggles. Employment issues and depression and anxiety, mostly. I guess I should give an update on that, since I bothered to share about it in the first place and I asked for your prayers.

In some ways, not much has changed lately. I am still looking for a job, though I haven't applied for one in a while. I know I definitely need a new one, for a bunch of reasons. I need more financial stability. I need more hours to improve my sense of self-worth- there are a lot of weird feelings wrapped up in the fact that I only work part time. And it's really hard sometimes, since the person who got the job that I thought I wanted/needed is constantly complaining about it, from the hours to the responsibilities. It's like some sort of weird psychological torture. So this is one prayer request- that I would not let these things get me down too much,  and that the right (preferably "perfect") opportunity will open up for me soon, and that I'll know what it is. It would be nice if it would wave a big red flag with my name on it.

The other thing really is pretty personal, and I know that some people in my life probably think that I should keep it to myself. I know of a few people in particular who think I shouldn't say basically anything about my personal struggles, or even my opinions on some things. But I want to for two reasons. For one, I think it's dishonest to project that everything is fine and dandy when it's not. I don't think it's appropriate to respond to every "how are you" with a laundry list of everything that's wrong with our lives, but it's also not fair to yourself or the people who care about you to say "everything's great! Yay!" when it isn't. The second thing is a matter of consistency. I tell people all the time not to be afraid to get help if they need it. I speak out about ending the stigma that comes along with mental illness. I stepped up that game when Robin Williams passed away a few weeks ago, and many people wrestled publicly with the idea that someone who seemed so joyful would end up committing suicide.

I have posted on here before that I have depression and anxiety. This is not a secret. I don't mind telling people about it. I have said within the past few months that life seemed a little more overwhelming than usual as of late, with all these random things that have happened. I did not fully explain how bad it has been. I'm not going to share specifics about what I have been going through, but it has been bad. Very, very hard. Difficult. Most days are a struggle. Most of Saturday and Sunday, I did not have any major breakdowns, and I enjoyed the break from hysteria and sorrow so much that when a few random, slightly irritating things happened on Monday, I got frustrated. I was actually kind of mad at the people who caused these circumstances, because they had disrupted this tiny bit of peace I had been experiencing. And in no way was this weekend blissful- but things have been bad enough lately that two days of fairly normal existence was just a startling change.

The problems I have been having have been so frequent, and they're tied into circumstances and events that have been going on for so long now, that I finally made the decision that I can't do it on my own anymore. Two weeks ago I called about seeing a counselor, and I had my first session last week. I didn't hold out for as long as I did because I was ashamed- if there was shame attached to this, I wouldn't share about my struggles in any sort of public area. I stopped being  ashamed of my conditions when I was still in school, because I figured out that other people aren't ashamed of dyslexia or cancer or diabetes or other things that are beyond their control, so there was no reason for me to be ashamed  of my anxiety and depression. I was just determined to handle it on my own. I have been for years. I've known that it was cyclical or intermittent or whatever you want to call it. Lately, though, it hasn't been letting up. And it's been more intense. And I got tired of feeling the way I was feeling, and in the interest of my own safety, I sought help. I felt guilty imploring others to seek help if they needed it after Robin Williams' death when I wasn't getting help myself, and now I am. I feel a little relieved. It is good to have someone to talk to. I am going to see my counselor on Tuesdays, and while it is good to have someone to talk to, it's hard only talking for 50 minutes and then still having to deal with life while I wait until the next time I get to talk. But I have hope that things are going to get better, and as I work through some stuff I'm hoping to gain some coping skills and learn how to deal with some of the things going on in my life. And letting go of things that have already happened.

So in closing, I'll say two things again. The first is that I hope you will continue praying for me if you already have been. I have a long road ahead of me. And I'm still carrying a very heavy burden. Please pray that I will stick with this even when it's hard, and that I won't let stupid things get in the way of this healing and learning process. And the second is to encourage you again- if you are struggling, if you are having trouble dealing with things, please look for someone to help, whether it's a doctor or a counselor. Don't wait until it's too late. Don't wait until the burden is so great that it's hard to breathe. Things can get better, and there's no need to be ashamed if you need help getting there.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Country Profiles: Bolivia

I'm finally getting back to writing profiles on the countries where Compassion works! Here's the newest installment!

The flag of Bolivia. According to some sources, the red represents Bolivia's brave soldiers, the yellow stands for the country's mineral deposits, and the green for fertility. The coat of arms also includes an Andean condor. 

The Land:

Bolivia is a land-locked country in the "heart" of South America. It's almost the same size as Egypt, or three times the state of Montana! There are five distinct types of geographical areas in Bolivia- Altiplano to the west, which is high, cold, and bordered by mountains; Las Yungas, a region of valleys; the central highlands, where much of the country's agricultural efforts are located; a subtropical plain called Gran Chaco, which is shared with Argentina and Paraguay; and the tropical, forested lowlands called the llanos. This area is particularly good for cattle ranching, as there are many grasslands and the climate is more suitable for livestock than the higher elevations. About half of Bolivia is covered with forests. One of the most well known geographical features of Bolivia are the Andes mountains, which run throughout the country from north to south. They rise to over 21,1000 feet above sea level, and everything above 16,000 feet is covered with snow. The country is also home to Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable body of water in the world- meaning, it's at a very high elevation (12,500 feet above sea level) and you can still paddle a boat around in there. Bolivia has two main seasons: summer runs from November to April, and is considered the rainy season. Winter is from June to September.


Bolivia is home to almost 11 million people. More than half of them are of indigenous ancestry. The largest groups of people with indigenous heritage are the Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní, Mojeño, Chimane, and other smaller groups. About 30% of the population are criollo, who are of mixed indigenous and European heritage. Quechua Indians live throughout the country, but the highest numbers are near Cochabamba and Sucre. The Aymara Indians mostly live in the Altiplano. The largest cities are La Paz and Santa Cruz, with about a million inhabitants each.


There are 37 official languages in Bolivia! The most common languages are Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. Spanish is used by government officials, in the schools, in business, and is the native language of over half the population. Most Bolivians speak at least some Quechua. Indigenous groups each have their own languages, but the most common ones often have many Spanish words mixed in.


There is no official state religion in Bolivia. The vast majority of the population identifies as Roman Catholic. There are also some indigenous belief systems, and the Protestant minority are active throughout the country. Bolivians living in the Altiplano region often mix their Aymaran and Quechuan traditions with Catholic beliefs. For example, practicing Catholics revere Pachamama, or the goddess Mother Earth, and they toast to her and bless things in her name. People may also offer blessings of material possessions or events in the names of Pachamama and Achachila, a god of the mountains. Some Bolivians honor Catholic traditions, such as Carnaval, by praying to these gods and Mary and other saints at the same time.

The People:

Unfortunately, there is a cultural divide between the upper classes in Bolivia and the indigenous groups. Sometimes indigenous people adopt Spanish names and change their traditional way of dress in order to assimilate to society and be more accepted. There are political movements driven by indigenous groups looking to ensure that benefits of the government are available to all people without requiring them to abandon their heritage and cultural traditions. 

Bolivians dress differently depending on where they live and their social class. Usually, urban Bolivians wear Western-style clothing. Wearing clean shoes is very important to Bolivians. Many women living in the Altiplano region wear a pollera, which is a full, colorful skirt with several embroidered underskirts. Rural women wear a pollera with a manta, or shawl. They also often wear their hair in braids under bowler derby hats, bonnets, or stovepipe-style hats, depending on their region. Some indigenous people make their clothing out of wool. These clothes are often red, black, and off-white. Native men may wear shin-length pants and a shirt wit ha thick belt. They often wear ponchos and hats, as well. 

Sometimes, Bolivians use body language rather than verbal language to communicate. For example, to beckon a child, one would wave your fingers with the palm down. If you extend your raised hand, palm outward and fingers extended, and twist it quickly from side to side, you are saying "no" or "there isn't any"- this gesture may be used by bus drivers to say that there isn't any more room in their vehicle. Avoiding eye contact when speaking to people indicates suspicion and lack of trust. When greeting someone in Bolivia, offering your hand for a handshake is expected. If your hand is wet or dirty, you may extend your arm or elbow instead. Bolivians enjoy visiting each other, whether the visit was arranged in advance or not. Urban visitors usually bring a small gift for their host, such as flowers. Hosts might also give gifts to their visitors, but the visitor should not open the gift during the visit. If you compliment your host on a meal while you are eating, expect a second helping! If you are feeling full, it is best to wait until after a meal to offer your compliments. 


Family life is very important to Bolivians. On average, middle- and upper-class families usually have 1-2 children. Rural families have many children, but the infant mortality rate is rather high. Children in Bolivian families are well-disciplined and have many family responsibilities. The oldest daughter in a family is often called mamita (little mom) and are looked upon as second mothers to their younger siblings. Boys begin to help their fathers with farming as young as age 8, and are generally able to be self-sufficient by the time they're teenagers. Girls grow up learning to raise children and do domestic tasks like cooking and washing clothes. Children are taught that education is important, but among poor families, literacy rates are very low.


Typical rural homes are made from local materials like adobe bricks, wooden boards, rocks and mud. The floor and walls are usually dirt, and roofs are often made of straw and wood. Families often sleep on the floor, using dried sheepskin and woven blankets for bedding. If a family owns a bed, they may all sleep in it. Families usually have free-standing kitchens, open on the sides and covered by a straw roof. Most rural homes have electricity, but the majority do not have indoor plumbing. Bolivians conserve water by using the same water for washing, watering plants, cooking, and laundry. In some communities, modern construction is becoming more common. Homes are being built with cement-covered walls, corrugated metal roofs, and tiled floors. Urban homes are likely to have running water, but many lack heating and air conditioning. Often, these homes are built with large windows or skylights to help warm the homes.

Because the children grow up quickly, learning the responsibilities of running a home and tending the fields, Bolivians often marry and start having children young. The average marrying age for a rural couple may be between 16 and 17. Friendship comes before dating for young Bolivian couples. In urban areas, dating starts around age 13. Teenagers who are dating like to take long walks around their town, whether as individual couples or as large groups. Some marriages are arranged in rural parts of Bolivia. These marriages are between their own children and the children of their friends, and the goal is to strengthen ties between friendly families. Couples usually wait until they have some financial security or own property to get married. Because weddings are expensive, rural families often choose common-law marriages rather than traditional marriages. Bolivians wear their wedding rings on their right hands, rather than the left. For a marriage to be legal, a civil ceremony must be performed. Most couples also have a religious ceremony, and that is often followed by a dance and reception. One fun wedding tradition for some Bolivians is to bring presents to the wedding reception. While the bride and groom are dancing, friends and family get close and pin money to their clothes. The day after the wedding, the couple opens the gifts. If the total of the gifts is an odd number, the person counting the gifts has to buy a gift for the couple that has not yet been given. Sometimes, friends and family may even take out a loan to buy gifts for newlyweds!

A mass wedding of over 300 couples in Bolivia


Common staples of the Bolivian diet include potatoes, rice, fruits, and soups. Quinoa is grown in Bolivia and is used in many dishes. Starchy foods vary by region in the country. In the lowlands, yucca is most popular. Corn is prevalent in the valleys. Potatoes are eaten every day in the Altiplano. Bolivia has hundreds of varieties of potatoes, and they are eaten many different ways! Chuños are freeze dried and used in soups or side dishes after being dehydrated. Many Bolivian dishes are seasoned with a spicy salsa called llajua. Chicken is the most common meat. Southern Bolivians eat a lot of beef, and they enjoy having barbecues. A common Bolivian breakfast includes coffee or tea, bread, and sometimes cheese. In rural areas, a hot drink called api is sometimes served with breakfast. It's made of corn spiced with sugar and cinnamon. Lunch is the main meal and usually includes soup and a main dish. Bolivian families prefer to eat their meals together. They usually have one large and two small meals every day. Rural families might eat four small meals. Everyone, including guests, is expected to clear their plates. By not eating all the food on your plate, you are essentially telling the cook that the food was not good. People eat meat with utensils rather than your hands. Diners are expected to stay at the table until everyone is finished eating.

Api is a drink made from purple corn! 


Futbol is the national sport. Children will use almost anything for a ball, including rocks and crumpled paper. Volleyball, basketball, and indoor soccer are also fairly popular. Leisure activities include watching television in urban areas. Bolivians also enjoy visiting with friends and attending festivals. The center of town, or the plaza, is considered the main spot for recreation. Some cities have arcades with electronic games. Home internet service is terribly expensive throughout the country, so internet cafes are popular in urban areas. There is a cafe every block in downtown areas of cities! Movie theaters are also popular in bigger cities like Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and La Paz. During vacation times, many Bolivians travel to holy places or visit relatives in other parts of the country. 

Many of Bolivia's cultural traditions have roots in ancient, pre-Inca civilizations. Bolivian textiles have changed very little from these ancient roots, and they use the same dyes and patterns that have been used for centuries. Since colonial times, silver and gold have been used to adorn architecture, jewelry, and other beautiful objects. Basket weaving and wood carving are also popular in some rural regions. Music is very important to Bolivian culture. There are three types of Bolivian music: the fast, happy rhythms in the east; slow, melancholic rhythms from the Andes, and happy, romantic rhythms from the central valleys. Many people are able to recognize music as being Bolivian by the instruments: panpipes (zampoña), vertical flutes, percussion instruments, and the charango, which is like a guitar made from an armadillo shell. 


Most Bolivian holidays have fixed dates, but are often moved to the day closest to the weekend. The three most important holidays are Independence Day, Carnaval, and Holy Week before Easter. Bolivians also celebrate New Year's Day, Sea Day (Dia del Mar, in March), Father's Day, Labor Day, Mother's Day, All Saint's Day and Christmas. On Christmas Eve, some children place old shoes in the windows for Papa Noel to take in exchange for gifts. Children also receive gifts on Three Kings Day in January.

A Carnaval celebration in Bolivia


Sanitation facilities in Bolivia are poor, which leads to contaminated water. Water issues lead to cholera, hepatitis, yellow fever, malaria, and other serious conditions. Tap water must be boiled before using, but wood and gasoline are scarce and expensive. Many rural areas have neither running water nor electricity. Local nurses and doctors have been working to train community healthcare workers in basic skills. This leads to increased health awareness and more help to assist the rural population. Infant mortality is high, and only about half the population has adequate access to medical care. Traditional medicine is still used in many rural regions.


Schooling is compulsory for Bolivian children aged 5 to 18. There are four educational levels: kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, and higher education. School conditions are poor. Most schools are public, but wealthy families may send their children to parochial or private schools. Less than half of all Bolivian children complete secondary education. Bolivian families are responsible for buying their own univorms and school supplies. Recent educational reform requires that schools teach both Spanish and indigenous languages. Illiteracy is declining, but it is still a major problem for the country due to strikes, long distances to travel to school, and familial responsibilities. Technology is rarely used in Bolivian classrooms, and teachers use traditional methods with blackboards and workbooks. The workbooks are expected to be kept clean and updated. If a student passes all the exams and knows the subject very well, he may fail the year if he doesn't turn in an updated workbook. Students in their final year of secondary school might attend classes at the same time as serving in the military. Entrance exams are required at Bolivia's university. There is a public university in every Bolivian state. Higher education usually lasts 5 years. Postgraduate courses are available, but most students do not pursue them.

Bible Verse: 

"Taita Diosca cai pachapi causajcunata yallitaj c'uyashpami, Paipaj shujlla Churita curca. Pipish Paita crijca ama chingarichun, ashtahuanpish huiñai causaita charichunmi Paita curca." Juan 3:16 (Quechua, via Bible Gateway)

From Compassion's website: 

"Compassion's work in Bolivia began in 1975. Currently, more than 66,500 children participate in more than 200 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Bolivian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be."

There are many children in Bolivia who are waiting for sponsors! Here are just a few. 

David is 1 year old and his birthday is April 8. 

Eddyt is 7 years old and her birthday is April 6.

Heber is 18 years old and his birthday is January 15. He is giving a thumbs up!