Today, worldwide, 400 million children live in extreme poverty. All children — including those 400 million — have rights to the support, protection and care they need to grow up healthy and strong. As a child-focused international development organization, ChildFund exists to change underlying factors that prevent children from fully experiencing these rights. We work with families and communities to support children at each stage of their development, promoting children’s well-being, knowledge and skills so that they may participate in society to their fullest potential. Stories The Kirwin Family By Mary Ruffin Marion Kirwin’s Philadelphia-area home burned in 2005. This mother of three mentions her house fire only to explain why some dates are approximate ― the paperwork was destroyed — regarding the children she has sponsored for decades: two girls in Thailand and one in The Gambia. But the three are clearly indelible in her memory as she details the stories of their relationships. The first was Sula, in the early 1980s when Marion was in her 20s and Sula was a toddler, continuing until the girl turned 18. Then there was Pacharin, also in Thailand, starting in about 1996. Marion has many photos of Pacharin and her family, tracing her growth into a young woman, as well as “endless drawings and letters” she has received. The third child is Mariama in The Gambia, now 14, whom Marion began sponsoring in 2008. Marion recalls that she and her husband were newlyweds in Arlington, Va., both graduate students with limited income, when she heard ChildFund's TV messages and felt compelled to become involved. ChildFund “seemed like the right thing to do from the start,” she says. “My kitchen refrigerator and desk have always displayed photos of and drawings by both my biological children and my sponsored children.” The letters Marion receives from her sponsored children “are so full of gratitude and thanks ... from the whole family.” Pacharin always saves half of everything sent for birthdays or Christmas to fund future education, which makes those gifts a real investment in a future. Mari, the youngest of the three, often sends photos of herself wearing the new clothes that she has bought with Marion’s gifts. These photos are treasures in themselves, as Mari “looks so proud and excited” to wear her new outfits. “ChildFund has been part of my life for more than 30 years,” says Marion, who hopes to visit one of her sponsored children one day. “It has enabled me to learn about other cultures, to impact lives in those cultures and to develop friendships with children and their families. I have benefited from the experience as much as my sponsored children.” Over time, Marion found unexpected ways in which sponsorship is rewarding. “I have more recently come to realize that my giving was impacting the lives of my biological children, since both my daughters are now sponsoring children,” she says. “And this was not due to prodding of any sort from my end.” Daughter Caroline, who at 27 sponsors 6-year-old Tola in Cambodia, says that a couple of years after finishing college she felt she was in a financial position to do so. Caroline is “very excited to get to know him better as he grows up,” she says. “Mom's passion for [ChildFund] was quite apparent growing up, and that desire to help others who are less fortunate was passed down to me.” Caroline’s sister Beatrix, 29, is the third Kirwin woman to have committed to the ChildFund cause. She sponsors 8-year-old Levienna in Dominica. This is a growing family tradition to celebrate, in terms of both Marion’s own daughters and the children whose lives and families she has touched. “There is always the obvious emotional pull to help vulnerable children,” says Marion, who also volunteers with at-risk children in her area. “But from a purely practical standpoint, if we can give a child a leg up with education and nutrition, we can initiate a ripple effect throughout a community and into the future.” Coming Full Circle By Virginia Sowers When Alison Weatherman met her future husband in North Carolina a decade ago, she had no way of discerning at that moment just how far Alieu had come in life. “I was a nurse, and he came to my job as a nursing assistant, and I was smitten with him,” she recalls. They married the next year. During their courtship, Alison learned that Alieu was a former sponsored child from The Gambia. “He was sponsored at age 7 by a wonderful woman named Pat from California,” she says. Alieu’s father had died young, leaving his widow and children with little means of survival. Pat’s sponsorship of Alieu for the next 11 years kept him on track. “Her support and encouragement led him to stay in school,” Alison says. In fact, Alieu earned a scholarship and graduated from The Gambia College, and he began to think about traveling to the United States to further his education. Over time Alieu found a rewarding career in health care, and he and Alison became the happy parents of two daughters. The couple also were determined to give back to their community, and became volunteers at the food bank and other local causes. Eleven years ago, Alison decided it was time to expand their giving internationally. “I told Alieu that in honor of his birthday, I was going to sponsor a boy also named Alieu in The Gambia,” she says. Alieu, who preferred not to be interviewed, was thrilled to reconnect with his home country in a meaningful way, Alison says. “We’ve now visited little Alieu with one of our daughters and my parents. It’s a pretty incredible experience. We have so much more [in the U.S.] than they do. Some Gambian families only have $250 in income a year.” “Our daughter understands just how different our lives are. When we went to visit, she took a stack of books as a donation to the school library. It was a great experience for her to be able to do that.” And, back in the U.S., Alieu has also reconnected with his former sponsor. “He remembered she had a business, and we found her on the Internet. Alieu has been to California to visit Pat, and she’s been to visit us in North Carolina,” Alison says. “Alieu and Pat have also traveled to The Gambia together to see just how from he has come.” For Alieu, the journey has sometimes been long, but the circle remains unbroken.