How To Help (financially and in other very important ways) and Vivian's Story below (worth reading!)
Money for initial and capital development (for example land purchase and construction) for Las Sonrisas de los Niņos has come from the personal funds of two people: myself (Reid, the main writer of this site) and Patricia. I am kind of retired, having left gainful employment in 2001 to discover life as a volunteer in different capacities in Central America and Africa (thank goodness for Deferred Compensation Plans!). Patricia, who fearlessly visited me wherever I ended up despite some inconveniences (to say the least) and witnessing some of the great tragedies of humankind, officially retired in April 2006. We are fortunate that we have our own resources and savings to always run Las Sonrisas de los Niņos at least at a minimal level. There are many abandoned plans and projects throughout Honduras because, after initial excitement and perhaps money available for initial development, there is loss of interest, lack of follow-through, and dependence on donations: we are determined to have the independent financial ability to operate the project so as not to become another empty building surrounded by overgrown land. Below- Volunteers Gail and Becky (with Kayla) brought with them all sorts of items, including a CD player on which the song the Tooti Ta is enjoyed by the kids over and over again; in the photo they are leading the Tooti Ta dance. After their 2007 trip they obtained donations in the form of Christmas gifts, enough for every child, which we distributed in Jan. 2008. Kayla has also brought planeloads of items, including 50lbs of candy one time! Text continue below.
ON THE OTHER HAND, we will gladly receive contributions to help with our supplies and operating expenses, which include salaries for locally hired staff, food, milk, health/hygiene items, program supplies (such as paper, books, crayons), and things like electricity and cooking gas. Our goal from the beginning has been to use all donations for direct program support and none for administrative costs or to defray any of our personal expenses. We have been told that this is impossible to accomplish and that an organization that claims 100% of donations goes only to program support is a trigger for audits, etc. in the world of accounting oversight. For whatever reason we have accomplished this goal of ours, and it's been quite easy to do so. We have been very fortunate to receive a number donations from individuals and organizations, and it is truly humbling to get money from people who trust us to do with their money what they intend- help kids and not ourselves! Las Sonrisas de los Niņos is a US not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization under the umbrella of United Charitable Programs: please click here, Make a Donation, to read more about the financial aspects of our project and how to make a donation! Obviously, the more money we have, the more we can do.
Below: Matt McCallum first stopped by with a group from CASS in 2007 then came by again in 2008 with two friends (and fellow Naval Academy seniors) bearing toys, sweets, & requested 1st aid kits; Barbara (upper left of photo) from Toronto brought books and sought after bathing suits
One of our greatest desires in relation to donations is donations of time- that people will volunteer with us, and in doing such will find it so rewarding (which is easy to do) that they will make us their "default" charity, return over and over again, and encourage their friends to visit and volunteer with us as well. We have had, across the board, wonderful volunteers and believe that once you have held little Nidinia in your lap and read her a story, or spent an afternoon throwing a ball around with Carlos, you will find yourself eager to hand over money to help make their lives just a little bit better! Please visit Volunteering to learn more about this wonderful way to benefit poor kids and have the experience of a lifetime.
On many occasions we have had people bring us items for the kids and the project. This includes a number of our volunteers, students from the Central American Spanish School (CASS), and at times people who are visiting or vacationing in Honduras and were kind enough to think of us. Whenever this happens, when the suitcases and duffle bags are opened, there is joyful pandemonium (or perhaps limited chaos) among the children. Below are some photos some of these events, which are included here with our great appreciation for everyone's generosity:
In the photos above (left) a really great couple, Dale and Connie, just showed up one day to give us children's books in Spanish, which are very difficult to find; (right) Amber and Fernando brought mounds of craft items and hung around to volunteer as well. Below shows them with a group of kids, and little Patricia was a happy recipient of a baseball hat.
Below- Nancy & Chris from NY stopped by with donations of toys (and dinero) and stayed around for music time
Below- every now and then Rafael of CASS (the Central American Spanish School) arranges a field trip for his students to visit Las Sonrisas de los Niņos, which usually seems to coincide with too much candy. Several of our volunteers have come from CASS
Things to Bring for Donation
If at all possible, for any trip to Latin America (not just when visiting La Ceiba and Las Sonrisas de los Niņos), consider dedicating one of your suitcases to items for donation; at the end of your trip you will have plenty of space for bringing back things you have purchased. To find a place that could benefit from your donation, search the internet for charitable organizations at your destination, which usually have e-mail addresses, make contact with them, and go from there. Also, many Latin American destinations have Spanish language schools for tourists, which are easily found on the internet and can usually put you in touch with various local humanitarian organizations. The following items are always welcomed by just about any Latin America children's project: toothbrushes, toothpaste, children's vitamins, toys, balls and sports equipment, pens-pencils-crayons-markers, coloring books, craft materials, children's books in Spanish, and children's shoes and clothes. Note that as a general rule you are allowed more weight and two free checked items for international flights- typically the total checked baggage weight limit is 100 lbs between two bags, with the maximum weight of either bag 50 lbs, though this has unfortunately changed recently with only some airlines allowing two free bags.
It is difficult to overstate the expense and problems involved with getting items to Honduras in other than checked baggage (we asked UPS in 2008 the cost to ship a 25lb box and were told around $500!). Considering this, we are at times in touch with people coming to Honduras who kindly bring us general or specific items we need. We are also fortunate that, Rafael Linares and the Central American Spanish School (www.ca-spanish.com), is involved with this aspect of our project as well. In any case, dedicating a portion of your luggage to items for donation can be a huge way to help us or any project.
Below: On our 1st trip to La Ceiba in the Fall of 2004 we filled 2 suitcases with clothes and shoes and arranged for a distribution at a village school; another photo from the distribution of the Christmas presents from Gail and Becky- as can be seen by the kid's expressions, getting gifts can be serious!
Session 2 (Jan-May 2008) volunteer Ella became close to one of the older girls and visited her at her house (as it is). Ella came back and said "did you know that Maira has a little sister that looks like she's going to die?" We did not so we went to visit Maira's home and discovered 2+ year old Vivian, bald, scarred, and weighing 11 lbs. As far as we could tell her primary source of nourishment was at her mother's breast, but her mother appeared to be dry and endlessly shifted Vivian from one breast to the other. We took her to a physician who was not optimistic that she could survive, but we began buying her formula and she not only lived but gradually she gained weight, grew hair, and learned to eat. She was 4 1/2 years old at session 5 in 2010 and able to play, feed herself, almost overweight, and beginning to walk and talk, an almost miraculous turn around, and a year later she was a completely normal little girl. Thanks to a very special volunteer who developed a relationship with one of the kids attending the project (and subsequent volunteers who donated money to buy formula) Vivian is alive and doing very well. Below are some photos of Vivian when we first met her and in the summer of 2010