Convoy of Hope: 50 Million Served
By Adam McMullin
Mar. 18, 2012
Esther opens the pink cloth door to her tiny, concrete home in the mountains outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as if she’s opening the door to a castle. The 17-year-old does her best to brush her feet off before stepping inside and onto the home’s cool, concrete floors. Her pride in her home is unmistakable.
“This is where I live with my brothers and sisters,” she says as she sits on the small bed in the corner of the room. “There are 17 of us who stay here, and we are family.”
Esther has become a role model to the younger kids she now calls her brothers and sisters. She cooks for them, washes their clothes, and mentors them. They sleep huddled on the floor of the small home built of concrete blocks and a tin roof.
“We’ve become very close,” she says. “I care about them because we are all orphans and we need family.”
The January 2010 Haiti earthquake forced Esther to grow up fast. Just 15 at the time, she was at school when the ground shook and buildings fell.
“I ran so fast,” she says, describing the first chaotic moments after the earthquake. “I wanted to get to my home to find my family.”
When Esther did get home she found it in ruins. Worse, her mother and father were nowhere to be found. “I haven’t seen my family since then,” she says softly. “I don’t know if they are dead or alive.”
Esther slept on the streets in the days after the disaster. She says she felt hopeless until a kind stranger and Convoy of Hope entered her life.
Pastor Ellison — director of Turpin School in the mountains above Port-au-Prince — found Esther living in the streets.
“When I saw how Esther was living, it brought tears to my eyes,” says Ellison. “I had to help her.”
Ellison took Esther in, providing a roof over her head, clothes on her back and food to eat. She began attending Turpin School and was fed daily through Convoy of Hope’s feeding program. With the help of individual donors to Convoy of Hope, Ellison was able to build the house for Esther and the other orphans he has since rescued off the street.
“My life has changed, so now I want to help other kids have a good life,” says Esther with a wide, bright smile.
Esther is one of more than 100,000 children now enrolled in Convoy of Hope’s children’s feeding initiatives in seven nations throughout the world.
Hal Donaldson, president of Convoy of Hope, says his experience in Haiti in the days after the earthquake changed the way he saw Convoy of Hope’s mission to feed hungry children.
“Children were literally on the streets with nowhere to go and nothing to eat,” he says. “I knew it was time for us to expand our mission to feed children around the world.”
Donaldson’s first goal was to enroll 100,000 children in Convoy of Hope’s children’s feeding initiatives. In just under two years, that goal has been met.
“Thanks to support from churches and donors, we’re feeding children in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Kenya, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Philippines,” says Donaldson.
In a warehouse on the outskirts of Manila, Raul Manuel, Convoy of Hope country director for the Philippines, thumbs through a stack of letters. Each one tells of human suffering and need, and asks Manuel to bring Convoy of Hope’s children’s feeding initiatives to impoverished children in regions throughout the country.
“The opportunity for us to help feed children in this country is immense,” Donaldson says, as he stands with Manuel in the organization’s Manila warehouse. “We’re committed to helping as many children as possible here.”
Some 30 miles away from Manila, Danica, 8, sits in a crowded classroom. She’s attentive and concentrates intensely on the lesson for the day. A determination to learn is evident in her eyes. But that hasn’t always been so.
“Sometimes I go to bed hungry,” she admits. “If I don’t have food, I can’t understand my lessons. But now, at our school, I have food to eat.”
Recently, Danica’s school became a part of Convoy of Hope’s work in the Philippines. At Danica’s school, food is provided for nearly 400 children — part of the more than 45,000 Filipino children enrolled in the organization’s children’s feeding initiatives throughout the Philippines.
Through the initiative, Convoy of Hope also assists impoverished communities by helping to provide clean and safe water, teaching community leaders agricultural techniques, and helping to provide healthy living environments and education.
Sitting at a table with a large portion of rice and a fresh cob of corn in front of her, Danica smiles. “Thank you for feeding me,” she says.
Back at the warehouse, Donaldson sets down the stack of letters. “Thousands of children are waiting,” he says. “The need is great, and we have an incredible opportunity to transform the lives of thousands and thousands of children.”
Relief at home and abroad
Convoy of Hope doesn’t stop at just feeding children. It also responds to disasters in the United States and around the world. As a devastating EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011, Mary Plummer stood at the back door of her mobile home in Wentworth, with her eyes to the sky. The tiny town about 20 miles southeast of Joplin was also directly in the path of the deadly storm.
“We could hear the roar of the storm for what seemed like an hour,” Mary says.
As she watched, the tornado dropped back down from the sky as an EF2. Mary says her husband, Chris, hollered at her to get away from the door.
“I threw her on the floor, put blankets over us, and prayed to God,” Chris remembers.
The Plummers rode out the storm in their mobile home and it was all but destroyed. Then Convoy of Hope took notice of their situation, helped them purchase a new mobile home, and provided support to hook up electricity and plumbing.
“I just can’t believe there are people out there like this,” Mary says, after thanking the Convoy of Hope volunteers who helped her move into her new home. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Just hours after the tornado tore through Joplin leaving thousands of buildings smashed and splintered, Convoy of Hope’s fleet of tractor-trailers was on its way to help those whose lives had been destroyed.
“The outpouring of support for the people of Joplin was phenomenal,” says Jim Batten, executive vice president for Convoy of Hope. “We partnered with individuals, churches, corporations and civic organizations to help the people of Joplin recover. We are committed to standing by the residents of Joplin as they rebuild their community and their lives in the months and years ahead.”
Farther from home, natural disasters in 2011 were equally devastating.
On the afternoon of March 11, Convoy of Hope’s disaster response team sat around a large table, staring at television screens displaying unimaginable images of buildings shaking and a giant wall of water slamming into the coast of Japan.
“As the tragedy was unfolding, we were putting our plans together to provide aid to the Japanese people,” says Kary Kingsland, senior vice president-global initiatives for Convoy of Hope, recalling the volatile hours after the earthquake and tsunami.
The news reports were alarming. The threat of a nuclear meltdown was real, and aftershocks were still rumbling across the island nation. Regardless, Convoy of Hope pressed forward with plans to deliver emergency supplies to victims of the tragedy.
“We immediately wired funds to our in-country partners for the purchase of emergency rations,” says Kingsland. “We also shipped a 40-foot-long container from the Philippines loaded with more than 50,000 meals, dried fruit, powdered milk, water, and sanitary and cooking supplies.”
Amid the confusion and shock in the days after the disaster, Convoy of Hope disaster responders met with partners in the country to develop a response plan for the weeks and months ahead.
“We knew that needs would arise as time passed,” says Kingsland. “We’ve distributed more than $1 million in aid, including food, supplies, home starter kits, appliance sets and clean water. We’re also partnering with organizations in seven communities in the country and are committed to working in Japan for at least two years.”
While many Convoy of Hope personnel aided the suffering, other teams were carrying on business as usual. Each year the organization typically holds more than 50 citywide outreaches in communities across the nation and throughout Europe. At each outreach, families receive health care, groceries, haircuts, family portraits and more.
On an unusually bitter cold morning in Northern California, Monica, a homeless mother of three, attended a citywide outreach in Sacramento. She was one of more than 13,000 people who attended.
“The services offered here are so very needed,” says Monica, who is expecting another child. “We stay here or there, so this event has come right on time for us.”
Convoy of Hope held more than 50 community outreaches in 2011. This year, the launch of a 50-state All America Tour will bring outreaches to residents of every state. Monica could not be happier about that.
“If I could, I would go to every Convoy of Hope outreach, no matter where it was held,” she says.
Tens of millions served
Since Convoy of Hope began its initiatives around the world nearly two decades ago, the organization has served more than 50 million people.
“When my brothers and I started this mission, we knew we wanted to help people,” says Donaldson. “The scope to which we have been able to do that is a gift from God.”
“I really do believe this is only the beginning,” adds Donaldson as he reflects on the last 17 years. “We’re here to answer needs greater than ourselves, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
ADAM McMULLIN is reporting coordinator for Convoy of Hope.
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