Carolyn Zimmerman, a CFCA board member, recently went on a mission awareness trip to India. CFCA President and Co-founder Bob Hentzen took time out from Walk2gether in Peru to attend the Mothers Annual Conference in Hyderabad. While there, the Hyderabad project held a Walk2gether solidarity walk.
1) How did you hear of CFCA, and how did you become a board member?
I read a newspaper story about CFCA and knew that a co-worker and friend had recently become a sponsor. I decided with my husband, Jon, to sponsor a young girl in Guatemala, a country we had visited about 20 years ago.
Coincidentally, a few months later, Sister Therese Wetta, a former CFCA board member and a classmate from Saint Mary College in Leavenworth, asked if she could nominate me for the CFCA board. I agreed, and after making my written application, I was selected.
2) What was the Walk2gether solidarity walk like?
The solidarity walk happened in Hyderabad and our traveling team was expecting to participate. However, there were some security concerns at the time and it was decided that instead we would meet up with Bob and the Walk2gether solidarity walkers at the Mothers Annual Conference, which began late morning.
3) How would you describe the mothers groups and the Indian news media’s coverage of the conference?
These groups are very interesting and inspiring to me. I believe they are an important development in CFCAís hopes for the future of the sponsored children. The women are achieving a new dignity and confidence as they learn practical skills and ways to navigate their world to benefit their children. There is a sense of community and common purpose.
At the annual conference, there was quite a bit of media attention, especially because of Bobís presence and the participation of the stateís Home Minister, who is evidently supportive of CFCA in Hyderabad. She recognizes the value of the organization and the progressive nature of the work.
4) Had you ever been to India before? If not, what were you expecting and how did the experience measure up to your expectations?
This was my first trip to India. My knowledge of the country was ñ and still is ñ limited. My sources were a childhood book, The Secret Garden, whose heroine Mary returned to England after her parents died of cholera in India, and the movie Gandhi along with some of that great manís writings. I had also been reading a recent novel, Shantaram.
Stories of overpopulation and abject poverty have long dominated Western media; those stories and the current situation with Pakistan led me to be a little anxious about the trip.
The experience confirmed some old impressions of India ó teeming cities, in-your-face poverty, abysmal slums, and child beggars swarming among the cars at traffic stops ó but also revealed many beauties.
I appreciated the co-existence of many religious traditions. In Calcutta we were awakened before 5 a.m. by an Islamic call to prayer from a nearby mosque; then we heard the sweet singing of our Catholic sister hosts in the upstairs convent chapel. Passersby on the streets wore distinctive dress, identifying them as Muslim or Hindu.
Color was everywhere, especially in the womenís saris and other traditional dresses worn daily. On a humorous note, I was often asked by families if I would be in a picture with their children; I must have been the whitest person theyíd ever seen.
I was most touched by the beauty of the indigenous people we met in the countryside of Bhagalpur. Despite the lack of opportunities and the harshness of the environment, they seemed resilient and hard-working.
The roads were awful by almost any standards and the climate a combination of arid and tropical. The landscape ranges from rocky outcroppings to forests to dusty plains. There are no road signs, either to identify your location or direct your travels. Fortunately our wonderful CFCA staff guides knew exactly where we were going.
As CFCA visitors we were welcomed with great affection and celebration everywhere we went. We could tell that much effort had gone into the preparations for our arrival.
5) How would you describe CFCA to someone who hadnít heard of it before?
I usually say that CFCA is a one-to-one worldwide sponsorship organization founded and led by lay Catholics and based in Kansas City, Kan.
It links a donor with a child in the developing world through the provision of tangible benefits for the child ó education, nutrition, health care, family assistance and encouragement ó and the exchange of letters between the sponsor and the sponsored child.
I try to distinguish CFCA by describing its ìHope for a Familyî concept that helps a family move out of poverty to a more dignified life.
I also stress that CFCA does not discriminate against any group and serves children of many different faiths and cultures in Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, India and the Philippines.
I tell them that my husband and I sponsor Gabriella in Guatemala and Robin in India.
6) How will this experience impact your service as a member of the board?
Certainly being in a developing world setting made me realize what a luxurious life I really have ñ not by American standards. By American standards we’re pretty ordinary. By global standards we’re incredibly rich. That makes me more motivated to share that wealth.
Now that I’ve been there, I have a better understanding of the role that the families are playing. They are participating; they’re not just passively accepting. I think that will help me as a board member, to understand the relationship between the sponsors and the families of their sponsored children.