"Love Has No Borders" - Kids First Helps Children in Haiti

Cultural Care staff member Carly DeCoste recently embarked on an incredible service trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti through the United States Foundation for the Children of Haiti (USFCH); it was there, with a special grant from Kids First, that she helped bring some much-needed hope and aid to the people living in one of the most impoverished countries in the world.

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Carly was inspired to travel to Haiti after seeing the impact that USFCH had on her boyfriend and his family through their service trips over the years. After hearing stories and seeing pictures, Carly knew she had to see the country firsthand – and help the children of Haiti in any way she could. So she reached out to another organization that she knew had the best interest of children in need around the world at heart: Kids First.

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Kids First was thrilled to partner with an active volunteer and member of the Cultural Care community, and to help make her trip to Port-au-Prince more meaningful. It was soon decided that the Suitcase of Supplies grant – a grant provided by Kids First to provide an organization with supplies that will directly benefit children living in poverty – would best align with Carly’s trip.

“In order to apply for the grant, I had to make sure that my trip fit the requirements,” says Carly. “The grants are awarded to a member of the Cultural Care community who is traveling to visit a children’s organization in another country, often beyond the reach of Cultural Care or EF.”

Carly used the funds to purchase supplies for the school at the Children’s Village in Port-au-Prince as well as for the baggage fee to fly the suitcase to Haiti. She brought with her a variety of books, folders, pens/pencils, highlighters, crayons and more to present to the school during her visit.

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These supplies will make a big difference for the children and teachers this coming school year, as their community has so few educational and economic resources. In fact, Haiti has long struggled with extreme poverty after two major, catastrophic environmental events in the 21st century – an earthquake in 2010 and a hurricane in 2016.

“I was truly shocked when I arrived in Haiti and drove through Port-au-Prince,” Carly recalls. “The roads and infrastructure in the city are still destroyed after these devastating events – it was heartbreaking to see so many families on the side of the road begging for food, water and shelter.”

Carly goes on to tell the story of an experience they had on their last day in Port-au-Prince – a perfect example of the great divide between the people and the government of Haiti: “During the first week of July, the Haitian government raised fuel prices which resulted in extreme rioting. I was fortunate to have made it out of the country just in time – but the riots caused flights to be cancelled for two days as protesters rioted outside of the airport and started bonfires in the streets to block the main roads. The rest of my group experienced these riots firsthand – a member of my group described the situation there as ‘post-apocalyptic; a war zone with debris everywhere and the (remnants) of burnt tires and cars.’”

These riots represent only a small fraction of the polarized political climate and extreme danger that the people of Haiti experience on a daily basis. That’s why it’s so important for people like Carly – together with Kids First and non-profits like USFCH – to do whatever they can to improve the lives of children and families impacted by these turbulent times.

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While in Haiti, Carly’s group worked with the Fondation Pour Les Enfants d’Haiti (FEH) – the organization that runs an orphanage, nursery and school for children in Port-au-Prince. Each morning, Carly and her fellow volunteers (13 people total) drove to the Children’s Village to spend their days leading a summer camp for children consisting of games, activities and meals. After working there for a few days, Carly and her group decided to plan a special excursion to a local beach – specifically as a way to give the disabled children at the orphanage a chance to get out and do something unique.

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“That day trip was incredible for these children who rarely have the opportunity to leave the home and experience something as beautiful as the beach,” says Carly. “Their caregivers provided additional support for our excursion in what resulted in the most inspiring day.”

“On the last day of camp, we hosted a giant birthday party for all of the children at the school, filled with activities, cake and gifts! We prepared individual birthday presents for each child consisting of clothes, shoes and toys,” she says. “Handing the children their presents is an experience that I’ll never forget.”

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When asked how she feels about the trip now that she’s returned home, Carly struggles to find the right words to convey how meaningful it was: “I came in with what I thought was a good understanding of our world and came away with a truly eye-opening experience of a developing country. This trip forced me to think more critically about our life in the US and what is going on in our world today.”

One of Carly’s greatest takeaways from her time in Haiti is a better understanding of the world and a deeper passion for philanthrophy. Her group spent time reflecting not only on what they could do to help the people of Haiti, but what they could do to benefit their own local communities. “There’s always an opportunity to help and give back – you don’t need a service trip to get involved with volunteering,” says Carly. “I’m definitely inspired to volunteer more for organizations that support children in need.” 

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Kids First is deeply grateful to Carly and the entire volunteer group for helping change the lives of children in Port-au-Prince through the Suitcase of Supplies grant – and is already looking ahead to its next project to help kids around the world.

Perhaps Carly’s service trip with Kids First can best be summed up with a quote: “My fellow volunteer and friend told me ‘Love has no borders’ – and I truly couldn’t agree more. I feel so fortunate to have gone on this trip and to have had the opportunity to experience the love, acceptance and understanding the Haitian people live by every day.”

For Kids, By Kids: The Kids First Pine Ridge Project

When it came time to decide what service project Colorado-based Girl Scout Troop 3010 would do to earn their Junior Bronze Award, the choice was clear: They wanted to make activity kits for children in need. Two questions dominated the girls’ conversations: Who do we help and who can help donate the items for the kits? The girls quickly found children who lived just 5 ½ hours away on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota – they knew they wanted to help them.  

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Friends of Pine Ridge connected the troop with Wounded Knee District School, and after learning that the school has 189 students in their care, the Girl Scouts made a list of all the items to be included in 3 types of kits: Arts & crafts, wood tinker kits and robotics kits. The list was long and plentiful!

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The girls knew they needed financial support to make this happen – so they turned to Kids First! We were thrilled to help. Kids First decided to not only support the purchase of robotics equipment for the 7th and 8th graders through a grant, but to also roll up our sleeves and pitch in to help deliver the supplies. During a spring work weekend in the Cultural Care Au Pair Denver office, LCCs and staff – motivated by the story of children who lived so close but have so little – jumped in to assemble 110 arts & crafts kits.

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Then, the generosity kept coming. Soon, local au pair and host family communities heard about the effort and it spread – Pine Ridge had not only 189 activity kits, but also sanitary supplies, 70 comforters and warm blankets, food, clothing, sporting goods, school supplies and robotics equipment. In order to deliver the donations, we needed 3 vehicles and a U-Haul trailer carrying eight Girl Scouts and three moms!

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After a long drive and an overnight in northern Nebraska, Girl Scout Troop 3010 arrived to Wounded Knee District School and went to work unpacking all of the amazing items donated by Kids First and the local Cultural Care community. Together, they sorted, organized, cleaned, assembled, swept, mopped and (the cherry on the top), handed out boxes of Girl Scout cookies to school staff.

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Kids First is so grateful to the girls of Troop 3010 for their determination and generosity – and of course, to the local community members who recognized the significance of helping children in need. “The girl scouts were so excited to see adults compelled to support other children,” says Julie Dye, 10-time host mom, LCC and Troop mom. “They cannot wait for their next service project!”

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Changing Children's Lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil

At Cultural Care's 2017 National Training Conference, we recognized an amazing au pair, Mari Peixoto, for her outstanding contribution to Kids First through her One Dollar Changes Lives campaign. Mari grew up near a favela in Sao Paulo, Brazil – and before coming to the U.S. as an au pair, she volunteered with an organization called CEDECA where she was able to share her love of art with children in need.

In honor of Mari’s incredible work, Cultural Care Kids First Foundation announced that we would provide funding for an arts program through CEDECA in Mari’s home country of Brazil. Along with Mari, we invited one of our most outstanding local childcare consultants – Andrijana Valladares – to join us on our trip, in recognition of her exceptional contributions to Kids First.

  The Kids First team with the children of the favela

The Kids First team with the children of the favela

The Kids First team with the children of the favela

Together, the team facilitated an interactive art project and coordinated a large donation of books, arts & crafts supplies and much-needed funds to help the children of the favela. It was a moving experience for all, filled with gratitude, creativity and love.

Take it from Andrijana herself: "I feel very fortunate that I got such a unique opportunity to travel to Brazil as a Kids First Ambassador and to spend some time with children from several organizations. Children that we met did not stop smiling despite unimaginable hardships which they are facing on a daily basis. Many of these kids live in very poor conditions not having basic necessities, not many (if any) opportunities – and it takes a great deal of courage, strength, love and hope to keep going and these kids have it.”

  Waiting for the t-shirts to dry

Waiting for the t-shirts to dry

Waiting for the t-shirts to dry

  Admiring the final product

Admiring the final product

Admiring the final product

“I feel very lucky to be part of the lives of these children if even for a moment. I was reminded how small things in life matter and how giving is actually getting. When you give (not necessarily just material things) you actually get so much more in return. It doesn't take so much to make an impact on someone and I hope that the time we spent will give more strength and hope – and that visits like these will be reminder for them that they are worth, they matter and also they are many people who believe in them and did not give up on them.”

  The Kids First team with the children of the favela

The Kids First team with the children of the favela

The Kids First team with the children of the favela

“Struggle, sadness, joy, happiness, courage, strength, dedication, new friendship – in short, these words describe how I feel about the trip. Part of my heart stayed in Brazil.”

  From left to right, in Kids First t-shirts: Andrijana, Susan, Bettina, Mari

From left to right, in Kids First t-shirts: Andrijana, Susan, Bettina, Mari

From left to right, in Kids First t-shirts: Andrijana, Susan, Bettina, Mari

Thank you to all the generous host families, au pairs, friends and LCCs who donated and helped make this trip to Brazil possible!

Kids First Playcare Center in South Africa!

We’re thrilled to announce that the Kids First playcare is open! After two years of collaboration between Cultural Care Kids First Foundation and IMPCT, the doors are now open on a beautiful, safe, modern center for 150 young children in Khayelitsha, South Africa.

IMPCT is a global social enterprise dedicated to transforming low income and urban slum communities through education – in this case, they were a dedicated partner in helping us upgrade what was a very informal daycare in a township just outside Cape Town into a proper preschool where teachers and students alike can thrive.

Half of the funds necessary to complete this playcare were provided by Kids First, and we are so proud to have been a part of it. Be sure to check out this video from the Grand Opening – a wonderful celebration with teachers, parents, children and Cultural Care Au Pair staff.  

Welcome to our blog!

Welcome to our Kids First blog! We look forward to sharing stories with you about special people committed to helping children in need around the world, the wonderful organizations we work with, and the children we help.