The inaugural edition of the Unbound Global Insight Series March 29 at our headquarters in Kansas City unfolded as an evening of discovery, an opportunity to listen and learn from three program coordinators visiting from India, Madagascar and the Philippines.
Saritha Mendanha, Liva Rajaonarisina and Risa Vereña shared insights on our programs and the innovative ways that sponsorship provides opportunities for families around the world.
Unbound has 37 projects in the 19 countries where we work. The projects serve as regional hubs in areas where sponsored members live, and are the coordinating centers for community-based programs that span the area.
Each of these hubs is led by a coordinator who helps guide and manage the Unbound program in that area. Unbound’s co-founder Bob Hentzen once described these staff members as “saints with talent.” Those attending last Wednesday’s event got a glimpse of what Bob meant.
Read on for a photo essay depicting the event, and stay tuned next week for three more blog posts on topics presented by Saritha, Liva and Risa. What they shared reflects the program innovations in their countries and shows that their work holds true to one of our most important organizational values — that we, as sponsors and staff, are students of the families we accompany in overcoming poverty.
More than 100 guests, including sponsors, staff, friends and family members, gathered at Unbound’s headquarters on a rainy Midwestern spring day, just as the sun came out.
Guests checked out merchandise like Unbound’s own coffee blend and jewelry handmade by mothers in our programs, and chatted with members of our trips team to learn about traveling on an awareness trip.
Andrew Kling, community outreach and media relations director, welcomed the crowd.
“The best ideas in the Unbound universe are the ones that come directly from the projects,” he said.
Paul Pearce, international senior adviser and nephew of the late co-founder Bob Hentzen, shared that the day of the event was also Bob’s birthday and the anniversary of his 1996 walk from Kansas City to Guatemala.
“He walked right out these doors on his 60th birthday,” Paul said, gesturing to the side of the room,”… and walked all the way to Guatemala.” Learn about Bob’s walks.
Saritha Mendanha, program coordinator in Hyderabad, India, our largest project in that country, welcomed the crowd by saying, “Namaste,” and invited them to greet her in return in the way of her culture. Saritha shared about the programs in her area that are created to guide and support young people all the way from childhood to university and beyond. Learn more.
Risa Vereña, program coordinator in Manila, Philippines, shared about the highly successful cooperatives in her area, where parents of sponsored children have gone from surviving to thriving by pursuing economic livelihoods, from selling eggs to offering funeral services. Learn more in an upcoming blog post.
Liva Rajaonarisina, program coordinator in Antsirabe, Madagascar, which covers all 3,629 sponsored members in that country, shared a heartwarming story about the mother of a sponsored child. Liva later shared with Unbound employees the strength of her program in benefit distribution and commitment to Unbound’s program characteristics. Learn more.
Zena Weist, vice president of marketing and media relations at Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, emceed a panel discussion and Q&A. Zena and her husband, John, have been Unbound sponsors for nearly 20 years. After the coordinators received questions from the audience, Zena invited the them to ask a question of the sponsors.
“What motivates you to sponsor?” Risa asked the crowd.
Pat Gallagher, who’s sponsored 12-year-old Mohit in India for the past three years, responded, “I like knowing somebody personally from the other side of the world.”
Paul Weatherford has been a sponsor for 17 years and, with a group of other faithful Unbound sponsors, has traveled to the Philippines on awareness trips many times. So, for he and Risa, this night was a reunion. Paul came to the event from about an hour away, bearing gifts for all three coordinators.
“The hospitality we’ve received on past awareness trips moved me very much,” Paul said. “I wished to offer Risa and the other two [coordinators] the same family hospitality.”
To conclude the night, Barclay Martin, new channels coordinator, performed a song in Malagasy, the native language of Madagascar. In 2014, Barclay spent a month in Madagascar helping to create “Voices of Unbound: Madagascar,” a musical album of sponsored families, their friends and relatives performing traditional music to share their culture with the rest of the Unbound world. Listen to the music.
One of the most powerful moments of the night was when sponsor Todd Koca spoke. Having recently traveled to Costa Rica on an awareness trip shortly after learning about Unbound, he shared a heartfelt message about the deeply transformative experience he had meeting sponsored families, and the connection he, his wife and children shared with their newly sponsored friends. He shared that this newfound friendship was, for him, the most important thing about Unbound.
“To you and your employees …” Todd said to the three coordinators, “… thank you for giving us the gift of relationship.”
Thank you to all who attended the event and volunteered, and especially the three amazing leaders who shared with us their wisdom and passion.
Future events in the Global Insight Series in Kansas City will be announced soon — stay tuned! In the meantime, look right here on the blog later this week for in-depth coverage on what Saritha, Liva and Risa shared with us about their transformative work in India, Madagascar and the Philippines.