All posts by Unbound

Feb 17 2018

Unbound-loving yoga teacher stretches for education

Reflection from a Trailblazer


By Maureen Lunn, contributing writer and Unbound Trailblazer

When I learned about the Unbound Trailblazers, my first thought was, “That sounds really cool. Too bad I hate running.”

I quickly learned that you don’t have to be a runner, walker or competitor to participate in Trailblazers, which is a worldwide team of Unbound sponsors and supporters who challenge poverty by raising money through athletics.

Still, I didn’t know how I could participate (but I really wanted that cool teal Trailblazers shirt). Then it finally hit me — yoga! I’d been practicing yoga for more than a decade and was about to graduate from a year-long yoga teacher training program. Trailblazers would create a perfect platform to request graduation gifts from my friends and family in the form of donations to Unbound.
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Feb 10 2018

A celebration of ‘togetherness’

Indian family surprises St. Louis couple with a traditional wedding ceremony

Jeff Smith, Amy Benoist and their sponsored friend, Sravanthi, pause for a photo outside Sravanthi’s home in India. Jeff and Amy visited Sravanthi as part of an Unbound Awareness Trip.


When Amy Benoist and Jeff Smith of St. Louis got married in 2015, little did they know they’d have a second wedding just two years later — in India.

A sponsor through Unbound since 2012, Amy had planned to visit her sponsored friend, 19-year-old Sravanthi of India, as soon as she was able to save up the vacation time. In October of last year, she and Jeff set out on an Unbound Awareness Trip to meet Sravanthi and experience the beauty of India together.

Amy had written to Sravanthi six months earlier to let her know she and Jeff were planning to visit. That’s when Sravanthi’s family got the idea to surprise the couple with a traditional Indian wedding ceremony.
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Feb 3 2018

A home in the hills, a school in the city

Realities of poverty series: Reflection from the Unbound community

Sandra, a sponsored youth and Unbound scholar in El Salvador, logs many miles in her pursuit of an education. Her tenacity is serving her well as she makes steady progress toward a degree in English literature.


This is the fourth and final post in a series of stories focusing on the challenges of finding adequate, affordable housing in the economically developing world. It is told through photographs and originally appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of our print publication Living Unbound.

By Henry Flores, communications liaisons director

Poverty limits the creation of dreams, blocks visualization of goals and buries hopes. But poverty isn’t something everybody experiences in the same way. It’s an individual, personal and intricate problem.

Some people face a lack of decent housing, while others have a hard time getting to school or just can’t pay for their next meal. The time and energy they spend on finding ways to solve their daily struggles takes away from the time, vision and resources they need to build a better future.

Sandra, 23, always dreamed of attending college. Her father, a coffee farmworker, and her mother, who works as a cook, barely earn enough to cover the needs of their family of five, and providing a college education for Sandra wasn’t a possibility.
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Jan 27 2018

Through the eyes of a camera

Realities of Poverty series: In photos

This is the third in a series of stories focusing on the challenges of finding adequate, affordable housing in the economically developing world. It is told through photographs and originally appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of our print publication Living Unbound.

Navigating their way

Eleven-year-old Stephanie and her mom, Joy, cross the Almacen River every day to go to school and work. Located in the Bataan province in the Philippines, the Almacen is typically 18 to 25 feet deep, but in heavy rains can overflow its banks and flood nearby homes. The boat ride takes 10 to 15 minutes, and Stephanie walks another 10 minutes to school. While she and her mom have grown accustomed to the boat ride, the risks of this mode of travel remain.
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Ash cloud from Mount Mayon, Philippines.
Jan 23 2018

Families in Philippines anxiously wait as Mayon Volcano threatens to erupt


On Wednesday, the Mayon Volcano on the island of Luzon in the Philippines continued to spew lava and ash, signifying that a major eruption may be imminent.

“Almost every five hours, Mayon Volcano is erupting with lava fountains and spewing mushroom-like ashes,” said Unbound staff member Klaire Perez. “The ashes are being carried by the wind to the southern part of Albay [province]. Yesterday, I was home and I had experience of one of the worst ashfalls. It suddenly went dark and it literally started raining ashes. It’s a bit scary, but it’s more scary for communities just below Mayon Volcano.”

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has set the threat level at 4, the second highest, and more than 56,000 people living in the area have now been evacuated, according to news reports. As of Friday, the evacuees included at least 193 families served by Unbound’s program in Legazpi, coordinator Angie Bermas said. But with the widening of the evacuation zone to a 5-mile radius over the weekend, the number has likely increased.

The volcano is in the Albay province in the Bicol region, in the east-central part of the island. Flights in and out of Legazpi have been canceled, and schools throughout the province are closed.
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Jan 20 2018

Brick by brick

Realities of Poverty series: A family builds a dream

This is the second in a series of stories focusing on the challenges of finding adequate, affordable housing in the economically developing world. It originally appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of our print publication Living Unbound.

Aggy and her parents, Saimoni and Anna, stand outside their home of mud and corrugated tin. In the background, their new brick home awaits completion. Saimoni works on it with the builder every chance he gets.


“I wanted to try hard and take a step in life,” Aggy’s father, Saimoni, said. “My wife and I had a vision. We had a plan to make our lives better.”

For years, Saimoni and his wife, Anna, saved every Tanzanian shilling they could from his earnings as a night watchman and her income packaging and selling laundry soap. It wasn’t enough to get ahead, and they found themselves in debt.

“We had so many problems,” Saimoni said. “We lived in a small rental house. I was still a watchman, and the money I was earning was minimal. By the 10th or 15th of every month, I had no money with me. We would get food stuffs and promise to pay later. We were always in debt.”

Living conditions were crowded, with Aggy, two siblings and her parents all living in one room. Things became easier once Aggy got a sponsor through Unbound.
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Jan 13 2018

Our house dances with the wind

Realities of Poverty series: The life of a squatter family

This is the first in a series of stories focusing on the challenges of finding adequate, affordable housing in the economically developing world. It originally appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of our print publication Living Unbound.

An image of a squatter village in Metro Manila, Philippines.

Sponsored child An-An and her family live in this flood-prone squatter village. The high-rise buildings of Manila loom nearby but are, in some ways, a world apart.


The United Nations estimates that at least one in eight people living on Earth today resides in a slum. A high percentage of those are squatters, dwelling without permission or legal protection on land they don’t own. Left with little or no choice, some erect makeshift housing on public properties, some occupy abandoned buildings and some inhabit any space they can find. Most live in extreme poverty and are, for all practical purposes, ignored by their local governments.

Calvary Hill is a street that winds along the banks of the fetid Ermitaño Creek in the heart of metropolitan Manila. This is a squatter village and, as the name suggests, it’s a place of hardship. A row of ramshackle dwellings stacked two, three and sometimes four or more stories high stretches around the creek bend and out of view, like a house of cards made from a thousand crumpled, mismatched decks.
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Jan 6 2018

Stability begins at home

Realities of poverty series: The struggle for adequate housing

An older home stands alone in Tegeta, a growing suburb on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. Like many communities in East Africa, Tegeta is changing. Homes of concrete and other substantial materials are rising up in contrast to the humble dwellings of neighbors who can’t afford better.

“Through telling the stories of our families, the world will put a face to poverty. Through the stories, we will live and walk in the shoes of the marginalized. We will walk into the homes of the poor and have a glimpse of what life looks like through their eyes.” — Regina Mburu, communications liaison for Unbound in Africa

According to the 2016 United Nations Human Development Report, “more than 1 billion people live in housing that’s below minimum standards of comfort and sanitation.” That’s more than 13 percent of the Earth’s population.

Recently, in our print publication “Living Unbound,” we explored the realities of poverty, with a particular focus on housing. Now we want to share some of those stories with you in an upcoming blog series that will run on four Saturdays, starting Jan. 13.

In the series we’ll see how shelter, a universal human need, is affected by lack of choices, and the profound difference that makes in the quality of a person’s life. Access to work, school, markets, hospitals, water, sanitation and nearly everything else important in the life of a human being is impacted by where they live.

In our first story we’ll meet An-An and her family. They’re squatters living in an urban slum in the Philippines and, like millions of others, they’re held hostage by their circumstances. An-An’s family knows what all who live in poverty know: With no safety net, it’s hard to take risks to bring about change. Through the support of sponsors, Unbound is helping them weave that net.

Sometimes a safety net comes in the form of bricks and mortar, as we’ll learn in our second story from Tanzania, where the father of sponsored child Aggy is slowly turning a dream into reality for his family.

The third post in the series will be a photo essay with images from some of the communities where Unbound works. From a tenacious woman in Kenya who earns a living by pedaling a bicycle taxi, to a mother and daughter in the Philippines who make a daily trek over a treacherous river, to a housing development on an arid hill in Peru, you’ll see the struggle and the beauty of the Unbound world.

The final post in the series will be a reflection by staff member Henry Flores, who shares the story of Sandra, a 23-year-old scholarship student in El Salvador. As Henry observes, Sandra is but one of thousands of young people in the Unbound program who, when offered opportunity, embrace it with enthusiasm and make the most of it.

Issues surrounding housing and the challenges that come with it, such as what it takes to get to and from work and school, are realities families participating in Unbound deal with every day of their lives. We believe it’s important to understand these realities because awareness is the first step in making any situation better.

“Through telling the stories of our families, the world will put a face to poverty,” said Regina Mburu, communications liaison for Unbound in Africa. “Through the stories, we will live and walk in the shoes of the marginalized. We will walk into the homes of the poor and have a glimpse of what life looks like through their eyes.”

Dec 30 2017

Words to live by

‘You have to believe in what you do’

Donald in Tanzania smiles as he holds a saxophone, his favorite musical instrument.


In our last post of 2017, we bring you the story of a young man in Tanzania who inspired Unbound staff with his talent, determination and wisdom. We thought his story might also inspire you, our readers, and give you encouragement as you start the new year.

The meeting was in full swing as staff from Unbound programs in four East African countries packed a hotel conference room in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Some jotted notes from a presentation that just wrapped up, while most milled about talking with colleagues before the start of the next session.

The din in the room was silenced, abruptly, by the raspy sounds of a musical instrument, a saxophone emitting a familiar tune, the American pop song “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton and recorded by Dolly and by Whitney Houston, among others.

The young man playing the tune at a podium up front was Donald, a 21-year-old arts student from the Dar es Salaam area. His rendition, though imperfect, was soulful and captivated the room.
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An elderly woman stands outside her home.
Dec 23 2017

A simple Christmas wish

Sponsored elder, Unbound staffer share Christmas joy

An elderly woman stands outside her home.

Sponsored elder Salvacion stands outside her home in Zambaoanga, Philippines.


Throughout the year, Unbound’s communications liaisons interview dozens of people to help us share the stories of the people we serve. Sometimes, they meet someone who inspires them in unexpected ways. That’s what happened to Tristan John Cabrera, who is based out of an Unbound office in Quezon City, Philippines, when he visited 84-year-old sponsored elder Salvacion in Zamboanga. Salvacion has been sponsored by Stephanie from Louisiana for almost 16 years.

“Do not cast me aside in my old age; as my strength fails, do not forsake me.” (Psalm 71:9)

On a recent visit to our program in Zamboanga, in the southern part of our country, I felt so touched by a particular elder from there. Her name is Salvacion, or “Lola (Grandma) Salvacion,” as they call her. Many residents of Zamboanga, including Salvacion, speak a Spanish-based language called Chavacano. Visiting the city, I heard, “Bienvenidos de Zamboanga,” which means welcome to Zamboanga. I don’t understand much of the Chavacano language, but since some residents also speak Filipino, which I speak, we can still communicate.

Here in the Philippines, we are very caring toward our grandparents. We take care of them no matter how hard it is, most especially if the elder is bedridden or unable to walk anymore. I remember my “Lola” (grandmother) who took care of me when I was a child while my parents were working. I wasn’t able to take care of her when she was really weak because of her age, as I was only 7 years old. I wished I was old enough at that time to give my Lola all the best care that I could give.

Salvacion lives in a small home made up of scrap materials that might collapse anytime. The pathway going to her house is flooded with thick mud, and I myself was actually hesitant to walk on it. She just wears her old boots and washes them out as she goes back and forth.

According to her neighbor, who also happens to be a sponsored elder, Lola Salvacion is a strong woman. She lives independently. She doesn’t bother her neighbors just to ask for food or drinking water. They just check on her every morning to see if she is still OK, and sometimes they give her food.

It must be really hard for Lola Salvacion to live alone in the area, especially considering her age. At 84, she can still walk, but you can see she is already struggling. Her voice is husky and dry, with teary eyes. I notice her back is already bending as she stands and walks. But seeing her without anyone who could hold her hands while walking is very painful for me. Everyone with me is looking at her as she walks in the mud, thinking she might fall.

Everyone is saying, “Ingat ingat nay,” or “Careful, Mother.”

I am holding my camera because I want to show people how strong she is through the pictures and videos.

As we go along in my interview, I ask her if she has one wish for Christmas, what would it be? She said it would be to eat chicken, either adobo chicken (a Filipino specialty with meat marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and other seasonings) or fried chicken. Do you know what comes to my mind? (And I know if you are in my position, you will do the same thing.) I decided to treat her to lunch, together with the program staff and our driver. It’s a surprise for her.


We visited a food chain serving fried chicken. Lola Salvacion looks so happy seeing where we are heading (going to Jolibee, a popular restaurant in the Philippines). We ordered what she likes with fries and a soft drink. I decided to pack my food and give it to her. She accepted it and told me that she will just eat it tomorrow. She also packed the remaining foods that she had and she said, “I can reserve these foods and eat it when I get hungry.”

After we ate, she confidently smiled at me. She said, “’Thank you very much,’ and I said, “’No, no, no, I must be the one to say thank you. You are really inspiring, you touched my heart, and I know your sponsor and the others will be happy to see your story.’”

Sometimes there’s no need to ask too many questions because the answer is already there in your eyes. The way I look at her, I remember my grandmother and how she would do everything to take care of me while my parents were at work. Lola Salvacion’s situation, living alone, is not common here in the Philippines. We really take care of our grandparents. We do everything we can to assist them until the end.

I know Lola Salvacion she has already found a family through Unbound. Love of neighbor, love coming from staff and parent leaders, her sponsor and love coming from within. That’s what makes Lola Salvacion keep on going strong in whatever challenges she encounters.

Let’s give love to our grandparents. They are also the reason why we are here in this world. They made a lot of history to secure our future right now.

Give love to the grandparents of the world. Sponsor an elder today.