Author Archives: Ryan Smith

About Ryan Smith

Associate Editor for World Vision US Publications

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Filed under World Vision's World

Here for the kids

By Laura Reinhardt at the Youth Empowerment Program Summit in Washington, D.C.

World Vision YEP

The YEP team from Albany, Ga. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

I’m a heat wimp. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The Pacific Northwest has spoiled me with its relatively cool and humidity-free summers. But for the past four summers, I’ve found myself in our nation’s capital, dealing with heat and humidity that can knock you over. And honestly, there’s no place I’d rather be. I’m here for World Vision’s Youth Empowerment Program Summit. It’s like a family reunion of young people from across the country.

[Ed. note: Here are some of Laura’s photos from the summit]

They been through some of the toughest things I’ve ever heard about—certainly things beyond my high school experience. When I was in high school, it was shocking when a classmate got pregnant. I never worried that I might not make it home from school like young people do in some urban areas these days. Smoking cigarettes in the bathroom was about as rough as it got in my rural high school. Now, youth in rural areas face rampant prescription-drug abuse and alcoholism among their peers.

But these teens want to make a difference. They’re dedicated to it. They spent two evenings a week or a Saturday morning for the past 20 weeks meeting with their teammates. They focused on their community’s assets and problems, then picked one problem on which to focus. Now they’re here to meet with their members of Congress. They’ll attend workshops by nationally renowned speakers.

But they’re also here to connect with each other. Some of them have attended for the past three or four years—that’s where the family reunion aspect comes in. Many are eager to see friends they made last year or the year before.

Fundisha (Heidi Lenssen/WV)

I’ve gotten to watch some of these teens grow up, find their voices, and become ready to step up and make a change. In my job, my interviews and stories often capture a moment in time. But with this assignment, I see what happens to these kids year after year. I’ve watched Shelby from Albany, Ga. (pictured above, kneeling, white shirt)—with her quirky, high-pitched voice—blossom into a young woman on her way to college in the fall. I’ve seen Fundisha come back home to Seattle after her first summit and launch a community program to raise awareness about youth violence. This year, she did her senior project on the same topic. She plans to go to Howard University.

After their first Youth Empowerment experiences last year, Giovannie and Kevin from northern Virginia were asked to lead an advocacy workshop for adults. They said they never would’ve had this experience if it hadn’t been for their involvement in this program. They’re back at the summit this year.

So as long as the Youth Empowerment Program Summit continues to convene, I will be here, even if temperatures push 100 degrees (like now). I want these teenagers—who are so committed to positive change—to know that there is an entire network of people around the country committed to helping them.

Laura Reinhardt

Laura Reinhardt

Read Laura Reinhardt’s magazine feature about the Youth Empowerment Program.

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Filed under On Assignment, World Vision's World

Lest we forget

By James Addis, Senior Editor

Haiti Earthquake

Gina Jean and her family. (James Addis/WV)

Today, I am working from a comfortable office. Exactly six months ago, I was on a plane to Haiti to report on one of the worst earthquakes in human history—one that killed more than 220,000 people. My work environment there included overcrowded hospitals and hastily set-up displaced people’s camps that lacked water and sanitation.

One question I was sometimes asked after returning home was: “How did if affect you personally?” That’s not easy to say. There was a range of emotions. Some experiences were heartbreaking. I’ll never forget the corpses of children lying in the streets and the people trying to dig relatives out of the rubble using small crowbars and flimsy hacksaws.

One woman I met, Gina Jean, was cradling her 4-month-old daughter and living in a tent made of bed sheets. Losing her home was not so bad. Her real concern was that she had not seen her husband since the quake. Was he alive or dead? “How can I continue living like this?” she asked me. “How am I supposed to take care of my children?”

Haiti earthquake

Nicole Muse cares for a child after surgery. (Jon Warren/WV)

But in the midst of tragedy, I was also inspired. World Vision’s relief manager, who lost her daughter in the quake, carried on working so that the lives of others might be saved. Chicago nurse Nicole Muse hopped on a plane without hesitation as soon as she heard the news of the quake. Within hours she found a field hospital in Haiti and began caring for dozens of horrifically injured children.

Coming home after seeing these kinds of things, it can be a little hard to adapt. Everything seems slightly banal. There’s a discussion with my wife about where we will find the money to fence the yard. At the supermarket checkout, tabloids are trumpeting that Dr. Phil’s marriage is on the rocks, and there are updates on the turbulent love lives of actors called Brad, Jennifer, and Angelina.

It can be easy to feel superior to this trivia. But the truth is, after a few months my memories of Haiti do begin to fade. Immediate “concerns” reassert themselves. Even for World Vision, there are other big issues to think about—devastating floods in China, for example, or a hunger crisis in Niger.

So the six-month anniversary of the quake is a good reminder for me and an opportunity to check on progress. A World Vision report on the last 180 days is encouraging in that it shows how much help is getting through: the distribution of food to 1.8 million people; the delivery of 2 million liters of clean water every week; the construction of hundreds of toilets and showers; the continuing work of 10 health clinics; and the ongoing distribution of tarpaulins, tents, and cooking utensils to assist some 120,000 people.

Haiti earthquake

James interviews a quake-affetced family. (Jon Warren/WV)

And yet, as the report notes, the needs remain great. About 1.5 million people still live in emergency shelters. Difficulties in securing construction materials and establishing land ownership rights and the logistical challenge of removing tons and tons of rubble are proving to be major obstacles.

I confess it’s been a while since I prayed for Gina Jean and the thousands in her predicament. I’ll do so tonight. Perhaps you could join me?

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Filed under Haiti Earthquake, On Assignment

Going for the goal

By Ryan Smith, Associate Editor

World Vision soccer
(Paul Bettings/WV)

Here at World Vision, we’ve been keeping track of the FIFA World Cup over the last few weeks. Being an international organization, our staff has allegiances to a number of teams in the tournament, including team USA.

During one lunchtime viewing session, a colleague asked, “Are there any former World Vision sponsored kids playing in the World Cup?” That is a great question. I’m pretty sure the answer is no. But it did get me wondering about how many of the nations competing have World Vision child sponsorship programs.

It turns out that six countries fall into this category: Brazil, Chile, Ghana, Honduras, Mexico, and South Africa. World Vision also works in North Korea, Serbia, South Korea, and the United States. So if you’re looking for someone to root for now that the Americans have been eliminated, this list might be a good place to start.

World Vision soccer

(Heidi Isaza/WV)

Watching these matches also reminds me how sports like soccer can play an important role in World Vision’s work. When I travelled to Senegal a couple years ago, I saw an intriguing activity called “Red Card for AIDS.” World Vision organizes soccer clinics and tournaments to bring kids together, have fun, and teach them about the dangers of HIV and AIDS. They use the language of soccer—a red card is given to a player who commits an egregious foul, resulting in automatic ejection from the game—to teach children how to avoid contracting the disease.

Recently, in Albania, World Vision took part in an event called “Go for the Goal: End Child Labor.” The gathering brought together key national and local leaders, media, and, most importantly, 500 children. Altin Lala, a well-known Albanian soccer player, stood with the children as they held up red cards, asking their political leaders to stop child labor.

Perhaps one of these programs will produce a great soccer star, but at the very least, they will play a part in helping children grow up healthy—and that’s a win, from my perspective.

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Filed under World Vision's World

The times are a-changin’

By James Addis, Senior Editor

Venture Expeditions

Josias Hansen of Venture Expedtiions (Courtesy of Josais)

Growing up in Britain and New Zealand in the 1970s and ’80s, I regret to say global problems of poverty, injustice, and disease seldom made much of a blip on my personal radar screen.

Not that I was uncompassionate, disinterested, or unwilling. It’s just that at the time, those concerns seemed vague and remote. I did fundraise for various causes—a better gym for my school, an effort to secure improved training opportunities for Britain’s Olympic athletes, and, somewhat more creditably, a fund that provided money to secure better care for impoverished elderly people.

But some of the world’s bigger issues—hunger, child-killing diseases, human trafficking, or the fact that millions lack access to clean water—hardly registered.

If I or my peers ever did think about such things, I suspect we might have said something like, “the government really ought to do something about that.” The sense of personal responsibility, the feeling that one could do something oneself to change the world, was almost entirely lacking.

How times have changed. These days I stumble across a young person just about every week who is on some kind of mission. I try to cover as many of them as I can in the Frontlines section of World Vision magazine.

The last one I met was Josias Hansen, 23, who spoke in chapel at World Vision this week. A recent college grad, Josias is leading a team of 14 bicyclists who are cycling about 3,500 miles from Seattle to New York as part of the Just+Hope campaign—an effort to combat human trafficking. Along the way they will be speaking at schools and churches, posting daily blogs, and aiming to raise $100,000 for anti-trafficking initiatives.

Why is he doing it? Because rather than seeing trafficked children as beings remote from himself, he feels an intimate personal connection. “They just happen to be in a different location—a location where they are enslaved, mistreated, and beaten,” he says. “But I can’t think of them as a different kind of person. They are the same sort of person as my brother or my little nephew.”

Quite right, of course, but what interests me is why there seems to be this cultural shift. Why do there seem to be so many more people like Josias around? Is it the impact of that imprecise word “globalization”? Did Bob Geldof set the ball rolling when he raised his voice about famine in Ethiopia? Was it USA for Africa, or Bono, or Mother Teresa or Princess Diana cradling babies infected by AIDS? Which reminds me: I saw her sons William and Harry on television this week. They were in Lesotho, Africa, supporting humanitarian efforts there and continuing in their mother’s compassionate tradition.

Or is it the influence of people like Bill and Melinda Gates, pouring millions and millions into initiatives to combat AIDS and find a vaccine for malaria? Of course, big business philanthropy is nothing new. But has the world ever seen it on such a scale? Last week, the Seattle Times ran a front-page story about Gateses persuading other billionaires to sign a “Giving Pledge” whereby they would donate most of their wealth to worthy causes.

Or is it the fact that Christians are rediscovering the gospel of Jesus. That it’s not just about personal salvation but it’s also about responding to the plight of the poor—something evidenced by my boss’s book, The Hole in Our Gospel, being named ECPA’s 2010 Christian book of the Year.

Frankly, I haven’t the foggiest idea why the times are a-changing. But I like it. I like it a lot.


Filed under World Vision's World

Connecting the dots

By James Addis, Senior Editor

Leon McLaughlin

Leon's shoeshine stand in Seattle. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

Few people can talk or network like shoeshine man Leon McLaughlin, and he’s always got something interesting to say. So when I got copied in on a group e-mail from him a few days ago—which to be honest I couldn’t quite follow because I was clearly joining the conversation late—I thought I’d better give him a call to find out what was going on.

But to recap: I first wrote about Leon in the Spring 2009 magazine. The extraordinary thing about him was that he had managed to use his shoeshine stand, located in a big tower complex in downtown Seattle, as a rather unlikely base to bring clean water to people who desperately need it in the developing world. As Leon shines the shoes of some of Seattle’s top movers and shakers, he shares his passion for the need for clean water and enlists their support.

Water is a subject Leon knows something about. He has traveled extensively, taken online courses in water management, and founded the non-profit Clean Water Foundation. Leon came to the attention of World Vision when he funded water-filtration equipment and provided technical support for flood-devastated communities in Bolivia.

Well, let me tell you how Leon’s been “connecting the dots” to make things happen since then. First, he struck a deal with the Moka Joe coffee company to create a blend called “Coffee for Clean Water.” Part of the proceeds are funding more filtration units in other water-scarce communities.

He also enlisted the support of engineer Dr. Phillip Thompson, an associate professor at Seattle University, to assist with the installations. The last one occurred in Potosi, in a remote village in Bolivia. This involved setting up a web video conference featuring Leon at the shoeshine stand; a translator in Bolivia’s capital, La Paz; First Water, the Georgia-based makers of the filtration equipment; and World Vision staff in Potosi who were talked through the installation. Leon’s especially happy about the project because he got to visit Potosi before the installation took place. He says negotiating the steep mountain passes to get there “scared him to death,” but that was nothing compared to meeting children suffering malnutrition and diarrhea because of the filthy water they were compelled to drink.

Leon McLaughlin

Leon in Bolivia. (Raimi Mendez/WV)

The next installation should take place later this month at Yanama, also in Peru. Currently, World Vision workers in Peru are procuring parts for the system, and Leon anticipates that, if necessary, Dr. Phil will talk them through the assembly and install via another web conference. Come to think of it, this could make a good yarn for the next magazine. To make the planned inauguration ceremony especially sweet, Leon managed to procure about 5,400 bars of soap from the Clean the World Foundation [] to bolster a World Vision hygiene program in the village.

Indeed, Leon would make any journalist turn bright green with the extent of his contacts. The foundation has just completed a fundraising music CD featuring many artists Leon got to know while working at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre in a former life. “Music for the World” features tracks from Expresión Latina, Nik West, Eric Verlinde, and Paula Boggs—a singer who also happens to be executive vice-president of Starbucks. The CD will be available soon on Amazon. Meanwhile, you could try contacting Leon for a copy at the foundation website.

Next year, the Clean Water Foundation is putting on a concert at Seattle’s Key Arena to celebrate World Water Day, on March 22. Leon says they are currently negotiating with several major artists to perform.

So if you happen to be in downtown Seattle and your shoes could do with a bit of a shine, pop into the Columbia Center and get the inside word on Leon’s latest water projects and promotional plans. He cannot contain his enthusiasm, and it’s a joy to hear him talk. Your shoes will end up looking pretty good, too.


Filed under Article Updates

It’s all about the story

Tom Costanza writes from Uganda, where he’s working with a film crew on an upcoming project.

Tom tells stories with one of these (Tom Costanza/WV)

It’s all about the story. My wife, Kari, and I have spent years traveling the world, hearing and telling people’s stories. The story I’m working on right now in Uganda, in fact, came from one of Kari’s trips here. She often finds them, does a print version, and then says, “This would make a great video!” For that reason, I am known in many places around the world simply as “Kari’s husband”—a title I’m proud to hold, I might add. But enough about us.

Let’s talk about stories. What’s so wonderful about stories is that they let us go where we might not go otherwise. They let us glimpse, even if it’s in our imagination, heartaches, struggles, triumphs, and transformation. They help us think differently. And they teach us. There’s a reason Jesus taught in parables.

“Jamaa,” a World Vision film currently in production, has all of that. Because it’s based on real life events, it highlights stories of lives lived in service to God and to others.

Jamaa” is the Swahili word for “family.” Without giving too much away, it’s the story of two children who lose their parents to AIDS. Together they carry their mother’s body from the slums of Kampala to the rural countryside of Kasangombe. It’s a journey of heartbreak and desperation as they search for family, happiness, and hope.

Max Lucado is one of Kari’s and my favorite writers. Max is a fountain of love and common wisdom. Here’s what he says about life stories: “Let your life be your first draft … Love grumpy neighbors. Feed hungry people. Help a struggling church. Pay your bills, your dues, and attention to your spouse … Live with integrity.”

Videographer Tom Costanza.

You see, it’s all about the story. The one you hear. The one you tell. The one you live.

Related:  Why I do it (April 13, 2010)

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Filed under On Assignment