In 1976, the Sri Lankan government relocated more than a thousand families, creating the Summitpura slum. With lack of proper housing, water systems, and electricity, residents of this shantytown lived in neglect with little hope of escape.
Susanne Wickramaratne, known as “Auntie Susan” by those in the slum, began a modest feeding program in 1979 with the help of her husband, Pastor Colton, and their church. After three decades, this endeavor became Center of Hope — a nation-wide network of feeding centers.
“I believe that the vision … was put in Auntie Susan’s heart at that time,” says Prasad Perera, current Chief Operating Officer of Center of Hope and member of the founding church. “Thirty years later, it’s in my heart.”
Their main focus is to supplement the holistic development of children between the ages of 3 and 16, addressing their physical, intellectual, relational, emotional, and spiritual needs.
“Poverty corrupts all five of those areas,” says Prasad. “We want to change the whole family and every aspect of poverty. A changed child leads to a changed family, which leads to a changed community.”
In 2019, Convoy of Hope began partnering with Center of Hope to provide meals for the children in their centers. “Convoy of Hope coming in — not just financially but bringing the experts … and seeing how we can improve — is a great help,” says Prasad.
Before this partnership, Center of Hope fed close to 150 children a day. Now, more than 500 children in Sri Lanka receive nutritious meals. With time, the church wants to feed 5,000 kids a day, eventually seeing the Summitpura slum — and by extension, all of Sri Lanka — transformed.
“We know this is not something we can do on our own,” says Prasad. “When people think of Sri Lanka, they need to know that God transformed this nation.”
Despite the numerous challenges COVID-19 presented, Convoy of Hope’s integrated programming in Guatemala continued in 2020. Our incredible in-country field staff were able to innovate and strategically adapt through take-home food rations, recipes, and cooking tutorials. They even conducted virtual training and ongoing follow-ups.
Take a quick look at the video below to learn more about how our feedONE campaign supports our work in Guatemala.
Chege ran with desperation in his eyes. Sweat poured down the 8-year-old boy’s face as he took in another panicky, dust-filled breath. He sprinted through fields of brittle grass and down the winding roads that surrounded his Kenyan neighborhood. He had to find help.
His mother was dying.
The night before, his father — an abusive, violent alcoholic — had beaten Chege’s mother during a drunken rage.
The next morning, she called to Chege, saying, “I want you to run and find your father, because I feel like I’m going to die.”
The boy ran as fast as he could, but his mother passed before they returned. Chege thought his future died with his mother. But, his life was far from over. Chege was enrolled in a school where Convoy of Hope fed hungry children like him. It was there that he also received his first pair of shoes.
He started studying diligently, and his teachers began to see a difference in his performance. With a nutritious meal in his stomach and determination in his soul, he advanced three grade levels in one year.
Eventually, he finished school and was accepted into university to study chemistry.
Today Chege finds time to tutor students in the school he attended as a child — the same place where Convoy of Hope still feeds children every school day. “I’m telling them they are valuable,” he says. “I tell them I was like them. Hungry in my body and in my mind, and people like Convoy of Hope came along and fed me. And now, because of them, I will never be the same. I will accomplish my vision. And nothing can stop me.”
That’s what we call “hope multiplied.” From the outskirts of a Kenyan village to major metropolitan cities within the U.S., Convoy of Hope is partnering with schools, churches, community groups, and friends to spread hope to people who just need to know someone cares.
More than 20 years ago, Convoy of Hope began conducting Community Events in Chicago, Illinois. Year after year, we brought together churches, businesses, and civic organizations to reach out to thousands of honored guests in these communities. With the assistance of more than 1,000 volunteers at each event, we returned each year with groceries, job fairs, medical and dental services, children’s shoes, and more — all of which was free of charge to guests. Local authorities and law enforcement said they saw a tangible difference in the communities because of the kindness shown.
Through Community Events held in 2015, 2016, and 2018, we served 28,193 Guests of Honor living in the Chicago area. “Lives have been changed because of the generosity of your partners and the diligence of the workers,” says one Chicago pastor.
When COVID-19 threatened to cancel the 2020 Chicago Community Event altogether, the large-scale gathering was in jeopardy. But the community was determined to make it happen. They knew what it would do for children and families in need. Through a Disaster Services model — where food and services are distributed safely — more than 5,000 families were still served. Despite the pandemic and all the obstacles it brought that day, hope was multiplied.
“Each day, Convoy of Hope’s friends and partners make sacrifices so others can receive real help and lasting hope,” says Hal Donaldson, Convoy of Hope’s President. “From our Children’s Feeding programs, to the job training initiatives for women, to water and agriculture initiatives for farmers, to Community Events and our disaster relief efforts, people are having their hope restored and multiplied.”
This story was first published in Convoy of Hope’s Hope Quarterly magazine. Read the rest of the issue here.
Dr. Jim Blessman is the creator of Blessman International, a faith-based organization which works to meet the needs of children and families in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Blessman International — a strategic partner of Convoy of Hope in South Africa — creates programs which help provide food, water, sanitation, and critical knowledge to participants.
Convoy: Not everyone can travel to Africa and see the hunger crisis for themselves. Describe what it looks like.
Blessman: In South Africa, it’s not a war-torn area where you see people with pot bellies and skin changes because of malnutrition. Kids here are more in the realm of stunted children. The untrained eye might not even see it until you ask the ages of children. They typically are about three years older than you would guess. They’re chronically underfed, and that affects their brain development and stature.
Convoy: What effect has the COVID-19 pandemic had on our efforts this past year?
Blessman: In our area, many kids who are vulnerable will get their food at school and program centers. But when the government became worried about COVID-19, they locked down both of those. It was very frustrating knowing that so many kids still need food. But we’re doing all we can.
Convoy: How is Convoy of Hope working to end stunting and malnutrition in South Africa?
Blessman: Convoy of Hope is [critical] to ending malnutrition in South Africa. Convoy of Hope provides 1.4 million meals each year … and helped us teach families about agriculture so they can sustain their own nutrition.
Convoy: What motivates you to keep meeting needs?
Blessman: I’m a physician, so it’s in my DNA to help people. It energizes me … Whenever I feel a little discouraged, I look around for somebody I can help. It just makes me feel better.
Convoy: Is there anything else you want to say to our readers?
Blessman: Yes, it’s been a 10- year partnership with Convoy of Hope. It’s been a tremendous blessing to lots of people.This story was first published in Convoy of Hope’s Hope Quarterly magazine. Read the rest of the issue here.
Part of life for many people living in Nairobi’s urban neighborhoods is fetching water. Often, there is a single standpipe for dozens of families where people line up with their jerrycans.
Julie is 12 years old. For her, that daily chore makes life harder. “When you go to fetch water, there are people who sit around and abuse others,” she says.
Fortunately, Julie is part of Convoy of Hope’s Girls’ Empowerment program, which helps girls learn about life skills and nutrition so that they can thrive. On a recent Thursday afternoon, the classroom erupted in cheer when the Convoy of Hope teacher, Favour, entered. It was a large room split in two by a paperboard partition — the sixth graders faced west and the fourth graders faced east. Favour led the older students in a game that had them howling with laughter. Then, they reviewed what they’d learned from the previous session on time management: Have a timetable. Avoid the bed and sofa because they make you lazy. Make deadlines. Don’t let work pile up. Set goals.
The lessons from the program help students like Julie cope with difficult environments. While she lives with both parents in a safe apartment building and goes to a good school, her environment still can be tough. She says something she has learned from Girls’ Empowerment is the importance of keeping good company and avoiding bad company. This is a helpful lesson at the standpipe, at school, and everywhere else she might go in life.