“I am a bit nervous,” Bethlehem announced as the cameraman was getting ready with his equipment. The early morning light filtered through the window to shine on the walls of her parents' typical Ethiopian house made of mud and straw.
Raffaello, the director of the documentary we were filming in Ethiopia, asked me to chat with Bethlehem so she could relax before the interview.
Only forty-five minutes before, we had left our guesthouse a few kilometers away to drive to the house where Bethlehem, one of the girls in our program, used to live. The abysmal roads were difficult even for our off-road vehicle. I imagined how, just five years ago, this frail young girl had walked on those roads in the sun, rain and pitch darkness just to go to school and to get an education.
Despite her determination, she had almost dropped out. The daily two-hour walk to reach her high school was becoming too daunting and tiring. There were many perils during her journey ... abduction by men and attacks by wild animals like hyenas. The books she carried on her head to look taller and chase away wild animals weren’t enough to reassure her anymore.
Then she received a chance in life ... she joined Boys' & Girls' Towns of Ethiopia (BGTE) alongside 100 young women like her and lived in a house near her school. Not only did she complete high school, she became one of the first BGTE graduates to finish college with a degree in Mathematics. Instead of looking for a job after graduating, the first thing she decided to do was to dedicate one full year of her life to others by volunteering in an orphanage.
The cameraman was almost ready, but still waiting for me to say something to Bethlehem. The first question that came to my mind to chat and reassure her was, “What was your favorite fairy tale as a child?” To my surprise, she said that she didn’t know any fairy tales.
“What do you mean? You never heard of fierce dragons keeping princesses in the highest towers and the charming princes who saved them?”
“Not really...” was her bemused response.
“I think that’s because you are already living in a fairy tale,” I replied quickly. “You were a princess imprisoned in a world that didn’t allow you to achieve your dreams. But you fought your dragons: poverty, hyenas, obstacles ... You climbed roads, fought against the wind and the rain and studied by the dim light of a candle. No Prince Charming saved you. You saved yourself, and now you are helping other children to do the same. This is the most amazing and beautiful story I have ever heard.”
Her bright smile showed how proud she was.
“We are ready to roll!” said the cameraman. “1, 2, 3 and go!”
“My name is Bethlehem. And this is my story...”
PS: If you wish to give a chance in life to more girls like Bethlehem, click below. There are still so many dragons out there … let’s fight them together.
Remembering Paula Cangialosi
The doorbell rang at 10:20 AM. From my office in the back I could hear the squeaky door hinges announcing some unexpected visitors.
“Hello!”, someone proclaimed. Seconds later, a barking dog ran into my office. He jumped up on the sofa and looked around.
“Oh hello!”, I replied to him. “You must be a talking dog who knows this place very well.” But before I got too excited about my talented new four-legged friend, his owner appeared at my office door.
“No, unfortunately he doesn’t talk. Otherwise, I’d make him tell me why he’s always barking. My name is Paula, and this is my dog Joey. We used to be here often to visit the founder, Msgr. Carroll-Abbing. We have been involved with this organization for a very long time. I stopped by to welcome you in your new position. How may I help you?”
This happened about four years ago on one of my very first days with A Chance In Life. Paula Cangialosi came unannounced and unexpectedly into my life … and had a tremendous impact on the development of our organization.
On Monday, December 9th, our President and Executive Director Gabriele Delmonaco accompanied a delegation of A Chance In Life’s donors, board members and friends to a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. After listening to the welcome remarks of Mr. Guy Chiarello, ACIL's Man of the Year and major donor, Pope Francis addressed those assembled, saying, "I thank you for your sensitivity and concern for the least of our brothers and sisters. May God reward your passionate commitment and always accompany your efforts to build a world of greater fraternity." These words are also for you, our wonderful community of supporters. Thank you for helping us serve the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters for almost 75 years.
Pope Francis spoke of our founder Monsignor Carrol-Abbing's legacy and thanked those who made our work for children possible. Read his full remarks here. You can also read more about A Chance In Life's audience with Pope Francis in articles by Vatican News, Zenit and Osservatore Romano (In Italian, page 7).
The photo above is one of the lighter moments of my trip last month to northern Mexico. After the suffering I saw there, I was grateful to these children for giving me a chance to smile. Because of A Chance In Life's reputation as an advocate for vulnerable children, I had been invited by local organizations to explore possible partnerships in support of the children victims of ‘narco-trafficantes’. They offered me an all-expenses paid trip – including the cost of a bodyguard …
I want to share with you a brief note I wrote to the Chairman of our Board while I was in Mexico to give you an idea of what I experienced.
Dear Mauro, I hope all is well …
I am writing from Mexico. We are at the center of the area where the terrible killing of a family took place a few days ago.
The situation is very tense. While people try to get back to their daily routines, it is clear that the city of Chihuahua is under high alert. The news on tv constantly shows bulletins of people shot. Today, someone was shot outside my hotel. Yesterday, I was invited to a cultural event at the theater and hours later there was a fatal shooting right outside. It looks like a war zone.
Remember the old saying from the story of Francis Bacon in 1625? It says, “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.”
Fr. Jobi faced a similar problem. The elementary school he manages in the remote area of Pettikkal in India is surrounded by steep mountains. Several hundred families live in the jungle of this mountainous area and transportation is a challenge. Most families live in huts with no running water or sanitation systems. The crops they grow to survive is in constant danger from elephants, who come out in the evenings looking for food.
The Infant Jesus School was built to serve the local children and provide them with an education, but the journey down the mountain was still too far and dangerous. Fr. Jobi had a school, but no students could attend it. So, he decided to go to the mountain.
He raised the money to buy a school bus and makes his way to each family every morning and evening. That’s over 60 miles a day! Today, the school is filled with 150 little ones eager to learn and happy to receive a meal - oftentimes their only full meal of the day. The families are so grateful that they contribute whatever they can (about $3 a month) to help with the expenses of the school bus.
Now that the classes are filled, there is another problem. There are only four toilets to serve 150 children. Imagine 150 kids who need to go to the bathroom at the same time … how would you manage them?
Fr. Jobi needs six new additional bathrooms and asked A Chance In Life to help. I turn to you once again. Will you help me raise $11,500 to solve this problem? You do not have to come to the ‘mountain’ to make your donation - simply click below! With your help, the children of this poor school will feel quite … relieved!
Thank you for being such a loyal and generous donor. Know that our children, from Latin America to Asia and all that is in between, will always be grateful.
“I’d like to introduce you to someone special,” said Fr. Habte, the director of our programs in Ethiopia. “Fikre is 12 years old and one of our top-performing students,” he added while gently pushing a shy young woman through the door towards the group of donors I had accompanied to Emdibir.
Only a few months earlier, she had lost her father, an agronomist working for Fr. Habte, in a tragic car accident. Fr. Habte told us with tears on his face how Fikre’s father was bedridden in a hospital for several weeks before he finally surrendered to his injuries and passed away. In his final hours, he summoned Fr. Habte and begged him to take care of his two children and wife, who was fighting a battle against breast cancer.
Soon after his death, his family lost their house because they could not afford the rent. Fr. Habte received a plot of land as a donation and asked A Chance In Life if we could build a new house … a home for Fikre, her brother and her mother. In no time, donors like you raised the money necessary to restore hope to Fikre’s family and give her a chance in life.
Even after returning home to New York City, we continued receiving news of how the family’s new home had changed their lives. Fikre continues in the 8th grade as a citizen of Boys’ & Girls’ Towns of Ethiopia, and her mother has a peaceful place to rest as she continues her fight against breast cancer. Fikre’s brother, who is autistic, has the structure and security he needs to feel safe and happy.
I am so proud of A Chance In Life’s family. Your commitment to our mission allows us to be an organization with both the heart to change the life of a single child, and the capacity to help entire communities flourish. Fikre is just one of over 3,000 children who have received a chance in life this year through our Towns in Italy, Ethiopia, India and Latin America. In the past year, we’ve also:
Next year will mark 75 years of serving at-risk youth, an achievement your generosity has made possible. Let’s celebrate the legacy of our visionary founder Msgr. John Patrick Carroll-Abbing with this important milestone. And let’s not forget what he said … "Until every child is free from hunger and suffering, we have no right to stop." On behalf of all of our citizens around the world - thank you!
Click to read A Chance In Life's 2018-2019 Annual Report.
Due caffè, per favore!
If you ever decide to visit Naples, Italy, make sure to stop by the historical Gran Caffè Gambrinus. At any hour of the day, you will find a long line of people waiting patiently for what is considered one of the best coffees in the city. A dense layer of “crema” – a light brown foam – floats on top of the most flavorful espressos you’ll ever try. But something else will capture your attention at Gran Caffè Gambrinus …
As you approach the cashier, you will notice a large pot with a sign on it that reads: "Caffè sospeso." Translated literally, it means “suspended coffee.” Caffè sospeso is a tradition in the working-class cafés of Naples where someone who has experienced good luck pays for two coffees, but only drinks one. They place the receipt for the second coffee in the large pot, and a poor person enquiring later whether there is a sospeso available will be served a coffee for free. A random act of kindness … and one that keeps giving. The cashier of the Gran Caffè Gambrinus reminded me that many times, those who receive a free coffee come back and pay for others when their financial situation changes.
Similarly, when you give to A Chance In Life, you give a child you don’t know the chance to succeed despite the hardships they face. Though you may never meet these children, they will remember your act of generosity forever. One day, they will pay it forward to someone else in need.
Today, I would like to introduce you to four of the young people you’ve helped - Sandro from Bolivia, Sinkanesh from Ethiopia, Selva from India and Giulia from Italy - and show how your support has started a circle of generosity. Click below to read their stories and be inspired to continue making this world a better place. Grazie for your “paid espresso” … it’s changing lives.
This July, Georgetown University student Nicole Ruggiero (pictured above with ACIL programs manager Anna Medvedeva) spent the month at Boys' Towns of Italy in Rome. The granddaughter of an Italian migrant, she has dedicated herself to studying migrant issues in Europe and traveled to Boys' Towns to spend time with our young citizens. Now back at school in Washington, D.C., she shared her thoughts of the summer with us.
My name is Nicole Ruggiero and I am a junior at Georgetown University majoring in Culture and Politics and minoring in Italian. One of the broadest majors offered in my program, my courses have worked to combine my major and minor to study the phenomenon of migration in Italy and how it is affected by various parts of a migrant’s identity. As a way to expand upon my classroom education, I have also been lucky enough to receive a research fellowship for the next four years.
I therefore jumped at the opportunity to stay at Boys’ Town of Italy this summer. Not only would it be an opportunity to improve my Italian, it would also allow me to observe the experiences of unaccompanied migrant minors in Italy and hopefully provide me with a wealth of information for my research. I could not have expected the warm welcome I would receive from the citizens of Boys’ Town, its staff and educators, and individuals I had the privilege of meeting throughout my stay at Boys’ Town.
My favorite part of any country visit is the conversations I have with the incredible staff at each of our programs. When I visited the programs supported by Boys’ & Girls’ Towns of Guatemala last month, I was once again inspired by their dedication to our young people.
During a meal with the sisters at Hogar del Niño, one of our partner programs, a small girl named Lincy sat nestled among the sisters and quietly ate her lunch. She gave me a beautiful smile when I performed my silly magic tricks, but otherwise seemed content to sit and observe the goings-on. When I asked why she was not eating with the other children, the sisters explained that they had noticed how small she was for her age. Concerned that yet another one of their students was suffering from malnutrition at home, they had Lincy sit with them during lunch every day so they could offer her extra servings. I added some encouragement of my own by giving her my bracelet. It dwarfed her small wrist, and I asked her to eat lots of healthy food so the bracelet would fit the next time I visited.
Guatemala has the highest rate of malnutrition among children in Central and South America. Without the attentive care of teachers and staff members, children like Lincy often remain malnourished and suffer the effects through adulthood. I am so grateful to know our young citizens are being looked after with such commitment – and thankful to supporters like you for providing our program staff with the resources they need. Muchas gracias!
A few days ago, I was chatting with a friend of A Chance In Life. He was elaborating on an interesting theory about the impact of development work and argued that only macro-level projects can have a truly meaningful social impact. It was because of this, he added, that he did not want to sponsor a child with us and would prefer to wait for a larger project to support. In his opinion, that’s how you break the cycle of poverty.
Or maybe not ...
At A Chance In Life, we pursue both approaches, offering services to individuals while advocating for broader societal change. But I am a strong advocate of our sponsorship program. It allows donors like you to provide a chance in life to an unknown child who would never get an education without your help. In some cases, they may not even get the food or medical care they need to survive. Instead, with your support, any one of these children can grow up to be an agent of change and impact the lives of their entire community.