A Trip to Ecuador with Children International Changes Two Lives 11

Matt Staub’s work trip grows from documenting to sponsorship

Sometimes seeing really is believing. Matt Staub, founder of marketing agency Proxima, snapped hundreds of photographs and recorded video once he and members of Children International set foot in Ecuador. Staub and the Children International (CI) team made their way to the nonprofit’s community centers in Guayquil and Quito, as part of a nine-day trip. Located high in the foothills of the Andean mountains, the centers are a safe haven to kids from dangerous environments. The threat of gang recruitment, violence, and drugs exists just beyond the doorstep in communities enveloped by poverty.

“The community centers are a safe place for kids. They are truly an oasis,” says Staub. “It’s not safe on the streets. We have a posse that travels with us. The streets are in disrepair. There are dirt roads and trash in impoverished neighborhoods. Homes are plywood shacks and brick.”

Headquartered in south Kansas City, Children International serves nearly 300,000 impoverished children and youth in 10 countries around the world. Their community centers provide services such as medical and dental clinics, pharmacies, libraries, computer labs, activity spaces and multipurpose rooms.

On this trip, Staub’s role involved teaming with CI to show the impact of its centers and sponsorship by donors on the lives of children and the community. He began working with the nonprofit in January 2016, helping them refine a social media strategy and develop content.

“I work directly with people in the field at CI,” says Staub. “I gather stories and media to share with CI’s audience from a first-person perspective. We take the audience along with us and tell a holistic story of CI’s work.”

Staub and the CI team visited the centers in Guayquil and other towns. He conducted video interviews with people from the community as well as capturing imagery that shows their daily lives. Shortly after arrival, Staub, CI staff members, and teenagers broke into a game of soccer in the courtyard of the community center. Younger children drew boundaries with chalk for hopscotch.

Preconceptions of Guayquil and its people formed and observed from the internet, a plane window, or tour bus change once interaction begins face-to-face.

“I felt like I knew a lot, but I knew nothing until I was there. We apply our paradigm. You can’t imagine being lower on the hierarchy of needs,” says Staub. “I didn’t know anything until I spoke with the kids at the community centers. I have never been to a country like this.”

In a country like this, poverty takes its toll on the health of children. Each year, 2 million children worldwide die from preventable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia because families can’t afford treatment. Teaching children fundamental habits like hand washing can help prevent these diseases, two of the leading causes of death in children around the world.

CI helps to break the cycle of poverty by enlisting people to sponsor a child and donate funds that go toward programs and activities that help these children. Community center team members work with volunteers and sponsors to help the children. From the outside, Staub understood the mission of CI and the importance of its efforts to change the quite real circumstances behind the statistics. Still, he wasn’t fully prepared for what to expect when he met the children for the first time.

“The kids don’t know their circumstances,” says Staub. “They are excited and want to have fun. It puts perspective on the basic needs of life. We have a shared humanity. Their circumstances are drastic but not desperate. I met a 15-year-old girl that is pregnant and lives in a house that’s barely standing. It gives me hope to see their earnestness to keep pushing.”

Recognizing this distinction as a storyteller is important. Staub’s intent was not to cast sad-eyed children in a stereotypical role––the voiceless kids seen on late-night commercials while brooding, heart-tugging messages and music deliver a call to action.

“CI wants to tell their stories in an upbeat, hopeful way that is authentic,” says Staub.

The youth served at CI’s centers learn about the fundamentals of hygiene and healthy habits. Students receive assistance with school fees, uniforms, supplies, tutoring and scholarships so they may complete secondary education and advance further. Youth at all ages learn empowering skills of leadership, teamwork, and confidence. Kids eventually grow into teenagers that need assistance so they can gain employment and become future leaders in their community. CI helps them prepare with mock interviews, résumé writing, connecting with jobs, earning scholarships for college, or vocational training.

Before arriving in Quito, Staub was not a sponsor of a child. That status changed when he met Jordin, a seven-year-old boy.

“Many kids are looking for a father figure,” says Staub. “A sponsor has a one-to-one relationship with a child.”

After spending time with Jordin and seeing CI’s operations firsthand, Staub decided he would become Jordin’s sponsor. “After one week, I was thoroughly impressed with the centers, staff, and the kids,” he says. “They talk about outcomes and hope. I believe in the model.”

CI’s sponsorship programs are “holistic and tailored to each country, community center, and people of all ages,” explains Staub. Jordin’s young age played a factor in Staub’s decision. “I wanted to meet a kid that I could go on a journey with.”

Back in the United States, Staub is working with CI to create images, videos, and stories that explain the nonprofit’s purpose and role. He is also completing steps toward becoming Jordin’s sponsor. His belief in the impact of the organization and his personal commitment remains firm.

“Given our luxuries, we can make an outsized difference through CI’s efficient programs for a small outlay,” says Staub. “The impact is pretty amazing. Everyone should travel to meet people at their community centers and see what CI does.”

Even as he sifted through photographs and shared details of his first trip to Quito and Guayquil, Staub reiterated his decision to return to CI’s community centers in Ecuador.

“I made lasting friendships,” he says. “You connect strongly with the community in a way a tourist can’t.”
Visit Children.org to learn more about Children International’s community centers and sponsorship.