||Karen Greiber of Sun Prairie is pictured with her sponsored child, Rafael, and his baby sister on her recent visit to Colombia with the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. (Contributed photo)
SUN PRAIRIE -- For over three years, Karen Greiber asked St. Raphael the Archangel to ask God on her behalf to bring her “someone to love.”
Greiber had been a sponsor of several children with the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA), a Catholic lay organization that sponsors children and elderly in developing countries throughout the world.
God answers her prayers
“I decided that in gratitude that if I ever had a son, I would name him Raphael,” said Greiber. “Not long after that, my sponsored child (Sharon) dropped out of the program. I had it in my heart that I wanted a boy from Colombia, so I requested that.
“When I got the information in the mail and saw that my sponsored child was named Rafael, I just started to cry. I knew in my heart that God had chosen him for me. That is why Rafael means so much to me.”
Greiber has sponsored Rafael for about a year and a half. She received a significant raise in pay through a promotion at work, so she decided to sponsor an additional child. She learned that Karen (same name as hers) from Colombia would be her second sponsored child.
A member of Sacred Hearts Parish in Sun Prairie, Greiber, 38, graduated from Homestead High School in Mequon. She has a bachelor’s degree in business with an accounting major and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA), both from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Learns about sponsorship
She learned about CFCA from a concert given by Mark Brummel at St. Albert the Great Parish in Sun Prairie when Sacred Hearts and St. Albert were doing a joint mission together.
“I had always seen the ads on TV about sponsorship from other organizations, but that night I chose to sponsor a child,” she said.
She sponsored two children from India and a girl from Colombia before her current sponsorship of Rafael and Karen.
She persuaded her mother, Marilyn Greiber from Henderson, Nev., to sponsor a child with CFCA. Her mom also requested a child from Colombia and received Lucia from Cartegena. She has been sponsoring her for over two and a half years.
Visit to Colombia
This year, both Greiber and her mother visited the children they sponsor with CFCA in Colombia on a trip arranged by the organization.
They started their visit in Medellin, Colombia. After they arrived, Greiber was told that Karen, her sponsored child from Cali, was already there with her own mother.
“They had traveled seven and a half hours to be there to meet me. They told me Karen was so excited to meet me she didn’t sleep at all the night before,” said Greiber.
“I just got Karen as a sponsored child in December. I had only received one letter from her and barely knew her. I knew she was 12 years old and that her father had been killed. I found out on the trip that he was killed when she was five by robbers trying to steal a motor scooter. I also knew she had several younger siblings.”
When the Greibers arrived at the CFCA project, they saw a huge crowd waiting for them. “I have to admit I hung back awhile before going forward. I was overwhelmed even before going in,” said Greiber. “Next thing I know I was being pushed toward Karen and gave her a big hug. We then walked through the crowd together with everyone cheering.
“We sat down to Mass and in between Karen and I tried to communicate through my minimal Spanish. Thank goodness there were many in our group who spoke Spanish and could translate.”
Gratitude from people
Greiber said the Colombia people showed much appreciation for the sponsors on their visit. “People came up from everywhere to thank us for all we do. I was stunned at the gratitude they felt for us.
“In the beginning I couldn’t grasp how much a difference $30 per month could make in someone else’s life,” she said.
She found out Karen’s family lived in one room that they rented. Her mom works as a housekeeper when she can find work, but usually only works two days a week at most. Karen has three younger siblings.
“I was told that they were so grateful Karen found a sponsor, because most people wanted the younger kids,” said Greiber.
Importance of sponsorship
She learned that only 40 percent of children go to school in Colombia and around 30 percent go on to higher education. Since 70 percent of Colombians live in poverty (earning less then $2 per day), most older children quit school and go to work.
“Karen having sponsorship means that she will have the uniforms and school supplies provided so that is less burden on her mom,” noted Greiber. “It means she can stay in school and through sponsorship she can even consider going on to the university.”
Greiber reported that the town of Cali has a new project with CFCA. It is preparing for the first classes to teach sewing to women by training teachers.
When they begin, Karen’s mom can take the sewing classes to learn a new trade so so that she can make more money for the family.
Impressed by CFCA
Greiber said she was impressed by what she learned about CFCA on this trip. “CFCA is a lay Catholic charity dedicated to helping the poor. Even though they are lay Catholic, CFCA doesn’t discriminate based on religion and doesn’t try to evangelize the people,” she noted.
At this time, CFCA is working in 26 nations and has over 300,000 children/aging that are sponsored in about 86 nations around the world. All together sponsors and sponsored represent over 100 nations in the world.
Bob, the founder of CFCA who was on the trip with the Greibers, said that we preach by our example, not by words. “I couldn’t help but smile, because that is what St. Francis of Assisi would have said as well,” said Greiber.
The other thing that impressed Greiber is how CFCA is attacking the issue of poverty. First, they are meeting the immediate needs: healthcare and food. Second, they are ensuring that children stay in school by providing uniforms and school supplies.
Third, they keep the children occupied after school with dancing, crafts, sports, and other activities. Fourth they train mothers in a new trade such as baking, sewing, raising chickens, and other things depending on where the project is. After people learn a trade, they often return and give back to their communities.
Visits, letters mean much
Last year around 1,200 CFCA sponsors came to visit out of 300,000. Greiber said many Colombians talked about their sponsors or godparents.
“They showed us their letters and told us how much they meant to them. Bob said a lot sponsors never write and I got to admit I felt guilty for not writing more often,” she said.
Greiber visited one sub-project in the mountains. The project leader said the houses there weren’t even fit to be called homes. “Amazingly enough this was the only place we went to that the people opened their entire homes for us to see. They were so excited to invite us into their homes.
“I absolutely fell in love with the people in this mountain village. They were so welcoming to us! There was a little boy named Daniel that especially tugged at my heart. I have written to CFCA to see if he has a sponsor.” (Greiber reported that a sponsor has since been found for Daniel.)
Visit to Cartagena
After visiting several CFCA projects in the Medellin area, the Greibers flew to Cartagena.
She found a deep divide between extreme wealth and poverty in Colombia. “I gathered that corruption and bribery were big factors. It was in Cartagena that I saw the malnutrition and people having extended stomachs — that hit me hard, especially seeing kids like that.
“My guess is most of the kids in the (CFCA) program are on nutrients. I know my sponsored child Rafael is and his mom is desperate to get a sponsor for her daughter, Valerie, since she is underweight for a three-year-old. I promised her I would try to find a sponsor.” (Greiber’s mother has since decided to sponsor Valerie.)
Highlight of the trip
Spending time with Rafael and his family was the highlight of the trip for Greiber. “Rafael meant a lot to me before going on the trip, but he is a permanent part of my heart now. I love him more then I can put into words!
“Rafael has the most beautiful smile you could ever see. He is all boy, but very respectful, polite, and all around a good boy. His mom is an excellent mother!”
In Cartagena the Greibers spent three days with their sponsored children and visited several different sub-projects.
They also spent time with Marilyn Greiber’s sponsored child, Lucia. “I can’t tell you how incredible it is to have a child cuddle up to you and allow you to hold them,” said Greiber.
“In each sub-project we went to we got a little ‘angel’ — a child from the village to be with us while we were there. I just loved each and every one of them. They were all so special! Mom ended up deciding to sponsor one of her little angels — he was so shy and scared that he hid his face, but before we left, he came up and gave mom a hug and kiss.”
On the second day in Cartagena they went to Rafael’s village. “He came alive in his village,” recalled Greiber. “It was so awesome to see him just being a kid! I got to meet his entire family and I can’t begin to tell you how I treasure the time we spent there!
“We had the same wonderful experience when we visited Lucia’s home and family,” said Greiber.
Saw the best in Colombia
In summarizing the entire trip, Greiber said, “I can’t begin to tell you how generous and wonderful everyone was. People may say we saw some of the worst of Colombia, because we saw some of the poorest areas.
“I disagree — I think we saw some of the best. We saw and spent time with everyday people who were generous, loving, and genuinely wonderful people. I left Colombia absolutely loving the people and the country. I hope someday to go back again.”
For more information on the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, visit the organization’s Web site: www.cfcausa.org