Eveth was one of the students Love Forward sponsored in 2018 in Nicaragua.
Eveth graduated in December with a degree in pharmacy.
Love Forward was excited to launch its programs in early 2018. After our first year of operation, we are fully supporting about 40 university students in Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Kolkata, India, all of whom came from backgrounds of extreme poverty, abandonment, and abuse. Many of those students grew up in children's homes that I helped establish nearly 20 years ago. It is a privilege to continue to be involved in their lives today, partnering with these young adults to help them realize their full potential and ambitions in life.
"JA" is one of the many students we began supporting this year. JA grew up in a rural region of the southern Philippines. Three of her siblings died of measles when they were young. Due to abuse in their home, her brother committed suicide, and she and her remaining sibling later sought refuge at a local shelter. In April of this year, one of her cousins murdered her father. Because of Love Forward, JA is able to continue her education and pursue a college degree, while receiving counseling for her past trauma.
Love Forward is a unique grassroots effort—targeted in scope but big in impact. Here in the U.S., all of the “admin” and fundraising is being done by myself and other committed volunteers and board members. We are a collection of friends and colleagues who are collaborating with leading professionals around the world to make a difference in the lives of young women after they transition out of orphanages, shelters, and other residential care. These youth have already overcome immense odds and trauma just to be where they are at today. With our help, they can attain a higher education, and with additional customized transitional support, they can break the cycles of abuse and poverty for both current and future generations.
Here are a few highlights of our current programs and our plans for 2019.
In the Philippines, we are fully supporting 15 students and we anticipate receiving at least three new students into our program in 2019. By the end of next year, we will be supporting a total of 18 students, including 15 women, the majority of whom previously resided at the Bohol Crisis Intervention Center (BCIC) or the Arms of Love Children’s Home on Bohol, which I helped establish back in 2001.
In 2019, we will be developing relationships with crisis centers in Cebu, Davao, and Iloilo, in addition to the BCIC. These government-operated shelters provide full-time protective custody for abused teenage girls. Unfortunately, in a majority of cases, these girls experienced rape within their families, sometimes over a period of years. There is no transitional care or continuing education provided for the women when they move out of the centers, which is a significant need since they usually cannot return to their families. In the future, we plan to receive most of our referrals from these four crisis centers, because this is a significant unmet need in the Philippines.
We are currently supporting 13 students on a full-time basis in Nicaragua. As with the Philippines, most are women. Many of the youth grew up in the Arms of Love Children’s Home in Nicaragua, which I founded in 2000, while the others were referred by four other orphanages. We also had the opportunity to provide temporary or partial support for a number of additional students in 2018.
This past year saw a nationwide crisis unfold in Nicaragua that resulted in substantial bloodshed and a severe economic downturn. In April, protests supported by businesses, the church, and hundreds of thousands of people resulted in clashes with police and paramilitary forces that left hundreds dead. The economic toll of the current crisis has been severe … it has been estimated that Nicaragua’s developing market shrunk by 6 percent, the workforce shrunk 10 percent, and investors pulled out about $1 billion in capital.
In the midst of this uncertainty, we cannot abandon our students. Their futures depend on us now more than ever. I have corresponded with each of them this past week, and in their voices I hear not only immense gratitude for our ongoing support, but a determination to continue their education and pursue careers including journalism, medicine, dentistry, and finance, while also serving others in their communities. As part of our response, we will be exploring unpaid business internships and every other option available to advance the employment prospects of our students, while they also continue their higher education.
When Dr. Joya Chatterjee, one of our board members, visited orphanages with me in Kolkata this past January, we learned that after the youth turn 18 years old, nearly all of them move back to their villages of origin and lack the opportunity to continue their education. Occasionally, local donors might help one of the boys go to college, or an orphanage might arrange marriages for some of the girls.
We are excited to report that with the support of Love Forward, all nine of the women that aged-out of the Refuge orphanage at the beginning of 2018 are currently attending university! The students are pursuing programs in a range of disciplines including accounting, criminal law, and engineering. Joya and I will be returning to Kolkata in February to spend time with our currently-enrolled students and to talk with the next classes of girls who will be leaving the Refuge and starting university in 2019 and 2020.
The Refuge cares for about 300 children, and every year, about 10 girls will age-out of the program. Our hope is to provide all of them with the opportunity to continue their education and escape the grip of poverty, but that will present a challenge as our program grows year over year.
In 2019, our focus is on strengthening the services and support we are providing to our existing students. For example, we are onboarding one local staff person in each country to help coordinate our program and strengthen our support of each individual student, e.g., through local mentoring, counseling, internships, vocational training, and other skill development.
It is my firm conviction that those who overcome the most difficult circumstances have the greatest potential to compassionately influence and lead our world. I invite you to join with us in this vision and help us communicate to each and every one of our sponsored students, "We believe in you ... and you are worth it."
Several of our students in the Visayas region of the Philippines during a regular monthly lunch meeting with Love Forward director Lovely Granada and staff from our partner organizations.