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Family celebration: Utah women travel to India to meet with sponsored children

By Barbara Stinson Lee
May 16th, 2008
Intermountain Catholic (

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Intermountain Catholic) — Maxine Kaiser of Salt Lake City and Deborah Carr of Provo aren’t the kind of women who would fly off to India just to see the Taj Mahal. But Kaiser, director of liturgy for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, and Carr, a school teacher, did fly off to India for the children.

Both have sponsored children through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA), a Kansas City, Mo.-based charity that works in 25 countries to pair up needy children and elderly people with sponsors. In the case of Kaiser and Carr, they each donate $30 per month that is allocated for their sponsored child’s education, clothing, nutrition, and household items needed for basic comfort and good health.

Founded in 1981 by Bob Hentzen and his brothers Jim (d. 1993) and Bud, their sister Nadine Pearce, and friend Jerry Tolle (d. 1995), CFCA is dedicated to the principles of Catholic social teaching. From the beginning, the founders saw sponsorship as a perfect opportunity to both provide ongoing assistance to the poor and allow the poor to share their gifts with sponsors in the United States.

CFCA sponsors and the children and elderly people they support exchange letters and photographs, building a long-distance relationship.

For Carr and Kaiser, though, long distance wasn’t enough. Like many sponsors, they decided they would meet their children in person. They left Salt Lake City Oct. 10, and returned Oct. 23.

Family celebration

Kaiser has been a CFCA sponsor for three years, supporting Sumanth Bala (8). She and Carr set out for India together, but when they reached Hyderabad, their ways separated. Carr, a member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, traveled further south through Bangalore to a village in the Kolar gold fields where the girl she has sponsored for five years, Jaya Rakani, 15, lives.

Sumanth lives in a village outside Hyderabad. Neither child lives in a home with electricity or running water. Their American visitors stayed in nearby retreat houses and convents.

Before going to Sumanth’s home to meet him, lunch was planned at the CFCA Hyderabad office, and to Kaiser’s surprise, Sumanth and his mother came to the lunch to greet her. Later, they would travel to Sumanth’s house in a rural village in Warangal Province.

“I was amazed to find out that my visit to Sumanth had become a family celebration,” said Kaiser. “When I arrived in the rural village with Father Gade Prakesh, the door to their house opened and 24 family members came out. I was overwhelmed.”

She said it was very strange to walk into the house and find a picture of herself hanging on the wall.

Both Carr and Kaiser were surprised that some 8,000 people were in Hyderabad to greet the Americans, most of them mothers of children who were sponsored.

“So much is done for these children and for CFCA by the mothers’ groups,” Carr said. “They had arranged lunch for us and hours of entertainment. People did so many dances for us. How they must have practiced!”

Everywhere they went, Carr said, they were mobbed by children, some who have sponsors, many who need them.

“They live in tiny homes, so spare, but neat,” added Carr.


Kaiser said she was impressed with the annual report supplied for every sponsor, and that CFCA Hyderabad has a folder for each sponsored child. In each folder is an exact accounting of every $30 donation.

Both women spent days near the villages where their sponsored children live. They were shown the CFCA printing shop and book binding enterprise.

Carr, who teaches pre-school special education at Provo’s Farrer School, was most interested in the Indian educational system. She also saw a community center where tailoring is taught.

“The Salesian fathers and brothers do so much for the abandoned street children in Bangalore,” Carr said. “And the Kolar gold fields used to be very profitable, but with prices what they are now, the fields are closed and the slums are very close by.”

Jaya and her mother, Carr learned, live with Jaya’s uncle in a house that has a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. Like Sumanth, Jaya is shy and has a beautiful smile.

After spending days with their sponsored children, the American sponsors met again in Delhi, where they saw the Taj Mahal. They shared their experiences – Kaiser had visited a leper colony where whole families live together.

“There was so much to see when we were among the poor that I felt a little out of place at the Taj Mahal,” Kaiser said. “It was an amazing trip, and I came home feeling closer to Sumanth. When I went there, I took him a little red fire truck that he carried everywhere he went.

“I felt a strong sense of community among the mothers,” she said.

Carr, who has spoken to groups about CFCA since she returned, is also sponsoring two more children, one in Mexico and one in Liberia.

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