COVID-19 may be trying to play the role of the Grinch and cancel Christmas, but at ER International, we’re not going to let that happen.
As in the U.S., the countries where we hold Christmas celebrations are changing their quarantine rules and restrictions frequently. At this time, it looks as if travel restrictions may prohibit teams from going this year, but we are waiting to see if travel opens up. We will make a decision regarding sending teams and volunteers in September.
Regardless of travel restrictions, we’re committed to using in-country staff, volunteers and partners to provide Christmas celebrations in Ecuador, South Africa and the Philippines. These teams will be small and nimble. We’ll focus on bringing Christmas the most vulnerable families and as many kids as possible in late November and early December.
Please consider helping us fund these outreaches. It costs about $20/child to provide a meal, craft/art supplies, transportation and a gift for each child. Gifts typically include toys, hygiene items, school supplies and food staples. If you can help, visit our donation page and select the designation “Christmas Celebrations”. Thank you for helping bring the joy of Christmas to vulnerable families!
Scroll below to see some highlights from past Christmas teams.
By Dawn Carnill, Director of Christmas Outreach
“Gracias!” “Dankie!” “Enkosi!” “Salamat!” “Sulpayki!” “Thank you!”
These words represent the spoken gratitude expressed among 3,500 men, women and children who celebrated Christmas with ER in December. Our staff and volunteer teams put on 25 parties in South Africa, Ecuador and the Philippines. ER partners celebrated with an additional 1,000 people after our volunteers left for home. That’s a lot of celebrating!
We played carnival games, served food, painted faces and nails, made crafts, took family Christmas photos, sang, danced and distributed gifts. We had parties with our education reinforcement program kids, with refugees, with seniors at a nursing home, and with those who work as recyclers in the Quito Dump. We had a safari drive “party”, a dance party with special needs adults, a breakfast party with a recovery group and a ladies pampering party. We had a parties at a hospital, at the beach, in churches, indoors, outdoors and on a basketball court. We had small parties and big parties. You name it; we did it.
Our Christmas Outreach has been going strong for 22 years. So many of you have served on a Christmas team with us. You’ve seen, first hand, the impact a little time, effort, love and a small gift can have on a child or an adult. You understand how a small token of love can give them a glimpse into something bigger than their daily struggles. You’ve witnessed what happens when they realize someone cares about them. It give them a little hope!
We build relationships with people to show we care and so they know they have value. They are worthy. They matter to us. And, more importantly, they matter to God.
Thank you for helping us do this. We appreciate every one of you who have served with us on a Christmas team (or many many Christmas teams) or have donated to provide Christmas gifts. You have brightened many lives. You have encouraged our staff and our partners. You’ve helped us have a greater impact on the vulnerable people we serve. You’ve helped create trust and opened doors with new people and communities.
Please consider serving on a Christmas Outreach team in November/December 2020. We’ll post the trip dates and costs on the ER Website by Feb. 1, 2020. Interested? Email me at Christmas@extremeresponse.org.
Christmas Outreach Shows Family is the Joy of Life
Jan. 1, 2019
By Dawn Carnill, Director of Christmas Outreach
It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! Time for shopping, school programs, cookie baking, present wrapping, decorating and partying. It’s also a time to spend with family. It’s Christmas Outreach time.
We at Extreme Response (ER) hope you’ll have a wonderful time with your family this year, celebrating Christmas and ringing in the New Year. I was strongly reminded of he importance of a family during the holidays at one of the ER Christmas parties in the Philippines. Seed of Love is a wonderful organization that operates a Ronald McDonald type house for kids receiving treatment for cancer at the Philippines General Hospital in Manila. Their house, called the Shelter of Hope, is home to about 30 kids and their parents. Many of them stay for a year or longer.
Just a few weeks ago, we held a Christmas party for the Seed of Love kids, their parents and siblings. The theme of their party was “Family is the Joy of Life”. There were about 80 kids plus the adults. We had a great time playing games, making crafts, painting nails and faces, singing and dancing. It was wonderful to see the mothers let loose and just have fun posing for pictures and dancing. They don’t have much joy in their lives in their current situations and this party gave them a much-needed mental break. During the program, one of the patients took the microphone to share something.
Rafael, an 18-year-old cancer patient, made his way to the stage with his crutches. The first thing I noticed was he’s missing most of his right leg. He started off by saying, “Thank you God, for this big family!” Everyone clapped.
He then shared about himself. How he had never met his father. That his mother has been in prison for most of his life (and still is) and was being raised by his aunt when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2016. He has Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor (also known as neurofibrosarcoma). Because of his illness and lack of means, his aunt wasn’t able to continue caring for him.
In February of 2018, he was sent to the Philippines General Hospital for treatment – alone. His doctors knew of ER partner Seed of Love and contacted Junie and Aura, the directors of the program. They agreed to take Rafael in – to provide him with a place to stay, the nutritious food he needs to continue his treatment, encouragement and that one special thing he’d always been lacking – love. Rafael thanked Junie and Aura – and commented on how he now has many mothers to help him along this journey at the Shelter of Hope.
After the program ended, I asked Rafeal for more of his story. He’s such an engaging and eloquent young man and he was happy to share. He told me he’s now enrolled in college, studying Information Technology and that Junie and Aura are now his guardians. I also asked him more about his cancer and treatment. He told me his type of cancer is chemo-resistant and gave me a bit more info on that. When I asked him where he was at with his treatment, his response was, “I’ve finished with treatment. I’m now in palliative care.”
Wow…Palliative care. Words escaped me. How was I supposed to respond to that? I just looked into that young man’s eyes. Instead of fear and pain that one might expect after uttering those words, I saw excitement that he was gong to college (something he thought he’d never do – cancer or not). He showed a contentment that only someone in his shoes could ever feel. I saw a love for his new family. He exuded joy.
None of us knows how long we will be on this earth. I want to be like Rafeal – taking advantage of the time I have. Expressing thanks for what I do have. I want to challenge each and every one of you to take this Christmas season to show love and appreciation to your families – because family really is the Joy of Life.
Volunteers Discover Passion to Help Others
(Sept. 15, 2018)
Helping families in developing countries is only half of the story. Volunteers on our Christmas teams often find the experience so impactful that their lives are permanently altered. We asked some team members to share their personal journeys.
Terri Ramos, Santa Maria, California
“I have been a part of four Christmas teams in South Africa, Ecuador and the Philippines. Each trip was completely unique. I’ve grown and stretched out of my comfort zone every time.
“I love seeing how ER supports its partners. Caring for people in the field is so important. My passion is to encourage and uplift those who serve people who are needy and hurting. That’s why I love serving with ER. They go into communities with a heart to serve, equip and build people up. I want to be a part of that!”
Evan Kleinhaus, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Louise Carver, Bristol, United Kingdom
“In addition to serving longer stints in Ecuador and Manila, I’ve been on 12 Christmas teams in ER’s three regions. I’ve been fascinated by the different partners ER works with, to see the diversity of support and learn how locally run partners use different approaches to support local needs.
“The children I work with are growing up and I love watching them progress. I also treasure the international friendships I have made at the Christmas parties.”
Christmas Celebrations Rock!
(December 15, 2017)
ER has been hosting Christmas Outreach Celebrations for 21 years. Hears a snapshot of our 2017 celebrations:
- 40 parties
- 4 countries
- 4 teams of volunteers
- 80+ volunteers and staff
- 17 ER partners engaged
- 5,000+ people reached
But those numbers don’t begin to describe the impact of these Christmas Outreaches. The real impact is what takes place in the hearts and minds of the people who attend and the volunteers who serve on our teams. All year long, ER staff and partners reach out of people living in harsh conditions in squatter communities, refugee settlements, barrios or on the street. Most of the people we help are generationally poor.
How We Help Vulnerable People
In response, we offer nutrition, education reinforcement, job and livelihood training. We run programs, help our partners with their programs, build homes, help feed hungry families and much more.
One of the best times to provide hope is during our Christmas Outreach. We celebrate with entertainment, games, crafts, food, gifts, family photos and the Christmas story. For many who attend, these outreaches are the highlight event of their entire year. These events are life-changing for some as they hear and respond to the Christmas story.
Thank you to all who volunteer or support these outreaches.
21 Years of Christmas Impact
By Dawn Carnill, Director of ER Christmas
During the past 21 years, Extreme Response International has celebrated Christmas with nearly 150,000 of the poorest of the poor. These celebrations have provided hope, built trust and been the catalyst for deep relationships. If you know ER, you know we believe it is through these relationships that true life-change takes place.
That’s what we’re about – changing lives – and it all started with that very first Christmas party in 1997.
The Early Years
Extreme Response was launched in the Quito Dump in Zámbiza. It developed when a group of expat friends living in Quito got together to reach out to the people living and working in the local garbage dump. To celebrate Christmas, these friends gathered their kids, some big pots of chicken and rice, more than 200 pairs of boots and shoes donated by HCJB World Radio missionary families, some make-shift carnival games and set up in the dump right in the middle of the trash piles. The dump families played the games and tug-of-war, made crafts, watched a puppet show and live entertainment and received raffled gifts. Everyone got a big plate of chicken and rice, bread, cookies and juice.
Miraculously, the food stretched from the 300 that had been planned for to the 500 who attended. Volunteers ended up running around the dump, picking up plates and cups to re-use, but the food never ran out.
Our first group of volunteers from Grace Fellowship Church in Georgia came to help the next year, a tradition that has continued with many churches and groups sending teams. The annual event has grown and changed over the years. In 2001 a second party at Remanso de Amor (Haven of Love) in South Quito was added. Donors provided funds in 2003 for Christmas parties at Living Hope in South Africa. In 2004, our first team of volunteers traveled to Cape Town to help put on parties with Living Hope.
We also began funding for parties in other locations, including Honduras, Ivory Coast, Ghana, India, Nepal, Malawi, and Russia. We added six parties in Quito and another on the coast of Ecuador in December 2006. A team traveled to Manila, Philippines, to celebrate Christmas with partner Youth Mobilization in 2007. In 2008, our first Christmas team traveled to Nepal.
This year we celebrate our 21st anniversary of working in the Quito Dump. We continue to celebrate Christmas with our own programs and partners located around the world.
Our goal with these celebrations is the same – to bring hope to the hopeless and cultivate relationships, to help our partners reach out to those with whom they work and to celebrate the joy of Christmas with those who wouldn’t have the means to do it otherwise.
Thank you to those of you who have served with us on a Christmas team, those who have become Christmas team junkies, and those who have given so that we can celebrate with the thousands of people we touch. We can’t do this without you!
Christmas Outreach – A Family Experience
By Dawn Carnill, Director of ER Christmas
It’s that time of year again. Time to start shopping for gifts, thinking about decorations, school parties and Christmas vacation. Time to start making memories with your family.
We here at Extreme Response love celebrating with our families too. I love getting together my kids, parents and siblings. It makes the holidays even more special. I also love celebrating with our extended ER family – our programs, partners, staff and Christmas team members.
For the past 21 years, we’ve been celebrating Christmas with some of the poorest of the poor. We began with providing a celebration to the families that lived and worked in the Quito Dump. Over the years we’ve celebrated with more than 141,000 people. That’s a lot of parties and a lot of people. Most of those parties consist of 100-2,500 attendees. Some are for entire families, others are just for kids and a few are only for the adults. The smallest party we put on is for one particular “family”. The African Hope Trust family.
African Hope Trust is an organization based in Masiphumelele, South Africa that operates “safe houses” taking in abused and abandoned children and fostering them in a safe and loving family environment. Currently it consists of two houses. Each one with a house “Mom” and six children. The houses are right next door to each other – so the mom’s can help each other out. A third house is nearly ready and they are currently looking for another house parent.
The African Hope Trust party is a bit different than our larger parties. From 2011-2016, the ER South African Christmas Teams took the kids to a local pizza restaurant with a big play area and a nearby petting zoo. We did crafts, painted faces and took instant photos.
Last year the restaurant happened to be closed, so we set up a mini carnival at The Team House, the guesthouse where our ER Christmas team stays. We had pizza, played carnival games, jumped rope, did some crafts and had a great time.
Christmas Outreach Provides For Kids
Each and every child received lots of individual attention. There were 12 kids and 24 team members. The house parents got a much-needed break and our team loved pouring into these precious kids that have been through so much. We were able to go above and beyond with their gifts – school backpacks filled with school supplies and lots of other fun things. We were able to talk together, play and laugh together, eat together and build relationships.
This year, as you get ready to celebrate with your family, please consider giving so that we can help our ER families, like African Hope Trust, celebrate too. $20 is all it takes to provide Christmas for one of the impoverished children we will reach with our celebrations in South Africa, Philippines and Ecuador.
We couldn’t do what we do without all of you. If you’re interested in serving on an ER Christmas team this year, contact us at Christmas@extremeresponse.org for details.
It’s the Little Things that Matter
By Dawn Carnill
Director of Christmas Outreach
(Nov. 7, 2014)
It’s almost that time of year again. The television commercials have already started and it’s time to break out the Christmas music (much to my family’s chagrin).
At Extreme Response start planning for our Christmas parties in January, so we’re well on our way to another great year. 90 people have signed up and are ready to travel to Quito, Manila and Cape Town. We’re in the process of gathering thousands of small toys, hygiene items and school supplies. Emails are flying back and forth across the globe. There are parties to schedule, buses to rent, sleeping arrangements to make and food to order.
Yes, things get pretty crazy this time of year. My husband Jerry and I will be on the road for four weeks as we travel to the South Africa and Quito parties. It’s exhausting and a bit overwhelming. Why do we keep doing this after 18 years? What difference can a little party with food, games, crafts and a “token” gift really make?
Last year was our fifth year leading the South Africa Christmas team. There we put on more than 15 parties in 10 days, sometimes as many as three per day. Our sixth party – and the second of that day – was in Red Hill, one of the communities that ER partner Living Hope works in.
The team was getting a bit tired. It had been “one of those days.” The gift bags didn’t make it with the rest of the supplies, the crafts were nowhere to be found, we had 200 hotdogs to cook over an open fire, the kids were wound up, and one of our team members had an accident and was taken to the hospital (he recovered!).
Christmas Outreach Provides Colgate Moment
Needless to say, I felt a bit discouraged. But the party had gone well, all things considered. It was time to hand out the gift bags, so I grabbed my camera to get a few shots of the kids opening their gifts. It’s one of my favorite things to photograph. As I came around the corner, a girl, probably around 8 or 10 years old, ran up to me and opened her gift bag. She shouted, “Look! I got a Colgate! Of my very own.” She proudly showed me her full-sized tube of Colgate toothpaste and skipped on.
Wow. That much excitement – over a tube of toothpaste. No, she wasn’t being sarcastic. She was genuinely excited because she appreciated the gift and the party. This young lady appreciated our time and effort and your generosity. She doesn’t take things like this for granted. Our being there and providing that party for her made a difference in her day (at the very least).
She had a reason to smile. A reason to skip. A reason to celebrate. She helped remind me that we do all this to bring a little hope, to build trust and to cultivate the relationships. That day, I realized that something as insignificant as a tube of toothpaste can make an impact.
Are we ready for another great year of parties? You bet we are!
We also collect gift items all year round. If you’d like a list of our needs, please contact me at Christmas@extremeresponse.org.