Last year after trying to organize our annual Children for Children concert (HERE) right in the thick of Christmas week (loved it, but the timing was not the best idea), we vowed we’d do it the first Monday of December this year.
And because our neighbors (who we’ve joined with to do this concert the last few years) are on the ball, we did 🙂
Ha!  I’ve got to give us a little credit too…although we were still scrambling last-minute, we did have the organization we were raising money for all picked out nice and early and already had a personal relationship building there.

Because we are going there for Christmas.  And our neighbors are too.
This year we raised money for OSSO (Orphanage Support Service Organization).  
It’s funny because we both came to know about OSSO through totally different sources.  My friend told me about this organization last year when I was looking for some service opportunities for our service trip with Grace and Claire.  (We took Max and Elle to India when they were about the same ages …back HERE…and HERE…and all India posts are linked up on the blog sidebar…and have always planned to take the next ones on a different trip.)   My friend’s son had worked there for an extended period of time and she had the best things to say about it.  Then I found out my other friend’s niece had served there for months as well, and I talked to her at length about how that program works.  I made some initial contact with the organization to find out more but by that time Grace had secured a pretty great internship in China for the summer so we put it on the back burner.  
In the meantime our neighbors met a family who had gone to this same orphanage one Christmas a few years back.  Their daughter had been serving there for a few months and she claimed she just could not leave those kids for Christmas.  So they all joined her there.  Our neighbors sent their son to work there last summer, (I didn’t even know it was at the same place I had researched before), and decided they wanted to go this Christmas.  When they asked if we wanted to join them we were already half way there.
When we found out that Max would be gone for Christmas again, and we wanted to do something meaningful along with him this season, we knew this was what we wanted to do.  Sure, we’d be on the other side of the planet from where he would be, but we wanted to give our Christmas away just as he was.  There are so many ways to give away Christmas right where we are, of course, but this one really spoke to us this year.
So, long introduction, but we had our project for our Children for Children Concert picked out easy peasy this year.  Those kids over there need lots of things.  It is a special needs orphanage so they need everything from wheelchairs to breathing tubes to adult diapers to food and even help with legal fees to help some of the children become adoption eligible.  There is also a need to repaint some things in the orphanage that hopefully we’ll be able to help with, and their dream is to some day have a washer and dryer.
Since Claire and Grace had both taken a year serving as the “masters of ceremonies” for the concert, this year our neighbor Drew took the reins and made it his Eagle Scout project.
You see, a Children for Children concert is planned by children, performed by children, and those children raise money (their parents pay to watch them perform) for a specific cause each year. (more about the history of these concerts back HERE)
These kids planned…

…and beautifully executed a great night.

As people came in we had them help make snowflakes:

(Our plan is to turn the orphanage into a winter wonderland on Christmas Eve, and snowflakes are an easy thing to take part of the love from these people here over to those people there.)

Our neighbors invited their friends who had spent Christmas there a few years ago (who also happen to be our friends…and who had the snowflake idea:), to come share some stories in between the talents being shared.

The stories and experiences they shared were incredible…and made everything so personal…especially thinking we would be there doing the same things in a matter of weeks.

The talents shared by the kids included everything from magic tricks:

 …to piano:

 …to jingling jingle bells:

 …to guitar:

And some gymnastics routines and singing too.

The dad of the family who had served in Ecuador before shared a quote about how children need not only to be loved, but they need to love

He was sharing that referring to the children at the orphanage…it is so good for them to be loved but also to develop love for others…those who are serving them.

But as he shared that quote I couldn’t help linking that thought to these kids getting up there to perform that night.  Performing is not easy for most.  But tears welled up in my eyes especially when the kids who were so dang nervous got up and performed.  Sharing those talents to raise money to help those kids over in Ecuador is a beautiful thing.  It was their act of LOVE they could share.  And I loved it.

Lots of great talent shared, so proud of those kids.

A few more snowflakes made as everyone was leaving.

And now we have a whole pile to bring with us to share as a symbol of some love from kids here in the desert.

There was a little box for donations from the parents (in exchange for the talents they were able to watch):

And these kids were pretty excited to count up the donations after everyone left and find that they had exceeded all their goals.

So grateful for all the wonderful support and generosity of so many…as well as a generous donor who is willing to match all those donations.  So excited to share how it all works out over there as these kids get to watch their work go to building better lives. 

And always, loving more.


  1. Excellent!!!! I have a heart for serving and giving to others. I do everyday, even though I receive a paycheck for my service. If you do not have a heart for serving others, you will never make it whether there is a paycheck involved or not. (I am in healthcare). I love how all this fell into place for your family. I have a heart for the hungry, and those that needs clothing, single moms struggling, the homeless, the elderly, our veterans, people without transportation, the list goes on and on and I can only do so much. There is so much need in the world, here in the US and abroad. It's so wonderful to see young people learning about service for others. The BEST part of service is that YOU get more from serving than those you are serving. You will all be in my prayers as you venture south this Christmas!

  2. P.S. I am in awe of the girl in the middle who did the intricate snowflake! I am always cutting the wrong area and ruining my attempt at a basic snowflake! I can always look outside though since the snow is coming down right now!!!!
    Jamie Noto

  3. I am so impressed with how many BIG projects you are involved with–I seriously don't know how you manage to do it ALL! I love all the good you do for the world. Your family is truly a blessing.

  4. Raising money for worthy organizations is GREAT but I really have a problem with this poverty tourism. Your family heading down to Ecuador is about an experience YOU WANT for YOUR family. There's lots of documentation from people who run these organization that you are adding to their workload by creating more needs/expectations that they have to meet. Not to mention the inevitable photos of beautiful, needy children in blogs servings as props and background to your own children's experiences. These kids are REAL PEOPLE with needs as complicated, important, valuable, and nuanced as your own children. While you're "praying your guts out" for your kids to handle their iPhones responsibly and on your knees thanking Heavenly Father for his choice of soccer team these children are in really need of Gods' Grace through money, opportunity, education, and loving adults who stick around a lot longer than a few days. You will
    Go there and hand out toys, do an art project, and and hand out smiles. I bet they could do a lot more than that with the money it takes to fly a family of 5 or 6 to South America if you had donated it instead. Maybe even hire a full time person to lovingly take care of the kids longer term. But instead your kids will get an experience; excellent fodder for college application essays, personal testimony sharing, and personal
    Progress reports.

    1. @Jenny (also) I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable with activities like this but could never really express or put my finger on why… I feel like you’ve put into words, at least some of, the reasons I feel that way (though I didn’t realize it till now). I’m curious now, how you feel about service projects where people go to other countries to build homes for those in need. Do you view that as a “self service trip” or as something more helpful to the people in need?

    2. I'm no expert but I do think there are plenty of ways to help alleviate suffering at home and abroad. Traveling to help with reputable organizations after a natural disaster springs mind. Building housing seems like a great service too. I'm sure there are many other ways too…

    1. See my response to this first comment above, and thank you for the link to this article. It was well-written and articulates better than I can that yes, in probably almost every case, service trips help those who go on them more than those who they are helping. I love that the author calls it a "transformational trip" at the end, because that's exactly what draws us to it. Loved this quote:

      "A transformational trip should inspire us to become life-long learners, advocates for justice, better global citizens, and long-term supporters of organizations who are doing empowering, sustainable work. Much more than the impact of a one-week service project, the true benefit of a “mission trip” should be a life transformed and the ripple effect brought about by that new perspective."

      We are always trying to learn and teach and be transformed. So grateful for what our India trip did for all of us who went. It has changed many things about how we live life. And I love that we are aware of the good work being done there and that we can still donate and sponsor over there as well as other international organizations we've been made aware of through international service.

    2. You are so so right in what you are saying, Jenny. I hate this poverty tourism too. It' s what lots of German children do after school. Going serve somewhere. Because it will look great in their CV – but it's only for themselves not for these poor children. What use do they have from somebody coming for two weeks or three or four? None. No bonding is possible during such a short time. You are so right mentioning that the money it takes to fly 6 people down to Equador could be used much better than for Shawni's children to "grow" and "work hard".

    3. Although I didn't go with Osso, I did go to Ecuador and wortk in an orphanage while I was in college for several months. While I grew and learned, and enjoyed the culture very much, I also truly feel that the service I gave made a big difference for the kids and people that I helped.
      I guess I don't see the problem in helping others while letting your kids see the whole world. Shawni is very involved in giving local service on a regular basis. It's not like this is the only service she ever gives.
      I guess I'm just saying, give her a break. She's giving her kids an opportunity and they are actually meeting needs of kids. I know. I've been there in those orphanages, in those cities.

  5. I totally hear you. This is much more for us than for them, we are aware of that. We are so grateful we can love these orphans and be there with them but you're exactly right in what I think you're trying to say, anyone can do that. I'm not sure from what you're saying that you have read all the information about this organization…they do rely heavily on volunteers to take care of the daily needs of these children. From talking with many people who have served there before, we are confident that we will be very needed, and very exhausted at the end of each day.

    They don't allow volunteers to bring any cameras or phones in the orphanages for confidentiality purposes so although of course I'd love to capture what we do there for our own memories, I'm glad we'll be able to fully immerse ourselves in the needs that will be waiting for us.

    You are also right that this is definitely an experience we want for our family. We are always looking for opportunities like this one. There are so many needs in the world, right in our back yard and abroad. This particular one spoke to us from many directions this year and we are so grateful we will have the opportunity to learn and grow so much. Hoping we can help the children there learn and grow as well while we're at it:)

  6. It matter how the kids in the orphanage feel when they grow up, not how the visitor feels. It’s objectification. The developed world has spoken out about this. They need permanent people caring for them and local economy could use the boost to be hired to paint and such. Imagine if entitled families from Iran came to do crafts and paint a mural in an inner city school in Florida while on a trip to disney. How long lasting would that service be for the Floridians? This family clearly donates a portion of their income and spends time giving. This seems like a plug for yet another organization that does charity tourism. There was Mexico and India. Just go to the rainforest and vacation. A non commercial Christmas would be Santa only fills stockings, period.. and no immediate family gifts. Gram can send something.

  7. I don't know anything about this particular organization but this whole topic is JK Rowling's pet peeve and her main charity work is against orphanages. See her web site

  8. Thanks for your response Shawni. Glad we agree. I'm confused why you keep calling this a "service trip" if you share my perspective. (I do understand this is the language used in places like Gilbert, AZ but really think about it). Seems like a "self service trip" would be more accurate since this is all about your kids having the opportunity to "learn and grow" and not really the "orphans" as you repeatedly call them. Perhaps a "vacation in Ecuador" would be a more positive, accurate way to refer to this trip for your family?

    My point overall point is basic; it would be better for the children in need (although not for your children) if they had consistent, loving caregivers who could speak to them in their own language to have meaningful Conversations , connections, and read to them etc. The fact that this organization is organized to "rely heavily on volunteers to take care of the daily needs of these children" is problematic. What if all the people who came in and out of these kids' lives instead used their travel money to hire long term loving caretakers who could connect with them in their own language and came from there own culture? We haven't even touched in the crazy white savior racial dynamics you are teaching your children! Swoop in; swoop out. Pat on the back for your sacrifice

    If Lucy was in a facility like (and I am very thankful she is not) this would you prefer her to be cared for my folks who came in and out every or by a more permanent staff? What would be best for her? What does it feel like to be these kids and "loved on" my a different set of white faces who cannot speak their language every few days. Think about it! These children are as valuable and important as any child on earth. They are not props to teach your children lessons.

  9. And now that I've read more about the Lumos organization mentioned below I'll amend this to say think if all this travel money was spent reunited families or finding children forever homes.

  10. Yes that "wearelumos" sounds like a great organization. We are looking into a similar one in Ghana. Strong families are the answer to every world problem in my opinion. The bottom line is that there are hundreds of thousands of kids who don't have them. There are millions who lack clean drinking water, and millions more who don't have access to education. The number of refugees continues to grow exponentially. Women are discriminated against in sometimes violent ways, there is horrendous sex trafficking going on. The problems are endless. There are people suffering everywhere (see this link to see the tip of the iceberg: There is no one answer that is going to cure them all.

    On the bright side, there are thousands of good-hearted people all over the world who are "in the arena" giving their blood and sweat and tears to try to change whatever they can in whatever way they are able. And man alive, am I ever grateful for those efforts. As a family we have felt drawn to one of those organizations trying to make a difference (OSSO). We feel compelled to take our family to open our eyes to just one of the many problems the world is facing and to help one organization who is giving of themselves to alleviate something bigger than themselves. From what we understand, there are great long-term workers there and these children are very loved and nurtured well. And part of the money we raised is going directly to legal fees to help any of these children to be adopted. We are grateful for the opportunity to help (yes, I do feel like we really will be helping, we are not going into this blindly), and also to learn. We are hoping all our hearts will be changed for the better in the process (ours, the organization, the kids we will be helping).

    Can we change the world? Yes! We can add our light in whatever way calls us. It may only be a microscopic change, but our light can change things. It could be anything from opening a door for someone to curing cancer. The problems are abundant, there is no lack of ways to share light and goodness. May we all follow the promptings to share our light in our own unique ways and realize that everyone is going to be prompted in different ways.

    I'd love to do a blog post some time with everyone sharing comments about how they have shared light and been given light during this Christmas season. There are so many beautiful ways if we stop to notice them. I'm so grateful for the service that has been given to us, and also for the little things we've felt prompted to do for others. Today I'm concentrating on serving my own family better because boy howdy, I've sure been impatient with them the last couple days! I'm working on having a gentler mother's heart today:)

  11. Yes, the world has endless problems, disasters, and cruelties. Yes, there are endless ways to help. There are also ways to hurt even with the best intentions. I feel like you're pretty dug in here and not really listening or open to having a wider view. As you work with the children in Ecuador maybe you can think carefully about the experience through THEIR eyes and not just your own children's sparkling eyes. How do these institutionalized children react to an strange adult trying to bathe, change, and " love on" them?

  12. You also might want to reconsider your use of the word "blindly" when referring to ignorance (as in "we are not going in there blindly") since you are the mom of a child with diminishing eye sight. Seriously!?

  13. I don't know the answer to whether volunteer tourism, or whatever the phrase was, is good or bad, but I do know that my parents took us on mission trips every summer, mostly medical missions so maybe that's different, and it shaped who I am today. Would it have been "better" if the group of rotating strangers had somehow preemptively pooled their money over 12 years and hired a full time physician? Of course, but there must be a happy medium. Otherwise, you'll just hear from commenters saying your kids live in a bubble and have no idea how to check their privilege. Go. Your children will thank you.

  14. I'm sorry, Shawni if so many comments on here have dampened your excitement to go serve. This is the world we live in, where so many people choose to judge, tear down and intimidate. But i know there are so many who love, lift and encourage as well. I am sure you will help those kids feel loved and and cared for.

  15. K that is a bit melodramatic. I think the decision to participate in service tourism should be heavily scrutinized. Is it a net help or harm to the kids' who are sometimes used as props for first world kids to feel good about themselves? And "change their hearts"? I do actually think it would be a stronger statement to go on an actual vacation to Equador, stimulate the economy, still see poverty you won't see in Gilbert, and then allow THAT to transform you and propel you to donate funds to provide local, full time staff people to care for the kids. That will create a job, definitely help the kids more, and teach our priviledged American kids that not all "swooping in to love on people" is helpful, and though it would elicit maximum warm fuzzies for us, service should not be about us, and should be thoughtful not just well intentioned. I'm with JK Rowling on this, and didn't used to be, so I appreciate the discussion and wouldn't called it "intimidation, or tearing down".

  16. I have mixed feelings about these trips as well. Would just giving the money to the orphanage (the cost of the trip) be more helpful? Sometimes however the experience really does light a fire in the people who serve to do more, to change the course of their lives etc… I do have an issue with the statement that the kids in the orphanage need to learn how to love those who serve as well. My daughter spent a year in an orphanage. Loving strangers who leave after a week or two is not a heathy sustaining love. A lot of children who spend a lot of time in an orphanages have trouble developing long lasting bonds. When my daughter came home she would go to anyone who wanted to hold her and reached her arms to anyone. Although people loved this quality in her, we knew it wasn't healthy and were very careful to make sure that we (her immediate family) were the ones who held her and kept her very close to us and avoided large group setting until we really had time to bond. Indiscriminate "love" and affection is not healthy and although I guess it is good for the kids in the orphanage (the older ones) to know that there is a wider world out there with people who are interested in getting to know them, feelings of "love" are the result of a long term heathy bond and relationship, not something I think that can be developed in a short volunteer experience.

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