Kyliegh Kite and a team of volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse traveled to the Philippines earlier this month to deliver thousands of toy-filled shoeboxes to impoverished children.
The boxes were packed as part of Operation Christmas Child, one of the primary yearly projects carried out by Samaritan’s Purse.
The effort, started in 1993, encourages individuals all over the world to pack shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, personal hygiene products, candy and other goodies for children in third-world countries.
Kite visited the Philippines with a group of 80 volunteers, separated into teams of seven.
Volunteers brought with them shoeboxes packed by residents from Lincoln, Cleveland and Gaston Counties.
The team had more than 35 distribution sites in the Philippines alone, helping make dreams come true for children ages 2 to 14.
At each distribution site, between 75 and 400 children waited eagerly for the boxes, Kite said.
The 30-year-old Mooresboro resident has been volunteering as an area coordinator for Samaritan’s Purse for nearly three years.
Her love for the organization ignited more than a decade earlier at age 18, when she signed up with her church in Ellenboro to pack boxes at one of the Operation Christmas Child distribution centers.
Over the years, she worked her way up through the ranks, eventually securing her current volunteer position, managing a group of 30 each day.
Her job also requires she conduct meetings and events for the organization, speaking at area churches, businesses and other locations to raise awareness about Operation Christmas Child.
Because it’s rare for volunteers to travel overseas, Kite said she couldn’t believe she had been chosen for the trip.
“I never dreamed that I would get to go,” she said. “They called me, and I thought it was an April Fool’s joke.”
In addition to her duties with Samaritan’s Purse, Kite works part-time as a 911 dispatcher for Rutherford County and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in religion, interested in pursuing a career in children’s counseling.
“I see a lot of people at 911 who need a lot of help,” she said.
Working with the children in the Philippines impacted her greatly during her one-week stay this month. Her group returned on May 24.
While she said she and other volunteers felt weary and fatigued following the emotional trip, they were also sad to leave the smiling young faces of the children, with whom they had developed close relationships.
Unsure how to react to the American team at first, the Filipino children eventually opened up to the volunteers, Kite said, once they learned they could trust them.
“At first, they were really shy and weren’t smiling,” Kite said, “but after we got down and starting playing with them…they were climbing all over us.”
Children were particularly enthralled over finding school supplies in their shoeboxes. Other favorite items included sports balls among the males and stuffed animals among the younger ages.
Throughout the week, the children grew in their friendliness with volunteers, and Kite most remembered them blowing kisses to the group one morning, almost missing their school bus because of the focus they had on their new American friends.
The children even joined them during their morning devotions each day and participated in their own Christian praise and worship.
“It was neat to watch the kids sing in their own language,” Kite said.
The Samaritan’s Purse volunteers first handed out the shoeboxes to each of the nine pastors living in the provinces of Cebu and Bohol. The religious leaders, in turn, distributed the boxes to area villages, with volunteers by their side.
The pastors used the shoeboxes as a way to build relationships with their own people and, Kite said, they often venture out into the surrounding communities for a period of 20 days at a time, encouraging people to go to church.
During the group’s visit, volunteers witnessed first-hand the country’s devastation from a powerful earthquake in October, followed by a deadly typhoon in November.
“The mayor’s house was completely gone,” Kite said, “and some churches only had one wall left.”
Yet, even in the midst of such poverty and need, the children proved happy and content.
“They weren’t focused on their comfort like we are,” Kite said. “Their living conditions were horrible in some of the slum areas. Even our poor people don’t have it (that) bad.”
Portions of the homes were comprised of a light wood material, she noted, while others were pieced together with just tarps and paper.
“Whatever they could find to make houses,” Kite said.
She noted how with a church on every corner, and the Gospel’s prevalence in American society, U.S. citizens don’t have to go far to hear Scripture or receive charity.
She said individuals in impoverished countries lack most necessities and have less opportunities to attend church.
So when people ask Kite why she can’t fulfill her calling on American soil, where human needs are also great, rather than provide for children abroad, she gives a simple answer.
“That’s just where my heart feels called,” she said.
Any church, business or civic group in Lincoln, Gaston or Cleveland Counties interested in learning more about Operation Christmas Child or booking an event with Kyliegh Kite can contact her at (828) 748-2297.