Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Death of a Child Did For Other Children

The Touch A Life Foundation was founded in June of 1999, after Pam and Randy Cope suffered the death of their 15-year-old son Jantsen. Just hours after this otherwise healthy, athletic, remarkable young man finished football practice, Jantsen died suddenly from an undetected heart defect.

Afterwards, while dealing with the tremendous grief of losing their son, Pam and Randy decided that in lieu of flowers at his funeral, they would ask people to donate money to a memorial fund established in Jantsen’s name. To their surprise, they raised nearly $25,000.

Unsure of how to spend the money—thinking first that they would build a playground in their hometown of Neosho, Missouri or buy new uniforms for the girls’ soccer team—they eventually decided to donate a portion of the funds to their friends who had built an orphanage in Vietnam.

To ensure that this was the best place for Jantsen’s money, Pam, Randy and their 11-year-old daughter Crista traveled to Vietnam to visit the orphanage.

It was here that everything changed!

The poverty suffered by people in Vietnam was nothing like Pam or Randy had experienced before, and as they walked the streets of cities like Saigon and Danang, they began to pay attention, and eventually get to know, some of the children forced to live and beg on the streets. After returning home, Pam began to read about the problem of street children in Vietnam, commonly known as doi moi, or “dust of the earth:” about the beatings and fear they were forced to endure, their hunger and malnutrition, and, worst of all, their chances of being picked up by child traffickers and forced to work in hard labor conditions or sexual bondage.

Hoping to do their part to save at least a few children from this fate—and a future in slavery—Pam and Randy decided to partner with volunteers in Vietnam and use Jantsen’s gift to rent a house in Saigon, hire houseparents and bring in fifteen children who would be given a permanent home, an education, medical care, and a chance to be part of a family. A few months later, they rented another house, brought home fifteen more kids, and Touch a Life was born. Today, the foundation supports 211 children in eleven group homes throughout Vietnam.

In 2006, Touch A Life expanded their work across the globe to Ghana, West Africa, after Pam and Randy read an article in the New York Times about the thriving child slave trade there. Thousands of children, some as young as five years old, are sold to work in the fishing industry or as domestic servants in the Lake Volta region. After learning of the neglect and abuse these children are forced to endure on a daily basis, the Copes knew that Touch A Life had to get involved. To date, working in partnership with a remarkable team of Ghanaians, TAL has rescued 68 children from slavery and built a residential facility where these former slave children can live, receive an education and have a chance at hope.

Visit the Touch A Life Website.

In April of 2009, Pam’s memoir was published to critical acclaim. Read about this book:
Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue and Grace and order your copy. What an inspiration of what can happen with the bad events of our lives.

The Touch A Life team is now based in Dallas, Texas.

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