By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
In January 2006, Christine Umayam made a life-changing visit to the Philippines. The trip was her first and the children living in poverty shocked her.
“A lot of those kids on the street literally don’t have anything but the clothes on their back,” she said. “It was kind of a nagging feeling that I had after I went on vacation. I couldn’t forget the images of those kids. I had these feelings and I wanted to do something but I just didn’t know how. My routine life was never the same.”
One year later, in February 2007, Umayam returned to the Philippines.
“I wanted to go back there just to be sure what I was feeling,” she said. “It confirmed for me that I had to do something. I just didn’t know what it was.”
The second trip answered questions Umayam had. It was now just a question of what she, herself, could do.
The answer came to her on April 30, 2007. She realized that she could not stand it a moment longer and quit her job that very day.
Umayam started Child United on May 1.
“We’re an international relief organization,” she said. “We empower children through education. A lot of the kids that I saw never even had a chance to be educated. If you just provide one kid an education, anything like that, they have a door of opportunity.”
Child United works in three ways: The organization sponsors children who want to do more and receive an education, sends educational supplies abroad, and builds learning centers.
“It took a couple of years for me to get the nonprofit going,” she said.
Umayam has since gone back to work part-time as a web guru for Tribune Broadcasting (including Q13 Fox).
Earlier this year, Umayam attended a weekend-long leadership workshop. There, she met her friend and business partner, Fancy Frenchwood. Frenchwood is the owner of Sake in Seattle, a premier sake vendor.
“I was talking about my new company and at the time, I didn’t know about Child United, but I was looking for a nonprofit to align my business with,” Frenchwood said. “Christine began sharing her story and telling me that she was the founder and what prompted her to get involved. I was just really touched and moved by her passion and sincerity. She was just so genuine about it.”
Frenchwood made a decision during that workshop to support Child United through her business.
“[Umayam is] being true to herself and what her passions are, but she’s able to convey it in a way to others to help garner support,” Frenchwood said.
What also amazes Frenchwood is the sacrifices Umayam has made for Child United and the children.
“I would say that she’s certainly undergone a lot of personal expense,” Frenchwood said. “It takes a huge level of commitment and dedication to quit your job and start a nonprofit. That alone demonstrates her level of commitment to children around the world. Because it is a smaller nonprofit, she’s spending a lot of her own personal money to take these trips and taking time off work instead of vacationing. Those are the kinds of personal sacrifices I’m talking about. She’s made this a priority.”
Whenever Umayam is not working at Q13, she says she is dedicated to Child United.
“All of this time I put in is all volunteer time, she said. “It’s like running any other nonprofit. There’s always fundraising, always trying to get donations.”
Umayam and Frenchwood both have big plans for Child United in the future.
“We increase local awareness here where people want to get involved,” Frenchwood said.
“Globally, I’d like to partner with her and do multiple fundraisers with her where we can send those educational materials over. She has it broken down where she can sponsor an entire grade, so we’re trying to do it one at a time. I hope to travel to the Philippines with her next year so I can see firsthand what she’s trying to do.”
While Child United started out helping children in the Philippines, they have since expanded.
The organization donated supplies to the Haiti earthquake relief. The organization plans to expand to Uganda and the Dominican Republic.
At the end of the day, for Umayam, it is all about her passion.
“A lot of people go overseas and visit family members,” she said. “Not a lot of people quit their jobs to do something like this. My whole life is dedicated to Child United.” ♦
Ninette Cheng can be reached at email@example.com.