By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
In the rural region of Jinja in eastern Uganda, the lands are green and lush. “It’s beautiful,” says Linda Williamson, who has been there twice to visit her sponsored child. “Their roads are rough. They’re dirt roads, and they’re hard to get by. The homes are very modest, and they’re mostly brick with tin roofs.”
The water is clean, but there is no electricity in the small community where 24-year-old Erie and his family live. Cell phones work occasionally.
The town of Jinja is a commercial center on the shores of Lake Victoria and the Nile River’s headwaters, but Erie’s family lives in a remote community where subsistence farming is a normal way of life. HIV and AIDS have had a devastating impact on families, as well as other health problems such as malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea. In Uganda, an estimated 2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS. Floods and droughts affect everyone’s ability to grow crops and maintain food security.
“They are really concerned about climate change,” Linda says of Erie’s family and others who live in his village. “They can’t anticipate the seasons’ changes the way they could before.” This can lead to food shortages, but as many other sponsors have noted after their visits, families often serve their visitors entire banquets to show their hospitality.
It was the same for Linda, who spent a day with Erie’s family and community leaders earlier this year. “There were so many people there who were trying to make this day special. There was so much food!”
Erie himself is shy and a delayed learner, Linda says, but during this visit, “he’d come and hold my hand and sit next to me.” His mother, in contrast, is very gregarious.
Sixteen years ago, Linda received a financial gift from a relative for Christmas, and she decided after seeing a ChildFund commercial (then Christian Children’s Fund) that she would use the money to sponsor a child. Her first visit to see Erie and his family was in 2008, and since then, they’ve become even closer. Now that Erie is close to aging out of sponsorship, Linda is planning to sponsor one of his younger siblings.
“I’m very bonded not only to Erie, but to his younger siblings and the whole family,” she says. “This is like my family in Uganda. This is a big part of my life, having this relationship for the past 16 years. My friends and family know about my family in Uganda. When I go to Uganda or do something for Erie, I’m the one who’s blessed.”
It often takes a full day to fly from the United States to India, counting layover time, and that brings you just to the nearest large city. To reach Dhodlamitta, a village in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, you’ll spend several more hours on the road.
This summer, a team of filmmakers, plus ChildFund staff members from India and the U.S., traveled to Dhodlamitta for an unusual purpose: to create a 360-degree video that will give viewers the experience of visiting the village. Using the 360 GoPro camera and other elaborate gear, the crew takes us to homes, a school and fields where people labor under the sun every day.
Annapoorna is our narrator. She’s a former sponsored child who is now a teacher, a wife and a mother. When she was growing up, child marriage was very common where she lives — and it still is in nearby villages. Sponsorship and ChildFund’s programs helped Annapoorna continue her education and finish university. She also is in a happy marriage that was her choice, and her daughter is thriving.
We hope you’ll take a look at the 5-minute video — and share it. Not everyone has the opportunity to fly across continents and oceans to Dhodlamitta, but we can offer you the next-best thing: an immersive virtual reality experience. You can also read more about Annapoorna and the making of the video.
Do you remember Phenny? She’s a former sponsored child in Zambia who now is a supervisor at one of the country’s largest automotive repair shops. We caught up with her recently during a trip to Lusaka, and on our website is a new video of Phenny recalling her tough life as an orphan and how sponsorship helped her continue school and succeed in her career.
“As you can see, I’m the only lady here, supervising a number of men,” Phenny said in our 2014 interview. “My life has changed positively, and I feel like I’m living my dream. I have dreams of meeting my sponsor to thank him and tell him in person what his support has done.”
Happy Labor Day, everyone!
If you’re thinking of becoming a sponsor, don’t take it from us. Take it from former sponsored children: You matter. We hear from many young adults who are involved in careers, higher education and leadership roles that they never expected to achieve before someone sponsored them as children. Your consistent support and encouragement help them pursue many kinds of dreams and even pass on your generosity to future generations. Here are just a few examples.
Paul, a teacher in Uganda: “My sponsor used to inspire me through the letters he sent. I used to wait so eagerly for his response whenever I wrote to him. He always reminded me to work hard at school.”
Makeshwar, a community leader in India: “We will always remain indebted to ChildFund and our sponsors. We have taken a vow, and we will continue to serve underprivileged children and help them live with dignity.”
Lidiane, a business owner in Brazil: “Today I am a warrior, a hardworking and brave woman, fighting for my goals and dreams, and you are part of this. I wish I could say more to you, but I can write a thousand words here and still would not demonstrate what you represent in my life story.”
Else, a nursing student in Indonesia: “I want to help cure people. My favorite subject is pediatric nursing. I love taking care of young children. Soon, I will be working in a hospital helping young children in need.”
Photos and reporting from ChildFund Ecuador staff
In many places where we work, it’s not unusual to see people cooking over open flames or on antiquated stoves. That can lead to a lot of harm, especially for young children. Many suffer from respiratory diseases from exposure to smoke, and some are hurt when hot water or food spills. Yolanda, a little girl in Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Province, suffered an unimaginable injury when she was 2. Her family’s wood stove caused a fire that engulfed their home at night, when everyone was asleep. She almost didn’t get out in time, and 80 percent of her body was burned. Yolanda lost her hands as a result.
Her parents were worried that she’d be mocked at school, so they didn’t enroll her, until ChildFund and our local partner staff members convinced her family that Yolanda would be better off in school. That turned out to be a good thing for Yolanda. Learn more about how she’s succeeding in a new story on our website!
Many of you are sponsors already — or are considering sponsoring a child. Because our organization has been fostering sponsorship around the world for many decades, we’ve heard a lot of heartwarming stories about these unusual and often close relationships: the meetings in person between child and sponsor, multiple generations of families sponsoring children and many more.
This week on the website, we have a story that takes a slightly different angle: Tracy, who sponsors several children living with physical or mental disabilities. She has cerebral palsy herself and has a unique understanding of their challenges, as well as the importance of giving the children encouragement. Over the years, Tracy has made a point to ask her sponsored children what they can do, rather than what limitations they face.
Belinda can hold a cup and drink from it. Stacy can write the words “cat” and “dog.” Millicent can stand with both feet flat on the ground.
Photography by Ron Wolfe, ChildFund Senior Project Manager
Ron Wolfe, who has worked in ChildFund’s Information Technology department since 2010, got to visit his 11-year-old sponsored child, Aminata, when he was in The Gambia earlier this year for work. As anyone who has met their sponsored child can tell you, it’s a magical event that helps families from different continents create close bonds. Read here about Ron’s trip and how he and his family are staying in touch with Aminata.
Clarita, 17, of Timor-Leste, regularly receives postcards from her sponsor. One of the most memorable postcards she received is the one with high buildings and long bridges of the city of Melbourne, Australia.
“I like this card because it’s like a memory from my sponsor,” she says. Photo by Kim Bomi of ChildFund Timor-Leste.
Reporting by Arthur Tokpah, ChildFund Guinea
We asked three girls from Guinea to share how being sponsored has changed their lives. The answers may surprise you. Learn more about corresponding with your sponsored child and what they think about your letters.
I am Aminata, and I am in grade 4 in elementary school. I live with my parents, my elder sister, elder brother and my two little brothers. In the photo, I am holding the books that my sponsor sent me that I love so much. They contain drawings and pictures of people and fish and a rainbow. At home, I take my time to color these drawings in my books. I am very happy to have a sponsor, because since I started attending school, she has always sent me gifts. Thanks to her, I am among the best students in my school.
Also, my sponsor has contributed funds for my village to get clean water. Before, the people of my village had to walk a long distance to fetch drinking water from the creek. But thanks to her, today my village has a well.
I consider my sponsor as a father who loves and watches over his family. My sponsor is very straightforward and rigorous; he often asks for details of all he sent me. I appreciate it this way. Thanks to him, I have cows, a family latrine and a rice farm.
For me, sponsorship is a way to help the poor families have better futures.
In the photo he sent me, my sponsor looks handsome with his family and his dog. One thing he often does in his letters is to encourage me to study well at school. But on the other hand, he surprised me by saying he was very attached to his dog, Emma, and that his dog had turned 7. That’s something we are not used to in my family.
My sponsor taught me to love, and to be generous and loyal to others. Through him, I learned about the celebration of Thanksgiving in his country, which resembles the way we celebrate the New Year of the lunar month in my country.
Sponsorship means a lot to me because it helps children have a better future through education.
Reporting by Paloma Gonzalez, ChildFund Mexico
Maria Elena (above) was enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in Mexico when she was an infant, and at age 2, she was sponsored by an American man, Hugh. Through the next 20 years, he wrote letters and sent financial gifts that her family used for clothes, shoes and food. Today, she holds a college degree in biology. Here are her words about corresponding with her sponsor.
Since I was an infant when I was assigned my sponsor, I wasn’t able to respond to his first letters, and my sisters wrote the answers for me! As time went by, I was able to write him directly, and we wrote every two months. He sent me letters, sweets, postcards and Christmas cards.
He always sent me words like “Yes, you can!” or “Go on!” and that helped me to keep going.
When I was going through elementary school, he would always send me letters to cheer me up. Despite the distance, he never forgot us and in his letters always asked about my family and how I was doing in school. It was very exciting for me because though we had never met, it felt great to have somebody showing such interest in me.
When I started high school, we kept exchanging a lot of letters, and he started to ask me about my future plans. At that time he told me that he was going to keep on sponsoring me for as long as I was engaged in the local partner organization’s activities and in my studies, as far as I wanted to go. That excited me so much, because since I was a little girl, my dream was to have a career. He always sent me words like “Yes, you can!” or “Go on!” and that helped me to keep going, because each letter encouraged me to go one step further.
My sponsor always motivated me to not give up, despite the many obstacles I crossed, and this is how I fulfilled my dream, and I can proudly say I have a degree in biology. It is the best thing that ever happened in my life, so I appreciate his trust in me and support without expecting anything in return.
This is why I invite all sponsors to write to their sponsored child, because a simple letter or photograph is exciting for us as children and brings us the best feelings and joy, and also motivation to keep going.
Read more about writing letters to your sponsored child.