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.
Photos and story by Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean
Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. This is the second of two parts of her story. Read part one here.
Having filled some of the most basic needs, village leaders soon decided that we needed an emergency route in case someone needed to be taken out of the village for medical reasons.
More than 50 years ago, people had built a path across a 250-foot gorge with rocks and dirt, connecting Boetica and Laplaine. Now, it needed to be tackled and tamed once more. Villagers placed a rope over one side of the cliff, then scaled the cliff and climbed up the other side.
During the next few days, helicopters brought in much-needed supplies, and we decided at a meeting that we needed to get the sick and elderly out. Eight people were airlifted, and soon, children and youth who attended school and college in town were airlifted too. Firefighters helped us bring in supplies with a pulley over the gorge once helicopters were no longer available.
A century-old villager died, and his coffin was pulled across the gorge to its resting place. Electricity returned almost two weeks after the storm, so I was able to receive and send emails. I visited several of the ChildFund-enrolled children’s families in Delices (though the road remained dangerous, especially when wet), helped in village cleanups, distributed relief supplies and assisted in any other way I could.
Getting out of the northern section of Boetica to the rest of the island is no easy feat; neither is it for the weak nor faint-hearted. I dared not climb the ladder or crawl down a cliff using a rope, and I didn’t walk along cliff edges or on the deserted beach, either.
However, with families to serve and community mobilizers to support, my task would have been impossible without the village heroes. I am able to function effectively as a sponsor relations officer (despite being cut off) because villagers climb the ladder and ropes and help me carry letters and other documents from the area offices to ChildFund Caribbean’s national office. Thanks also to the staff members who supported me in so many ways.
My experience is overwhelming evidence that the local people are the first responders. They have the skills and experience of traversing this terrain and, most importantly, the resolve to create the means of survival in times of disaster.
Read more about Dominica’s flooding and support ChildFund’s Emergency Action Fund, which helps us react quickly to disasters and provide help to children and families in the immediate aftermath.
By Flavia Lanuedoc, ChildFund Caribbean
Flavia Lanuedoc works as a sponsor relations officer for one of ChildFund’s local partner organizations in Dominica. She lives in Boetica, a village that was cut off from help after flooding from Tropical Storm Erika in late August. Despite spending her whole life in the area, Flavia had never seen anything approaching a disaster of this magnitude. Here’s part one of her story. We’ll post the second part tomorrow.
The early hours of Aug. 27 had brought with it torrential rains, so I peeped outside to survey what damage had been done. To my disbelief, the yard of the house where I had lived all my life had turned into a raging river.
As I turned from the window, I saw that water and mud were rushing in through the other door. I screamed and ran to wake up my children. Within a split second, water was gushing into the house, bringing with it thick mud. It soon became obvious that our efforts to prevent the water from entering were futile. We gave up, and our focus now turned to saving the items that were at floor level.
Soon, seven men barged into our yard. Every community has “village champions” who carry out search-and-rescue efforts, even if they have little or no training.
These men were bearing news of hope as well as horror. Their tidings still resonate as if it was yesterday: “Give thanks, all of you. Say praises to the Lord, because if that road in the corner did not break, all of you would be dead.” And without even pausing, they entered the house and began assisting us. It took all of us over an hour to clear the mud from inside the house and then pour buckets of water to clean it off. They quickly moved on in search of another family in trouble.
After the rain ceased, it was time to survey the village. I was amazed at the devastation. We were blocked from the nearby village of Delices, on the southern end, and the main bridge on the northern end linking us to the rest of the island was gone. There was rubble and debris all over. We were trapped in the village without water, electricity and means of communication.
Dominica has been identified as the island in the Caribbean with the highest number of cell phones per capita, but that meant little for our village and our ability to reach the outside world at a time when it mattered most. Going from one village to another was dangerous, as one had to go through huge mudslides, boulders and rocks. Before long, a villager discovered one little spot with cell reception, and it became the meeting place where villagers would gather to contact their loved ones and transact business via phone. Those from the neighboring village who were cut off by a landslide braved the dangerous journey to that little spot to communicate with the outside world as well.
With no electricity in the village, it was hard to keep phones charged. But as luck would have it, a shopkeeper had a small generator, so villagers were able to recharge their cell phones there. Meanwhile, the owner of the village shop had to begin rationing his stock to ensure that everyone was able to have some food and drinking water.
The days that followed were hard on my children. My 17-year-old son refused to sleep in the bedroom and chose rather to sleep on a chair so he could keep an eye on the door to see if water was again coming in.
Tomorrow, making contact with the outside world.
As you may recall, we met a ChildFund alumnus from The Gambia, Momodou Bah, this summer when he was a Mandela Washington Fellow, an honor bestowed annually by the White House on 500 young African leaders. After going to Washington, D.C., for the fellows’ week-long summit — and meeting President Obama — he and his sister went to Boston to meet Momodou’s sponsor, Debbie Gautreau. It was a very special meeting, and you can read all about it. Today, Momodou is back in The Gambia, employing the ideas he learned during his stay in Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, and Debbie hopes to visit him next time in Africa!
By Agueda Barreto, ChildFund Brasil
Six-year-old Guilherme was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in a neighborhood that has seen significant criminal activity. He’s a lively and curious child, full of energy, and his life has improved a great deal since his mother enrolled him in ChildFund’s programs.
Guilherme and his younger brother, 4-year-old Gabriel, participate in activities at ChildFund’s local partner GEDAM. He and his brother no longer have to stay at home as much or at someone else’s house while their mother works. They can be children! Today, Guilherme’s writing a letter to his ChildFund sponsor with his mother, Fabiana, helping him.
“I’m writing the second letter to my sponsor, and my mom is helping me, so the letter can be beautiful,” Guilherme says. “I love to write to him, and I’m happy when I get news as well. Here at the organization, what I like to do most is judo, play soccer, jump rope, read books, dance, paint and color.”
By ChildFund Vietnam Staff (first used on ChildFund Australia’s blog)
Bui Thi Nhu grew up in a remote village in Hoa Binh, a rural province in northern Vietnam. Her parents were both farmers who worked hard to provide for the now 28-year-old Nhu and her two siblings.
“I was born into a poor family,” Nhu remembers. “Like many other people living in the same village, we relied on agricultural activities for our living. Life was difficult, and the local economy was weak. I still remember the image of my parents working and sweating in the paddy fields on hot summer days.”
When Nhu was 13, she was sponsored through ChildFund by an Australian sponsor, Brendan, and his family. Nhu felt like she had another person watching over her. “I was very motivated by my sponsor through our letter exchange,” she says. “From my perspective, the most important benefit of being an enrolled child was the huge encouragement I received that encouraged me to strive for my future.”
As a child, Nhu dreamed of treating the sick. Today she is turning that dream into a reality. After graduating from a medical college in 2008, she now works as a health-care worker in the community where she grew up.
I want to express my deepest appreciation to my sponsors. They made me what I am today.
“I feel proud of what I can do as a health officer,” Nhu says. “I love to give treatment to children and take care of them. Children are the most vulnerable and need proper care. This is my passion.”
Nhu has watched her community in Hoa Binh transform over the past 20 years, when ChildFund began its work there. “Sponsorship has made community development programs possible,” she says. “There have been big positive changes in our communities. Schools have been rebuilt with sufficient facilities so children have better access to basic education. Today, 100 percent of the children in my community are able to go to school and receive a good education.
“With ChildFund’s support, many roads were reconstructed using concrete. This has made traveling more convenient. Canal systems have been improved to enhance agricultural production. Clean water supply systems and sanitation facilities have also been constructed.”
As if her job as a health worker didn’t keep her busy enough, Nhu also has also worked with ChildFund Vietnam as a sponsor relations volunteer for the past five years. It is her role to deliver letters from sponsors to the children in her area and help them write letters back, as well as encourage all of the children to get involved in ChildFund-supported activities.
“To me, volunteering for ChildFund is very meaningful since I can make a significant contribution to child development,” Nhu says. “I see this volunteer job as a way that I can help other children to enjoy the same opportunities I had when I was small.”
Although she has aged out of sponsorship, Nhu continues to feel motivated by her friends in Australia. “I want to express my deepest appreciation to my sponsors,” she says. “Thanks to them, I received a good education and had the will to strive for success in my study and my work. They made me what I am today. As a grown-up, I am trying to devote my little effort to help the local community and children, just as my sponsor helped me before.”
You can learn more about ChildFund’s work in Vietnam over the past 20 years and read about sponsor and race car driver Pete Olson’s efforts to help a community in Hanoi.
Photos from IREX and Momodou Bah
This week, Momodou Bah, a former sponsored child from The Gambia, took part in the Young African Leaders Initiative summit in Washington, D.C. He and 499 other Mandela Washington Fellows, chosen from a field of 50,000 applicants to represent Sub-Saharan African countries, met President Obama in a town hall meeting and discussed important issues faced by Africans, including the empowerment of women and girls, addressing HIV and AIDS, making educational opportunities available to more people and building their nations’ economies.
Read more about the fellowship program at Virginia Commonwealth University and what the president challenged the Fellows to do as they prepare to return home in coming weeks. Also, stay tuned for a second blog post soon about Momodou’s experiences at the summit and his meeting with his sponsor in Boston.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
It’s a rare and special treat to meet a former sponsored child in person. Many ChildFund alumni live in their home countries, often a long way from the United States.
Momodou Bah, a 30-year-old man who grew up in our programs in The Gambia, showed up one day this summer at our headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. Word quickly spread, and we were all excited to meet him — especially when we learned that he had won a Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a prestigious honor the White House bestows on a few hundred African men and women each year.
Momodou is The Gambia’s youngest elected ward councilor, a position similar to a county supervisor, which he’s held since age 22, soon after he aged out of ChildFund’s sponsorship. On the council, Momodou represents eight villages, including the one where he grew up as one of seven children in a poor household.
As a Mandela Washington Fellow chosen from a field of 50,000 applicants, Momodou is among 25 women and men between the ages of 25 and 35 who are taking immersive courses in political and civic leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The six weeks of classes (as well as meetings with Virginia’s governor and other government officials) culminate in a three-day summit in August in Washington, D.C., with the rest of the fellows, who are spread across the country at different universities. They’ll get to meet President Obama, too.
“We learn how things really operate in the government, in the courts, in the police departments — and how to build better institutions,” Momodou explains.
We plan to check back in with him after he meets the president, but we wanted to share his remarkable story — and the fact that he has reconnected with his sponsor.
“It was my life’s dream to get an education,” he says. “My parents are subsistence farmers of groundnuts, rice and millet for family consumption.” Momodou has two elder sisters, one of whom lives and attends college in Washington, and four younger brothers. He also has two sons, who are living in his family’s home while he attends the fellowship classes here.
When Momodou was in second grade, he was sponsored by Debbie Gautreau, who lives in Massachusetts.
As his sponsorship began bringing him letters and photos, as well as support to help his family pay school fees, he says, “I thought first, the world is full of good people.” He attended a primary school built by Catholic missionaries in 1949 and was one of the youngest students there — and considered one of the smartest, he says with a laugh. Momodou’s educational background has helped him in his current position as a ward councilor, representing people who speak four different dialects: Fula, Mandinka, Jola and Wolof.
“I went to school with children from these communities,” he says, explaining how he came to understand and speak all four dialects.
ChildFund still impacts his life in many ways. Momodou served for three years as board chairman for a group of local partner organizations that work with ChildFund in his community, and both ChildFund International and ChildFund Deutschland (our Alliance partner in Germany) have contributed assistance. In Momodou’s ward, there is a water and sanitation project that has delivered clean water to the population of 600. His boys, ages 5 and 6, have attended our Early Childhood Development programs too.
“They’ve learned to say the alphabet and name animals and objects,” he says proudly.
Debbie, who spoke with Momodou over the phone, said that she is thrilled to reconnect with him after 12 years. When they last were in touch, he was entering an information technology program post-high school, with plans for a career in the field.
“I feel like he’s my third son,” Debbie says. “Some of my friends and family remember when I sponsored him. He was very ambitious. School was very important. He seemed like he was going places.”
She was 28 when she first sponsored Momodou, near his current age, and Debbie says she has saved all of his letters and his first picture. They hope to meet while he’s in the U.S. this summer.
“He made me cry,” Debbie says, recalling their first phone conversation. “He’s just so kind and appreciative of my help.”
And true to form, Momodou continues to have great ambitions for himself and his country.
“I wish to continue on my political career to the highest level possible,” he says, perhaps as a national legislator or even The Gambia’s president. “My sons are expecting their father to come back a different person.”
Stay tuned for a second story in August, after Momodou takes part in the Mandela Washington Fellows’ summit and meets President Obama — and hopefully, and possibly even better, his former sponsor, Debbie.
By Raphael Opira
Raphael, a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency in Uganda, wrote this article about his experience being sponsored as a child and later meeting his sponsor in Sydney, Australia. The story was first published on ChildFund Australia’s blog.
Life was simply so challenging before I was sponsored. I am one of 15 children. My father made just $50 a month to support us, so it was very hard for my family to pay school fees for us all. The difficulties were compounded by Uganda’s 23-year civil war. When I was introduced to ChildFund, it was a turning point in my life.
When I was a child, we lived in a refugee camp. Outside it was unsafe, but it was also not safe inside the camp, as the enemy forces would sometimes come in and raid us for food, or to kill or steal children.
I lived with my family in a makeshift home in the camp from the late 1990s until 2006. When we moved to the camp, the focus moved from education to security. During this time, many children couldn’t go to school. We also could not put on lights to study at night because the enemy would find you.
When I was 12 and attending school again, I was sponsored. The biggest benefit of being a sponsored child for me was that I didn’t have to worry about school fees anymore. Instead, I could concentrate on my studies.
Sponsorship pulled me from nowhere to being able to have a good life in Uganda. It was like a bridge; if that bridge had not been there, I would not have been able to get to the other side.
Even as a child, I knew that education was most important, because if I am educated, all the rest will come. Before my last year of primary school, a friend and I spoke to the ChildFund officer and said we wanted to be transferred to a better school. He assisted us with the application. Our parents didn’t come with us, and the school was afraid we wouldn’t be able to pay our fees. We told them, “It’s OK, we are with ChildFund,” and it was OK. I turned out to be one of their best students.
Raphael was accepted into one of the top high schools in his district. He then went on to complete an undergraduate degree, and he has recently finished postgraduate studies. He now works as a logistics officer for a Dutch aid agency.
ChildFund was my launch pad. If I had not been sponsored, I think I would be a peasant farmer or doing odd jobs.
Sponsorship may not translate directly to a successful career, but it does provide the environment and the resources you need to succeed. After that, it is our responsibility to make the most of the opportunity. For me, it was the beginning of a very bright future. I’ve spent most of my time so far at school, and I am going up from here.
I am now married with three boys. My children will go to the best schools in the district, but I don’t want to have any more children because I want to be able to support other children and make an impact in their lives.
My goal for my life is to ensure that people succeed through me.
I am now part of the ChildFund Alumni Association. We are a group of 300 successful formerly sponsored children who are reaching out to the next generation of Ugandan children. We are teachers, university lecturers, social workers and lawyers. I am in procurement and transport.
After reconnecting with Michael Coorey, a former teacher in Australia whose students sponsored Raphael through ChildFund Australia, Raphael made the long journey from Uganda to Sydney to meet him in person this year.
When the time came to meet Michael, it was something that cannot be described. It could just be felt. It was a moment in life that nobody can imagine to be true. It is a very good feeling for someone who has been sponsored through ChildFund for this to happen.
When I first started to think about a way of conveying my heartfelt thanks to my sponsors, the first thing that came into my thoughts was to name my last born in tribute to him. That is why my 4-year-old son is called Emmanuel Coorey. To actually meet Michael in person was unexpected but definitely a dream come true!
Coming to Sydney was such a special time for me.
I went to the school that sponsored me to meet their students. Speaking to them was a very big achievement for me. Interestingly, other teachers who were involved in my sponsorship were still there, and they were wonderful to meet. It was great that they, too, could see the impact they have had on me.
Read Michael Coorey’s observations about sponsoring Raphael and watch Raphael’s message on video, below.