Maybe we cannot each change the whole world, but we can each change the world of a child, and that child will go on to change their world and our world too!
That’s why sponsorship matters so much to me! When you sponsor a child through World Vision, you're not only personally showing love to a child in need, you’re also investing in a proven way to help that child and their community stand tall, free from poverty.
Here's my story...
In 2011 I was serving as a Youth Leader in my church and looking for ways to educate the kids on global issues, find some fun things to do with them, and engage in some kind of meaningful service activities. I found all of that with World Vision's 30 Hour Famine which was an amazing opportunity to learn more about that year's theme (the 2010 earthquake in Haiti) and how it impacted people's lives in so many ways. There were eye opening activities that taught us about human trafficking, disaster relief efforts, and hunger. Our participation supported World Vision's international efforts while also encouraging us to participate in local service projects which we did by feeding and connecting with the homeless population in our town. Every kid was deeply impacted by those 30 hours and so was I. It was so well organized, informative and effective, I wanted to look for other ways to get involved with World Vision, which is when I first became a sponsor.
When I found Esther's picture on the website I knew I wanted to connect with her. Esther was just 4 years old when we started sending letters, drawings, pictures and packages back and forth. It was always so incredibly exciting to receive mail from her, especially her annual progress reports with updated pictures. About once a year I would make a special donation through World Vision to her and they would meet with her family to determine their greatest needs and then go with them to their local market to purchase those things - supporting both Esther, her family and their local economy. Whenever I have given a special donation I have always received a letter in response with a picture of her with whatever was purchased and a thank you note. I was always so eager to see what it would be and usually blown away by the results. Sheet metal to repair the roof of her home, goats for family income, school supplies or uniforms...it was always an incredible feeling to know that from wherever I was at the time, I was having a direct impact on her and her family and community. I was actually DOING something useful to better lives. Sponsorship isn't just about the money though, letters of encouragement to let kids know they matter and are loved have a huge impact too. When I first started with Esther she was primarily carrying water to support her family. Over the course of our relationship World Vision was investing in her community and working alongside them to achieve their development goals in a sustainable way. She began school, remained in good health with annual check ups, and eventually passed her national exams to go on to her next higher education. She told me she wanted to be a pilot, which was extremely impressive and exciting to me because that was something so outside of what her initial exposure and goals were. A couple of years later I had seen a story on Facebook about Rwanda's first ever female airline pilot who happened to share the same first name, Esther. Her dreams were expanding and becoming more attainable thanks to World Vision's work in her community, and I got to have first hand exposure to all of it through sponsorship.
Life threw me some curve balls and I went through some of my own financial struggles for a bit, but I always prioritized remaining her sponsor because the less than $40/month I would spend on eating out or part of a tank of gas, etc. was having such an incredible impact in an area that I felt needed it more and I had the blessing of remaining grounded through those personal struggles having an understanding of how good I still had it by comparison to some of the struggles others face.
World Vision's model is to have an exit strategy when going into a community. From the very beginning they work alongside the people there to set goals and support the unique needs of that community to help break the cycle of poverty through microfinancing loans for small businesses, teaching sustainable and effective farming practices, educating on human rights and working with local governments to support expanding those rights, supporting Water, Sanitation and Hygiene efforts and access, building schools and hospitals, and so much more. After 10-20 years they hand over all those efforts to the community to continue managing for themselves and celebrate with them over the progress made. At that time when a community "graduates" from the program, sponsorships come to an end, which can be a bittersweet experience celebrating the joy that it is no longer needed, but sad to no longer sharing that regular communication and connection with your sponsored child. And so it went for Esther and I, but her pictures are still around my home to this day along with my scrapbook full of letters and drawings from her and envelopes with unique stamps from Rwanda.
My experience with World Vision has always been that the more I learn about their work, the more I want to be involved. In all these years I have never discovered any big bad secret or disappointment in this organization. In 2014 I wanted to expand my involvement with World Vision and became a Child Ambassador, advocating for kids and seeking to find more sponsors to join in this beautiful and essential work of tangibly making the world a better place. I have gone on to sponsor 10 more children around the world over the years, some for many years and some briefly when their communities were already nearing their graduation time. I connected with each child for different reasons - seeking to sponsor older girls in areas like Albania where human trafficking was an especially high risk, knowing that World Vision assigns a community worker to each child that regularly checks on them to make sure they are where they should be and safe and to educate them and their families about some of those risks and how to avoid them. In the height of political immigration battles I sponsored young boys in Central America to both improve their lives there and convey they were loved and important despite all the news cycles vilifying their nations and people. I still think about the impact of one letter I received with Alexis proudly standing with some bags of cement mix and a small bedframe with a mattress. Thanks to a small monetary gift I sent through World Vision, his family was going to be able to pave the floor of their home and he also now had a bed to sleep on...what?! That shook me to my core. It was a small monetary gift - pave the floor of their home and provide a bed. Wow. Another one of my children was an orphaned boy in Sierra Leone, an area heavily impacted by the Ebola pandemic and also sadly known for diamond mining with child labor. Despite all that, Morison had one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen and would wave and giggle enthusiastically in videos I got to see from him posted on my World Vision portal page where I can connect with my kids information and updates digitally beyond those treasured letters. When an earthquake struck in Indonesia, I was able to reach out through World Vision to check on Alika's status and make sure she was safe and contribute to disaster relief efforts in the area.
World Vision is very transparent with their work and it is always possible to go meet your children too. While I haven't managed to make that happen just yet in my own life with time off, moves, etc. I was privileged to come across some of World Vision's work on a deployment and got to see their national office in Senegal where they planned for and managed local Area Development Projects and translated the letters from Sponsors for their children before delivery. I also got to see a community that had graduated from World Vision's more active role there and the members of the community were eager to show me how they continue to run the projects for themselves from their local community center. They also showed me their microfinance loan office and took me to a school where there was a deep water well for clean water easily available to the students as well as computers in the classrooms - in a country where I had also observed families with babies sleeping in the streets, the areas where World Vision had worked was THRIVING even after they had left.
Now that I am a parent myself, I cannot imagine not being able to give my children food or milk when they are crying that they are hungry, or to not know that they are safe at night when I tuck them in. I am thankful to be able to rush them to the doctor for their little colds or ear infections without having to worry about those progressing into something worse. I also get to share the stories, pictures and letters from our sponsored children with my own children to teach them about other places around the world where their "friends" live, and hear them say thank you for things like shoes and cozy bed at night since they have seen pictures of their World Vision friends with no shoes. My oldest daughter, who is just two, beamed with excitement when we got a picture showing that a special gift allowed our friend to go buy shoes, and again when one of our other friends sent a drawing they had done of our dog who had been in a picture we sent to them.
Clearly I could go on and on about the impact I have seen and experienced in my own life from this relationship with World Vision, but more important than any more stories from me, I want to invite you to share in this amazing connection and create your own stories. I would love to help answer any questions and enable you to join in making a significant impact around the world and to have your own world blessed by a child you sponsor. Please consider it, why not become a sponsor today?