Children International: Meeting my Sponsored Children

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Jennifer has already blogged about meeting the child their family sponsors and she has expressed in her very compassionate way the feelings that those of us who sponsor children feel when we get the opportunity to meet our sponsored kids.  But I would like to add a little of my own color to those feelings.

I have been sponsoring kids in West Bengal through Children International (CI) for over 25 years.  My first trip to Calcutta was a deeply moving experience and left me with the understanding that I could no longer live my life the same way.  I currently have four children (shortly to be five) that I sponsor in West Bengal.  Two are in rural areas and two live in the city. 

RURAL VISITS

I saw both of the rural children first.  Teresa and the kids plus a couple people from CI went on the trip.  Even though the sponsored children had been sending me letters for some time my first thought was how strange it must be for them for this American to descend on their village and on them.  I was determined to make them as comfortable as I possibly could.  A large group of family members gathered for the visit, which I think, helped to ease the shyness of the sponsored kids.  The large group of people also gave Teresa and the RTW kids a great opportunity to interact with the extended family and get a picture of village life in India.

Both families subsist on less than the poverty level of $ 2 per day.  Yet they seemed quite comfortable in their small houses.  In one of the houses a long ago forgotten special gift had enabled the family to rebuild their house in concrete. I was deeply struck by the fact that a relatively small act on my part could have such dramatic consequences for them.  Both children were thoroughly engaging.  I am sure that there had been some rehearsal of what to say and do when the American sponsor came but there was also a genuineness that shined through.

I left the villages feeling a connection to the children that I had not felt before and with a solemn promise to write to them.  Simply making the monthly and special day payments was not enough.  The kids wanted to feel connected to me. I will set aside time to do this.

URBAN VISITS

The urban visits were equally rewarding but perhaps more poignant.  I always find urban poverty more difficult to experience, particularly where it involves children.  There is nothing that sends me into thinking about the state of the human condition than seeing a street child trying to navigate the chaos of Calcutta traffic.

Both kids were great.  The first visit was with a 15 year old girl named Arzuma that I have been sponsoring for some time. Her situation dramatically illustrated the impact the sponsorship can have.  She lives, as most people in the Narkeldanga slum area, in a one room home with 7 other family members. I use the term “slum” with some hesitancy.  Slum infers something impermanent.  That is not the case with this area of the city. The area has a long history, having belonged at one time to a Maharajah displaced by the British.  It was overrun with squatter dwellings until a terrible fire generated a rebuilding in brick and concrete.  The buildings are dark and densely populated but they are permanent structures. And each one has the feel of a small urban village.  People live on top of each other but they also share a sense of communalism missing in most living situations.

But back to Arzuma.  She has three older sisters.  All three of them dropped out of school after the mandatory fifth grade education and were married quickly after that in arranged marriages.  Economic pressures dictate the timing and conditions of marriage for so many of these girls.  Arzuma, on the other hand is determined to get an education and being sponsored through CI has allowed her the opportunity to avoid the common situation of early marriage and child birth.  Her mother is very supportive of her getting an education and appreciative of the opportunity that sponsorship brings for her daughter to get a good education.  I don’t think I ever really emotionally understood how powerful sponsorship can be until that moment. This girl is getting the opportunity to take a different course in life and I helped make that happen. Wow.

The final child was delightful young boy named Farid.  He is 8 and a bundle of energy and smiles. He is also elliptic and access to services through CI is helpful in his ability to navigate life. He has a brother who is a year younger than he is and it was obvious that they were inseparable.  I inquired about his brother and found out that he was waitlisted for a sponsor.  It made me really happy to be able to offer to sponsor Farid’s brother and think of the two of them at the nearby CI community center together.

The two things that I came away from my visits with were:

  1. Sponsorship matters !!!  Sponsorship is not just about maybe making things a little more comfortable for people who do not have a lot. Sponsorship is about changing lives. All five of my kids are in school and stand a much better chance of staying in school. The mandatory universal education grade has been raised to 8th grade in India, still far short of a quality education. Sponsorship is creating opportunities for the Arzumas of the world that otherwise would not be there.
  2. Stay in touch with your sponsored kids.  I had an opportunity to watch the kids creating the letters that sponsors get. They put their hearts into those letters.  Sending them a letter back is extremely meaningful to them.    
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Posted on: February 10, 2011 | Categories: India, Uncategorized

 

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