As a mom committed to raising a bilingual and bicultural child, I’m always looking for ways to open up my girl’s mind and perceptions beyond what she’s exposed to in her privileged (by many standards and depending on your perspective) life as a single child in Los Angeles. She goes to a dual language immersion school where she learns mostly in Spanish, but is exposed to the three other languages taught in her school. We also travel every year to El Salvador and Mexico to visit family and be immersed in the cultures my husband and I grew up in. We make sure we surround our home with elements of our heritage and Spanish is spoken and lived here all the time. But I still felt she needed a deeper connection to understand that not everyone in the world has all the things she’s lucky enough to have — including a set of loving parents, health, instant access to food and transportation, books, and so much more things we see as “basics” in our lives.
For years I had been considering sponsoring a child through one of the many non-profits that make it possible, but one day last December I finally opened my laptop to get it done. I realized that now that my daughter was 5 years old — learning to read and write and asking important questions about life itself — it was the ideal time to invest in this sponsorship that would support a child in need as much as it would create a necessary bond for my girl to have with another girl living an alternate experience, yet sharing so much in common.
My girl and I logged on to Save the Children’s sponsorship page and very easily were able to select a child based on what we knew we wanted:
1. Our sponsored child must be a girl. This was my daughter’s implicit request.
2. She must be 5 years old, just like my daughter. We figured it would be beautiful to have them grow up “together” and share in common what girls at that age love, and also realize their differences.
3. She must live in El Salvador. This is the country where I grew up and most of my family still lives in. I wanted her to learn more about a girl living there in underprivileged conditions. I also hoped that one day we could visit her.
Save the Children lets you select based on location, gender and age. We entered our preferences and that’s exactly how we found Brenda — a 5-year-old girl from a town in Ahuachapán, El Salvador. We immediately started our sponsorship (the minimum is $28 per month!) and sent Brenda our first email via our sponsor’s page. I truly had no idea if she would receive it or not.
A couple of months had passed and we decided to spend my girl’s Spring break in El Salvador visiting family. It occurred to me that while we were there we could pay a visit to Brenda. I had no idea if Save the Children did this or not, but I contacted them anyway. They were thrilled and eager to help me coordinate everything through the local office to facilitate our meeting.
To read the story about the actual visit and my daughter’s reaction to meeting Brenda for the first time, go here.
What I want to share now are the things I learned about sponsoring a child that I was totally naive about before this trip. I feel it’s super important to share this because I hesitated for years to sponsor a child out of sheer ignorance of how much my monthly donations could actually impact a child and her community. The impact is real and palpable.
7 Things I Learned About Sponsoring a Child 1 of 8
You can visit your sponsored child 2 of 8Most people have no idea that the option to visit their sponsor child actually exists. Pretty much every organization I've researched --including Save the Children, World Vision, Compassion, and others -- actually encourage their sponsors to visit their children. Of course, the trip can be costly and in many cases will require a lot of planning, but it's worth it both for you and for your child. Your visit also makes it real for them. They realize that the people behind the letters and the money that's helping fund things like clean water and books actually care about them enough to make the trip. It can change a person's outlook in life in more ways than one.
If you do want to visit your sponsored child one day, make sure you contact the organization you support way in advance. Most require an application form and a standard background check to be done before they can confirm your trip. Another idea is that if you're considering sponsoring a child for the first time, look for one that lives in a country you either already visit or would like to visit soon. This way it will be more likely you will one day be able to make it happen, plus you'll have one more deep connection to the place.
Sponsorship money doesn’t go directly to the hands of the child or her family 3 of 8The children that are being sponsored are actually ambassadors for their community. This means that the money you send every month is used to support the organization and the various projects they fund in different villages. Save the Children believes in not handing out money but, instead, in empowering the community to decide where they need the most help to educate and provide basic services for their children. They don't want anyone to become dependent of aid, but instead to become leaders themselves through capacitation and to eventually become self-sustainable.
The sponsored child becomes an ambassador for the community 4 of 8The child may not receive the money directly, but they know that through their letters and pictures the whole village is benefitting. This elevates their self-esteem and makes them feel a sense of worth. Brenda was a star the day we visited her.
The letters we send really do matter 5 of 8I met three of the local Save the Children volunteers that were so proud to tell me all about what they do. One of them (pictured above in the blue shirt) is in charge, among other things, of reading the sponsor letters to the kids. She was sharing that the letters are first translated and then sent to her. She doesn't open the letters or packages until she's with the kid so she can do it in front of her. After reading it and giving her any gifts that were sent, she then stays around to help the child write or draw a letter in response. She collects those and sends to the local Save the Children office for distribution. She's very proud of her job because she knows that's the link to the motor of sponsorship, but more than that, because it can truly make a child feel happy and special.
Sponsorship money and donations have a real impact in the whole country 6 of 8Save the Children programs have helped children and their families in many ways including health, education, emergency response and violence prevention initiatives. For example, 9 out of 10 children attending their early childhood development programs in El Salvador successfully reached first grade. I was able to see the school that Brenda attends that's partially supported by these efforts. I was amazed to see so many of the children wearing Tom's shoes that are distributed there for free. Even basics such as water and soap for proper hygiene were at hand thanks to efforts funded with sponsors' donations.
Sponsoring a child can really change many lives 7 of 8Not only is Brenda's life richer and more hopeful because of our sponsorship, but so is my daughter's. She's been clearly inspired by their meeting and is still talking about her, making her drawings and letters, and asking important questions about her life.
Photo courtesy of Save the Children.
The connection one can have with their sponsored child is real 8 of 8Yes, getting to meet Brenda has made our bond to her, her mom and community that much stronger, but I truly believe that the process of sending and receiving letters and correspondence can create a connection that's very real. As a sponsor, you can really become part of this child's emotional life and her of yours. It's priceless.
Photo courtesy of Save the Children.
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