For almost fifteen years, I’ve sponsored children in developing nations through Childreach/Plan USA. This is not the most personally meaningful thing I’ve done in my life, but it’s significant in many ways. For example, fifteen years is a long time to do anything. It’s almost half of my life, after all, and I’ve done nothing that lasted as long as that. Even college and grad school took less time.
The cost is pretty low– $24 a month. It’s slightly more than an Audible.com subscription, but considerably less than most cell phone plans. They have an emergency fund to help cover children when the sponsor can’t pay, or if something happens– there were a few months in college where I had to skip my Childreach payment because it was either that or my Top Ramen. When I got a little extra money, I would donate it to the Emergency Fund, to help make up for my own lapses.
In terms of the correspondence, you have to understand that most children in developing nations never learn to read and write. This is particularly true of those I’ve chosen to sponsor– girls. The community and family are very important, so I will usually receive a letter from an aunt, brother, or the local Plan USA contact person, rather than the child herself. This doesn’t bother me; I’m a fan of hearing from anyone. After all, the letters are handwritten. They arrive every six months or so, and I get an annual report on the region and the photo and personal update from my sponsored child.
Without my sponsorship, I would probably not have learned about Ecuador, the home country of my first sponsored child, Doris. Doris graduated out of the program when her community achieved adequate self-sufficiency.
My second (and current) sponsored child is Zuonoga, from Burkina Faso. Before I was her sponsor, I had never even heard of Burkina Faso– I certainly couldn’t find it on a map! But now I know that the main industry is agriculture (Zuonoga’s family has a farm), and that it’s a small land-locked country in Africa. A land-locked country in Africa is not an easy place to be.
As you might know, I keep a few scrapbooks, starting with my rejection letters. I like the idea of using scrapbooking for things that aren’t just photographs, so I have scrapbooks for my sponsored children as well as my family albums and my rejection letters. These books tell a story of a relationship that is both impersonal and intimate at the same time. As her sponsor, my role in Zuonoga’s life is limited to what I can write in a short, translateable letter. And yet, in her last letter, she told me that she had recently travelled out of town to celebrate her sister’s wedding, and the photos I received showed a smiling, confident young woman. I have had no role in raising her, yet I was proud and happy that her family was doing well, and that her community was being helped by my donations.
Plan USA isn’t a “pray to Jesus to get food” type of program. It has a specific mission of helping children, and kids graduate from the program when they turn 18. Because some children are close to graduation day when they lose a sponsor or enter the program, there are a number of children who are available for only a year or two before they will leave the system. 77% of Plan USA’s funds go to program services, helping the families in need, and each family only has one sponsored child. Although sponsors are not encouraged to give their home address, they are welcome to visit the community at any time.
Anyway, on to the sales pitch (it’s a soft pitch, I promise). Last week Plan USA sent me a “new sponsor kit” because they know that word of mouth is a great way to get people to sign up to be a sponsor. As a result, I have in my hands the photo of a very cute child in a yellow sundress, from Paraguay. She’s five years old. She lives about twenty miles from an active volcano range (I only know this cause I saw lava on the satellite view of Google Earth!) If you’re a friend of mine and interested in sponsoring her, drop me a note in the comments. If you’re interested in sponsoring a different child, feel free to head over to the Plan USA website, learn more about the program, and choose a child to sponsor.
I write this blog post hoping that some of my friends will decide to sponsor a child, through Plan USA or another program, of course. I write it also in hopes that my friends and readers will post in the comments about their own experiences as a sponsor. But most of all, I write this blog post hoping that my friends and readers will learn a little bit about what it’s like to sponsor a child, and why I continue to do it.