We arrived at the carepoint in the morning when the younger kids were getting ready to eat their morning porridge and most of the older kids were in school. We all spread out and spent time with the kids - singing, laughing, playing games. Michael, the youngest on our team as a teenager, was a hit with everyone because he loves to play soccer (or futbol as they say in Swaziland.) Soccer is HUGE there and all of the kids love to play. We also spent time with the bomake - helping with the cooking and serving. A couple of the gals on our team even learned how to make rope-type twine from fibers from a local plant.
We also had a drawstring backpack for each child - inside the backpack was a Create Hope t-shirt, new underwear, a small bag of candy, and hygiene items appropriate for the different ages and genders.
The absolute best part of the gift giving came next: the sponsor gifts. Danielle had spent many, MANY hours working on getting and organizing letters and gifts from each child's sponsor. We turned the letters into "Love Cards" that were colorfully decorated - and each child received a personalized card along with the gift that their sponsor had sent.
This part took the longest but it was worth every minute. As each child came through the line they would sit down with one of us and a translator. We pulled the Love Card out and read from it. We explained to each child that this card and gift was from their special friend. I was blown away by the responses from the kids...the younger kids sat with wide grins as we read them stories about their special friends and asked them questions that the sponsors had asked about them... "What is your favorite color? Who is your best friend?" The older kids were even more fun in this station - many of them knew who their special friend/sponsor was from the letters and emails that had been sent to them. I heard several of the older kids ask about their sponsors by name. We would read the Love Cards to them, sometimes through a translator but not always. Most of the older kids know English fairly well because it is taught in school. The kids loved hearing about their sponsors and their families. The sponsors shared about their jobs, their hobbies, favorite scripture verses. It was really a connection for the kids - and of course they loved the individual gifts that were sent - but the Love Cards, those were like treasures to each and every child.
If you have ever wondered about sponsorship, whether through Children's Hopechest or another venue, wondered if it's a load of bull or if it really does make a difference let me tell you this: I have seen the difference with my own two eyes. I see that the money goes into these communities, into the lives of these kids. I have seen the look on these kids' faces when you mention their special friend - they understand that someone out there in the world has chosen them. It is a thing of beauty.
After the kids went through each station we had them line up to get new individual photos taken. It makes me laugh when we do this - both two years ago and this time we went through the same routine. The kids would be chatting with friends in line, casual and laughing, but as soon as we had them ready to take their photo they would put on a straight or stern face. I'm not sure why this happens - it's the young ones as well as the older ones. I'd make goofy faces and dance around until they would laugh. We started doing the classic "Say cheese!" and the kids thought it was hilarious. Even after they were through the line I would randomly hear kids walking around repeating "Say cheese!"
My favorite part of the day was when I got to connect with one of the kids that we sponsor. I first met Sphelele on my last trip to Bheveni. She was small and sweet and walked up to me and held my hand - I was in love. As soon as I got home from Africa the last time I checked online and found that Sphelele was not sponsored yet and our family immediately chose her.
Me with Sphelele, 2011
When I saw Sphelele this time I couldn't believe how much she had grown. She was pretty young when we met the last time so I'm not sure if she really remembered me but she was full of hugs and smiles just the same.
Me with Sphelele, 2013
I sat down with her and she immediately sat on my lap. I asked her how she was doing and she replied with "My name is Sphelele. I am a girl. I am 5 years old." She melted my heart with her sweet voice - even though I realized that she didn't understand what I was asking. Gcebile, the preschool teacher, is working to teach the young kids some English before they start school. She has taught them the basics, like what Sphelele said to me, and they also know a few songs and other basic sentences in English. They are still working to understand English and I know that all of the Swazis have mentioned that we Americans talk too fast - that it's hard to understand what we're saying. :)
My communication with Sphelele and the other little ones was limited (unless some of the older kids were around to translate) but I have to say that it wasn't as much of a problem as you might think. When Sphelele sat with me I just held her and rocked her and we would sing together. I loved every minute and she seemed to be enjoying it as well.
I was also able to show Sphelele a small scrapbook that I had made for her - pictures of she and I from my last trip and also pictures of Dustin and the kids. We sat together and went page by page through the scrapbook and I watched her wide eyes light up with the pictures of us and then get even brighter when we got to the pictures of Miles, Linus and Greta. She LOVED those!
Spending time with Sphelele was even more special to me because during our 2011 trip I learned about her living situation. Her homestead is one that is unfortunately not too uncommon in Swaziland. She is one of 10 children living in a home with no parents. Both of her parents have died and her older siblings have taken on the role of caregivers. She does have an aunt and uncle that live on the same homestead (or property) but they are not interested in taking care of these children so they are pretty much left to fend for themselves. Theirs is most definitely a situation where the carepoint system has been a life saving opportunity. The youngest kids have a safe place to be while the older kids are in school. The older kids are able to go to school because they get help with funding their education through HopeChest. All of the kids benefit from guidance, discipleship, and at least one warm meal a day.
When I held her in my lap and sang songs with her I knew that even when I couldn't physically be there with her, the little money that my family does spend through sponsorship helps care for her and her siblings. And I love that she will now have that small scrapbook as a reminder that we love her and think of her every single day.