Have you seen the commercials with Sally Struthers and that old guy who want you to sponsor starving kids across the world? You know the one...
Well, when I was a kid and saw one of those ads I wanted to blast my piggy bank apart and give every last cent to those kids. I couldn't believe that there were people in the world that needed food. Why couldn't everyone just share? Maybe not the good stuff like Pizza Rolls - but what about green beans or water chestnuts? If we had extra cans of that stuff in our pantry then surely others did too. Why not pass it along to the people who needed it?
As I grew older (and maybe a little wiser) I understood the economy and logistics and other things that made me realize that it might be a little harder than express mailing a can of corn overseas. I also (unfortunately) became more cynical. I mean, did the starving kids actually get the money and food? Was it some awful way to tug on my heartstrings while the kids stayed hungry and "the man" lined his pockets?
Even just a few years ago I was skeptical. Dustin and I sponsored a couple kids through Compassion International but I wasn't really sure how much help that was doing. I have a love for kids that has been with me ever since I can remember. I volunteered at my kids' school. I read stories to the Elementary kids wearing goofy costumes. I taught Sunday School to preschoolers. I contemplated going on mission trips through church but it just didn't feel like that was right for me. I wanted to do more... wanted to reach out and help but had no idea where to start. That's when I saw the pictures from Mike and Danielle's first trip to Bheveni Carepoint in Swaziland and I knew, I mean I KNEW that I was going to go there and be a part of something amazing.
Mike and Danielle work along side Children's HopeChest where Danielle volunteers her time as the coordinator for Bheveni Carepoint. She is an advocate for the orphaned and vulnerable children there - she works to get sponsors for each of the children, is the point person between the kids there and the sponsors here, and sets up fundraisers when needed for things such as the water well they now have. I know she does MUCH more than that, but that's just a brief overview. I remember contacting her about going on the next trip... I had no idea what I had to do or if there were criteria I had to meet - and she met with me and gave me a big, fat "YES!!! Come with us and meet these awesome kids!!"
I looked into HopeChest. I wanted to make sure they were legit. I trusted Danielle and Mike but my cynical brain just had to make sure. Everything I read about them, all of the testimonies, all of the stuff about Tom Davis, the founder (who wrote Red Letters), it was ALL good. "All right," I thought, "I'm going to give it a whirl."
I decided that since I was going to take the plunge and go visit Bheveni that I should be "all in" so we decided to sponsor a child there too. I looked through all of the photos and opted for a sweet little boy named Khaya.
When I first met Khaya once I was in Africa, he was pretty shy. Since we had just started sponsoring him, he only knew a few things about me and my family. Also, he was just 4 years old, so I'm not sure how much he really understood about our relationship.
While on that first trip, Khaya and I spent time together and forged a real bond. I also met an adorable 3 year old who didn't want to leave my side. She loved to hold my hand and she would sing songs in her soft voice. I fell in love. So once I was back home, I searched for her on the HopeChest website and lo and behold, she was unsponsored. Sphelele became our second sponsored child.
This past year, Khaya moved away from the area so we no longer sponsor him. This does happen time to time. Kids don't get placed in orphanages in Swaziland, they move in with family - even if the family members are in a different region. Children also move with family to find work or to get into a school that has room for them. Vukani came to us when Khaya moved. And after this past trip, I had sweet Tiphelele and her beautiful smile on my heart so we added her to our "sponsor family."
During my second trip to Swaziland, I got an amazing glimpse into sponsorship through two of the teenage girls from Bheveni and their sponsors, a family from our team. Britt had been along on my first trip but on this trip his wife, Pam, and their two daughters, Missy and Brittany, came along. Missy and Brittany had been writing to their sponsor girls at Bheveni but even they didn't realize the impact that they had on these girls. When they first met, there were hugs all around. It seemed that every time I turned around, Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe were laughing and chatting with Missy and Brittany. We all came to find out that the short letters that Missy and Brittany had sent were practically memorized by their "special friends" (that is the term HopeChest uses for the sponsor connection.) The girls knew all about what Missy and Brittany wrote - what they were studying in school, their hobbies, their family. They really were friends before they ever met in person. Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe even wrote letters to Missy and Brittany while we were there - letters that were so sweet and so kind that I started to cry when I read them. I hadn't really understood how much the kids over in Swaziland were affected by the connection of a sponsor until that moment.
The Bush family with Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe.
The "fab four."
In the past two years, there were a handful of times on each trip when a child would randomly ask me, "Do you know so-and-so? He/she is my special friend! She has a cat" or "He rides a motorcycle!" I was amazed at how much the kids retained from the letters they had received. Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised. In grade school I had a pen pal from Greenfield (which is, like, 20 miles from here) and I thought she was exotic! Just imagine how awesome it is for a child to know someone from a different country! I once sent a photo of my kids playing in the snow with one of my letters and 6 months later when I visited in person, I spent about 20 minutes explaining the ice on the ground and that yes, we can survive in that kind of weather!
And this year.... this year I got to share in some of that sponsorship love. The kids that we have sponsored have been relatively young. They seem to be more shy at first and I don't know that they fully grasp the idea that I am the same person that has been writing them. Plus, many of the littles haven't learned English yet so there is a language barrier there. But this year, when my plane came in a day late and I missed the first day at Bheveni with the rest of the team, our sweet Sphelele asked for me. Many of the younger kids grab hold of the first hand they can when people visit... anyone will do. But Sphelele looked for me. And that next day when she came in through the gates after school, she gazed all around. I could see her from where I was standing inside of the building. I walked out into the sun and when we made eye contact, she ran for me! She wrapped her arms around my waist and gave me a bear hug and I squeezed right back. She pulled me to the side, away from most of the others and we sat down. She speaks very little English still, but she tapped me and said "Margo." Then she did what she does so well, she started singing a song and my heart melted. She was singing in SiSwati and I have no idea what the words meant but it didn't matter.
So all of this to say that sponsorship really does matter. Of course the financial aspect is important. But even more important is the relationship. Some of these kids are lucky enough to have someone at home who loves them unconditionally. But for each child that does, there is one that has lost both parents, one that is suffering from abuse, one that is literally struggling to survive. And sometimes the only hope that they have is that there is a person out there that cares about them.
Sponsorship through Hope Chest is so much more than what you see on paper. I've learned so much about it through my visits to Swaziland than I ever could have just reading about it. It is a very real relationship between people - people that are across the world from each other and in most circumstances, people that will never meet. I honestly wouldn't believe in the connection if I hadn't seen it for myself.
If you have ever considered sponsoring, please give it a try. To do so through Children's HopeChest: click here (Hopechest.org) This is Bheveni Carepoint's page. Look through the photos and find a child that isn't already sponsored. Follow the instructions on the site and start the awesome journey!
What to expect:
1. The cost is $38 per month. Notice that I didn't write JUST $38 - because I know that while some could spend that amount without much hassle, for some that is a lot. For our family, we have had to make some adjustments in our finances. We've had to sacrifice in some areas (which, to be honest, isn't a real sacrifice, if you know what I mean.) It means not going out to eat once a month or skipping the waterpark. Maybe passing on Caribou coffee a few times a month.
2. Writing letters about once a month. HopeChest has made it super easy to contact your child. On their website there is a "write" tab on the screen and you can email your child! It doesn't have to be a long, philosophical letter. I just write a few paragraphs to our kids - they love hearing about what our kids are doing, about the weather and how it's different than theirs, about our pets. The emails are printed and given to staff who bring them to the kids. If your child doesn't speak or read English it is translated for them. You can even attach a photo of you, your family, your pets, whatever and the kids get those too!
3. Pray for your child. We do this as a family and our kids have learned so much about kindness and different cultures. We keep photos of our sponsor kids up on the fridge (and, well, pretty much everywhere else because I have taken so many) :) It reminds us to pray for their safety and for them to remember that we love them, but more importantly that God has not forgotten them.
Sphelele, Vukani, and our newest addition, Tiphelele
Obviously I'm passionate about Bheveni Carepoint. But there are many other carepoints in Swaziland that have kids that need sponsorship too. The Nsoko area has several carepoints that are in dire need of help. Even if HopeChest isn't the right organization for you, please look into other organizations. Do some research, find a reputable place, and sponsor a child.
"Be the change that you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi