In September 2019, before COVID-19 closed borders all around the world, long-time ChildFund New Zealand supporter Juliet Wensley travelled to Uganda to meet her two sponsored children. Juliet shares her amazing story here.
I had the privilege of meeting our two current sponsor children in Uganda in September 2019. We have had sponsored children in Uganda for over 20 years and my parents had been able to visit an earlier sponsored children in early 2000, it had been a highlight of their trip. Sponsoring our children over the years has brought a different layer of connection and interest in Africa and in the lives of children living in very different circumstances from our own. We own and operate a Christian preschool in Christchurch and it is my passion to see children have opportunities and to support them to pursue their dreams. This has meant that at times we have taken our sponsorship even further than monthly support by responding to and supporting one of our sponsored child's specific dreams. As with working with any child, this has not always worked out in the manner we might expect but as we have maintained our relationship with a now adult child it has been a privilege to share his perspectives and struggles.
Before my sponsor trip I was visiting Tanzania on a missions trip with a couple who had been missionaries in Tanzania for over a decade. It was my first trip to Africa and their first trip to Uganda and Kampala. ChildFund were very helpful in facilitating a visit with Joshua and Abasi. Communications were clear before I left New Zealand but when we got to Kampala our situation was not as I had anticipated. We only visited Kampala for three days and we were visiting another orphanage and mission operation. We unexpectedly ended up staying in a hostel that was part of the orphanage in a very local area of Kampala. We arrived not having changed any money and not having a phone. I was very dubious about the location and situation I found myself in. My travelling companion borrowed a phone from a local pastor and made one call to Irene, the Child Fund co-ordinator, and clearly explained where she would pick me up from the following morning. I say this to contrast the two experiences. When Irene picked me up the next day I saw how ChildFund understands and integrates both Western and African cultures in a way that benefits both. Irene had organized for Joshua and Abasi and a support person for each child to meet at one of the ChildFund compounds in Kampala. Joshua and his grandmother had had to travel overnight to meet with us and it was their first visit to the capital, Kampala. On my way to meet them Irene facilitated an important errand for me, spent the time explaining a little about the culture and answered my many questions. My errand made us late but she was very reassuring. We spent over an hour at the compound, which was clean and tidy, with the children, their supporters and a range of ChildFund personnel.
It struck me that the ChildFund personnel all had professional training in areas that were relevant to supporting my children, social work, psychology etc. and that these people had local perspective, understanding and a heart for the work they were doing. There were many protocols in place to protect the children, both physically and culturally. These protocols, the way they were explained and the professionalism in the way Irene responded to my needs gave me great confidence in ChidFund.
I was able to share a video and photo booklet my family had prepared for the boys and we exchanged some small gifts before we headed to lunch at a restaurant. During our time together Irene and the staff worked hard to facilitate meaningful conversation and create a relaxed atmosphere. The thing that struck me most was the truly difficult circumstances the boys had grown up in and the difficulty they would face after they left school and the ChildFund program. The visit made things very real, spotlighting the enormous gulf between my own children's privilege and absolute lack of opportunity for my current sponsor children. Joshua has never really had a mother or father. Being orphaned as a young child he now lives with his elderly grandmother and his five younger siblings/cousins in a village a long way North of Kampala. They rely on subsistence living and in their rural setting the only source of income for the family comes from making wooden necklaces to sell at the market. There have been many hard times for the family and Joshua explained that he often has to miss school just to be able to help out.
As Irene drove me back we talked about how ChildFund has many more children in it's programs than they have sponsorship for. While I provide sponsorship for two children, ChildFund uses the programs it develops to benefit all the children in it's care. While I had gone with the idea that my sponsorship was to provide education and health needs for my child I realized that the ChildFund team was doing something more than this. Management are able to identify the most pressing needs of it's constituents and design programs to best try to solve the root of the problem. I began to understand that these problems are not just our traditional education programs, the children can often access government funded school, but are often around insuring the safety of children such as preventing abuse. ChildFund is trying to design and deliver programs that would change the life of my individual child by looking at the whole community. My sponsorship money was going wider and deeper than I had anticipated. Upon my return I can see the importance of my monthly sponsorship but I have also been able to understand the specific needs of the child who has been on my heart and in my prayers for many years. In response to my trip I want to specifically provide for Joshua to do a mechanics course next year. ChildFund is able to facilitate this happening, even as he graduates from their care. Without ChildFund's communication, financial structure, oversight and willingness to assist Joshua would never have this opportunity.
It is often a big financial commitment that sponsors/families make to provide monthly support over a period of many years. Monthly sponsorship is possibly only the beginning. It is difficult to know where our resources are best directed. ChildFund's view of the whole need, it's longevity and it's dedicated staff team allows the organization to direct funds to much needed work. But I realize that its been through the letters I received from our children, a connection with them through contemplation and prayer and my passion to make a difference in individual children's lives that fuels my desire to support a sponsored child beyond general programs. Without ChildFund introducing me to my sponsored child, facilitating our communication and allowing for the direction of specific support I would never have had this opportunity.
Thank you ChildFund, Lee and Irene for making this happen.
Want to learn more?
Read another sponsor's story here
Read about a story from a former sponsored child here