- All Countries
Ours is not the typical sponsorship storyline. When I was hired on at my current employer, there was a bit of a disconnect between the company and the employees. I thought there might be an opportunity to do something collectively to help someone and, perhaps in some small measure, change the mood in the workplace at the same time.
With this in mind, I organized to collect funds from both management and workers, and we now sponsor three children: Zannat in Kolkata, India; Marie in the Bicol region of the Philippines; and Rabecca in Lusaka, Zambia. The large bulletin board in the lunch room is now covered in photos and letters from our girls.
It has long been a dream of mine to visit Africa and go on a safari. My wife and I decided to combine a week in January at an all-inclusive resort in Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania. The resort was more my wife’s style than the safari. We also decided to take this opportunity to visit 8-year-old Rabecca in Zambia.
Distance and costs were somewhat daunting, but we decided to just go for it. The first week, we visited Tarangire, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara wildlife parks and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty and bounty of the Tanzanian landscape. This was followed up by a week on the beach to ease our muscles from the "African massage” of the rough roads and trails of the safari. We then flew to Zambia.
CI employees Patrick, Beverly and Joseph picked us up at our hotel, and we headed to the community center. We drove through the typical city scenes: people waiting for transit to get to work, street vendors of virtually everything one could imagine. It was a typical African urban center.
Soon, though, the roads and the scenery became rougher as the smells and squalor of the slums surrounded us. Garbage piles, disheveled children, makeshift market stalls, tin-roofed shacks and mountains of charcoal — the cooking fuel of the underprivileged — line the ramshackle road. It was worse than the safari roads we had traversed earlier.
We arrived at the center, and when the big gate opened, the contrast was striking. The place was clean with trimmed hedges and a sense of order, smiling faces and obvious good cheer.
An oasis in the middle of a desert.
It’s difficult to describe the chaotic energy of the many children inside coupled with the sense of order I felt. There was no electrical power during our visit, but the business of the center was not affected.
We were made very welcome and shown around the center and introduced to many of the staff. There is a dentist on-site, and we also met the doctor whose office was full of young patients. We saw the library and children working with tablet computers. One room was full of children busily writing letters to their sponsors. In another area, staff was handing out TOMS shoes to all the children. What a great corporate concept to donate these shoes where they are so badly needed!
Center Coordinator Chabchecker Muleya graciously answered all of our questions. The community center obviously reflects his fine management. If only all sponsors could see the good work their money provides and how they really are making a difference. It’s impossible to really appreciate the work Children International is doing here until you see it with your own eyes. A big thank you to all the staff and volunteers for all your hard work!
After our tour, we were off to finally meet Rabecca and her parents at their home. Her father, who spoke English, was over the top in his gratitude and recounted things from previous letters I had written Rabecca. We sat in their very modest, clean living room and chatted. We were told proudly of how well she had done on her exams and shown a photo of her in the choir in which she sings. The home had a family feel with obvious warmth and love for Rabecca.
My wife and I had brought some gifts donated by coworkers. Rabecca and her mother went through the clothes and shoes together. I presented Rabecca with a Team Canada hockey jersey with Rabecca’s name and a “#1” on the back. Everyone at work had signed it. Rabecca gladly posed and hammed it up for the camera in the jersey.
Rabecca always had a serious look in her yearly photos so, in my letters, I always encouraged her to smile and told her that she was a beautiful little girl. The world is made a better place when she smiles. You can see from the photo evidence I provide here that this is indeed the case!
She was quiet and reserved at the beginning but seemed to warm up very quickly. She has a beautiful smile and a wicked sense of humor. Soon, Rabecca was holding my hand as we walked through the mall. It was totally cool to get a real sense of her. She is sweet and soft-spoken, very polite and loves to laugh.
We took the whole gang out for lunch and then off to do some shopping for clothes, toys, foodstuffs (such as corn meal to make the staple food nshima) and household items. While at the store, Rabecca saw a large dolly and picked it up straight away. The doll was never out of her arms the rest of the day; she was still holding it as we drove away.
All too soon, it was time to go on our way. This was indeed a special day, and one I will never forget. It’s my hope that this visit will allow for more personalized correspondence between us going forward. I felt privileged to bear witness to the benefits of collective sponsorships through Children International on the lives of these kids.
I heartily encourage anyone in a position to do so, to make a visit. It’s good for the soul.