I have long advocated for HCW to switch our dedicated donor support model for the child welfare program, so it may come as a surprise that my family proudly sponsored two children in the original Sponsor-a-child (SAC) program. This was a lesson in charity and relationship I wanted to share with my grandchildren. I made the original sponsorship a gift to all of them collectively, and picked a child with a birthday that was the same as one of the youngest, so that they could relate her experiences to theirs. I eagerly waited for letters from Aminata, and distributed them to the family. I prepared for my first visit, with excitement, and the family was excited as well. They grandkids recorded a video to greet her that I was instructed to share with her when I met her. After checking with the SAC team that it was within the rules to do so, I gathered up the approved gifts and prepared for the visit.
However, I knew this was going to be a slightly different experience than past sponsors, in keeping with the progress CRC was making in changing its model of care. One of the first changes from the past routine was that the meeting was to take place at the sponsored child's home, where we would meet not only the child, but her mother, her sister and pretty much everybody in her neighborhood who came out to greet the strange Americans in their midst.
I had been nervous, thinking that I might be seen as a nosy invader. They were incredibly welcoming, and went to fetch chairs from several porches, so that we might sit down. Most did not speak much English, but the CRC staff translated our conversation, and their cordial expressions did the rest. The visit was supervised by the CRC SAC team visitation coordinator, essentially the family’s case manager, and several members of the mission trip team were invited along to see for themselves the experience of the children we supported outside of the residence. I enjoyed meeting Aminata, but I was delighted to meet her mother, her big sister, and her community.
I was interested in seeing how HCW and CRC could join in supporting a model of care that helped children remain reintegrated, and focused on all the children who would now be living in homes. I realized that some changes would have to come on our side as well, as we began to make that change, but I was hopeful that it would bring us closer to the mission objectives in a more empowering, sustainable and enriching partnership between families, communities and supporters. As HCW focused on addressing the underlying causes of child poverty and child mortality, we saw more opportunities to align our donor practices with methodologies of practice being adopted by the CRC as it transformed into a professional, skilled social work agency under its new vision of transformation.
That was what was happening at work. At home, I was just being hopeful that Aminata’s family was being supported in ways that strengthened and empowered them, that her older sister was finally able to go to school, that her mother’s work was not exhausting, that her aunt and niece, who I met in subsequent trips, were well and hopeful for their futures. The letters we received were typical SAC letters, “I’m doing well in school. I passed to the next grade. Thank you for the Christmas present. Thank you for being my sponsor. I hope you are well. I am grateful.” Some of it was the age of the child, but most of it was because our connection was tenuous. Her handwriting improved over the years, but the topic of the letters was the same. I really looked forward to visits, though, because I wanted to look into her mother’s eyes again and see that she was more than just grateful that a sponsor cared about her child’s progress in school. I wanted to see that look in her eyes that shared look that meant she knew that I knew that my small financial contribution had little to do with her child’s success, understood that we were in partnership with each other and the CRC.
I know I am a stranger to Aminata. She knows my name, knows I am “her” sponsor. Although I hope she knows I am not the one making decisions on the support she is getting, I hope she understands that is her case manager at the CRC. I know that when her mother greets me, it is genuine. She knows my name, but until recently, I didn’t know hers, because the SAC program was single-child focused, school success focused, and her environment, her family, her experience outside of sponsorship was not relevant.
While I was part of the planning team to transform and support the process of change at the CRC, that is a work thing. And while I personally sit at the head of the table, making executive decisions along the way about how and when HCW would transform its dedicated donor program to match CRC’s new family empowerment and strengthening model, that was a work thing too. It was a work thing to know that Aminata’s family had been enrolled together into the family empowerment program, like every other child’s family. It was a work thing to know that the CRC was considering her family’s needs, along with hers, in order to ensure that the family would stay strong and intact, and able to care for their children.
But, a home thing happened recently. You might think I get my letters differently than other dedicated donors, but I don’t. They arrive in the mail just like yours. I get them at home. I share them with my family at home. One just came. It was different from any other letter we had previously received. This time, I laughed out loud and tears sprang to my eyes as I read Aminata’s letter out loud to the family. It was full of details of her life, her sister’s achievements, her plans for the future, her parents names! (Until that moment, I did not know Aminata’s father existed.) I learned so much about how the work of the CRC is recognizing and celebrating this family's strengths, and coming alongside to address their challenges. I saw the pride this young woman had in her family, their achievements and plans and the recognition that she knew what her mother and I had always known, that her success has most to do with all of that, and little to do with my small contribution. It ended with “thank you for empowering me and my family, thank you for advocating for us.”
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