Contributed by Laura Walls in Stories from the Field
As child ambassadors, we often hear the question, "What difference does sponsorship make?" In Rwanda, we learned the official answer. May it inspire you to realize the impact you make as a child ambassador and may it also compel you to passionately seek sponsors for children.
We were all captivated by the little baby that Seraphine carried on her back. When she invited us in to sit with her in her small, adobe house, she lifted him off her back and he cooed and gurgled. Jean Claude, at seven months old, was beautiful.
Seraphine shared her story softly, her voice barely above a whisper. “I lost my husband on Christmas last year.” She avoided eye contact. “We are now living an unpredictable life. I live by God’s grace or perhaps if a gracious person comes by and gives us rice.”
I looked beyond where Seraphine sat in the doorway to where her two young children stood outside. Claudine, in her red shirt, stared curiously at her home full of strangers. Vincent, four years old and wearing a green Christmas sweatshirt, looked small and tired. They wandered into the room where we foreign Americans were sitting and sat among us on the ground.
Seraphine continued. Her husband’s death from AIDS left her widowed with three young children at just 28 years old. Additionally, she had also contracted HIV.
I looked from her face to where sweet little Jean Claude lay nursing at her breast. Yes. It was suspected that the baby also had HIV.
I fought the urge to step outside and get some air. To get away from that dark house where mosquitos swarmed in the corners and children were hungry and babies had diseases and mothers were suffering. I remembered the title of a book I read recently called, Walking with the Poor. I wanted to be someone who would walk in solidarity with Seraphine and her family and yet I also desperately wanted to just give whatever money I could and protect myself from that sorrow. I wanted to run away from the pain I felt in my heart. My eyes burned from unshed tears.
As child ambassadors knowledgeable in sharing sponsorship, we were brought to meet Seraphine so we could learn about the difference that sponsorship makes in the life of a family. It’s a question we are often asked. Now, I was sitting in a room at the top of a tall green hillside in Rwanda and the answer HURT.
What benefits are NOT available for unregistered children and families?
We learned that because Seraphine didn’t have registered children for sponsorship, she wasn’t eligible to participate in World Vision Savings Clubs, to receive Gifts-in-Kind, or training in farming or animal husbandry. Without a sponsor, Seraphine would never receive a gift notification (gift of money) from her sponsor to help her start a business, buy some chickens, or even simply purchase some needed essentials for her home. She wouldn’t receive encouragement from knowing she was loved and cared for by someone around the world nor would she receive the regular World Vision staff visits received by sponsored children. Her life would continue as it was, waiting, hoping, and praying that a neighbor would take pity on her and drop off a bag of rice or beans so her children could eat that day.
And some days, they didn't.
But doesn’t EVERYONE benefit from being in a World Vision community?
The short answer is yes. Absolutely. Seraphine has access to clean water. The farms in her area are more productive so their prices are more competitive and variety is more accessible. The schools are stronger and the teachers are better equipped. And, especially important to Seraphine, she has access to the health clinic and medicines to help treat her HIV. But many of the programs that would help her find an income-generating solution to care for her family are currently not accessible.
I shifted uncomfortably at these answers. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from going on a Vision Trip, it’s that I’m wholeheartedly American and I default to wanting to slap a quick “bandaid” fix on problems that require deep understanding, patience, and time. I’m used to Disney movies that have short, happy endings. My mind whirled, even as I stayed silent and wrote down every word in my notebook.
Why can’t Seraphine’s children be registered?
There’s a waiting list, even for sponsorship. A certain number of children are eligible based on budgets and deeper, internal matters and currently, there wasn’t a spot available. But because this was a World Vision community, World Vision staff were aware of Seraphine’s struggles and had put her children on a short list - meaning that in two weeks time, they would be eligible to be sponsored. Two of the ten child ambassadors, Michelle Lazaro and Javy Diaz, immediately stepped up to sponsor Claudine and Vincent.
What happens to Seraphine and her children now?
As soon as Seraphine's children are registered and sponsored, she becomes eligible for training programs, Gifts-in-Kind, the World Vision Savings Club, and the personalized attention of World Vision staff. As she receives the love and prayers of her children's new sponsors, she will be encouraged and, in time, Seraphine will begin to hope and dream again.
Jimmy Gahima, our World Vision interpreter and donor liaison spoke with Seraphine about her future. “Seraphine, did you ever think that you would host a group of foreigners from the United States in your home?
She laughed and shook her head.
He smiled. “Well, you see, you just never know what your future might hold!”
Seraphine's eyes brightened a moment.
With the grace of God and help from World Vision child sponsors, suddenly anything seems possible.
Meeting Seraphine: a slideshow of images by talented child ambassador, Javy Diaz.
Greater Together is a collaborative blog written by volunteer child ambassadors for World Vision.