Sponsoring a child in Kenya
Child sponsor Fiona Stevens from London explains why she chose to sponsor a child with SOS Children - and has even visited her sponsored child in 2008.
I started sponsoring Brian two years ago after I had enjoyed 3 amazing holidays in East Africa and wanted to do something to help a child in Kenya, one of my favourite countries. I chose to sponsor a child at the Nairobi village in the hopes that I would be able to visit him or her easily on my next holiday to the area. Brian was chosen for me by SOS and I have been touch with him via letters and parcels ever since.
I was due to travel to Kenya with my parents in January of this year but sadly had to postpone our trip because of the troubles there after the election. We were delighted to finally be able to go this summer instead and arranged a visit to the village with the help of SOS staff.
I was very impressed with the children’s village - there is a nice play area in the middle of the family houses, a large vegetable garden and playing field. The village also has its own pigs, chickens and rabbits.
We had a wonderful time meeting Brian, his eight siblings and his mother. All of the children seemed well cared for and were friendly and polite despite being very over-excited with our gifts! They particularly loved playing with our digital cameras, squealing in delight at the results. We also had a good attempt at a football card game of Top Trumps!
Brian’s mother insisted that we stay for a delicious but simple lunch of rice, beans and chapatti which she had cooked over a fire outside as she had no gas at the time and we were very moved by her generosity and hospitality.
When it was time to leave, the children accompanied us to the car, holding our hands and waved us off. I am already planning my Christmas gifts now that I have met all the children and very much hope to be able to visit again before too long.
A special bond - through child sponsorship
Ed Miller, new sponsor with SOS Children tells us how he came to sponsor a child in Bethlehem in Summer 2008.
In May 2008 I had the pleasure of visiting the SOS children’s village in Bethlehem during a week’s pilgrimage to Israel with a group from St Mary’s Church in Shortlands, Bromley.
Some members of the church had visited the village in the past and are setting up a music therapy project for the children, but this was the first time a large group of us had visited together.
After a very informative presentation on what SOS villages are all about around the world, the group were divided up into 3’s and invited to each visit a house within the village.
We were instantly greeted with a group of excited children and the houses extremely welcoming mother who had herbal tea and freshly baked bread prepared especially for us. We had brought over with us a new t-shirt for each of the children and each was greatly received and you could see how special it was to them to receive these gifts. The children were well behaved, very polite and above all very happy. They could not stop playing with our sunglasses and cameras the whole time we were there!!
I was very impressed with the set up of the house as well as the layout of the whole village and the facilities they had. The whole group were made very welcome by all at the SOS village and some of the boys even had time to show me up with their football skills!
The lasting memory I left with though, was how happy all the children were, and for people who had gone through traumas at such a young age, it is remarkable how the good work at the SOS village is able to transform lives so effectively. I personally had a special little bond with one of the boys in the house I visited, Iss-Al Dein, and I’m now extremely proud to now be sponsoring him.
A Happy Experience in The Gambia
SOS Children sponsors, David and Anne Stranack visited the SOS Children's Village Bakoteh, Gambia in March 2008. David shares their experience of visiting their sponsored child.
Kanny Sowe walked slowly across the playground of her nursery school to meet me for the first time - very shy, but absolutely charming.
Kanny is four years old and lives in the SOS Children’s village at Bakoteh in The Gambia. She is the orphan I sponsor.
My wife and I first visited Bakoteh a couple of years ago. I had become a bit involved with SOS’s work in the UK, and having decided to try The Gambia as a new holiday experience, it seemed a good idea to visit the Bakoteh village. It was a truly amazing experience. We were so impressed by what we saw that I immediately wanted to contribute to the care of one of the children.
Our offer of sponsorship was handled efficiently by SOS’s Cambridge office, and I soon learnt that Kanny had been selected to be my ‘adopted’ orphan.
So it was this year, when we visited Bakoteh again, that we were able to meet Kanny for the first time. We were soon whisked off to visit her home - one of several purpose built houses in the village where over a hundred orphaned and abandoned children are being cared for and brought up in a loving environment, which is just about as close as you can get to that of a natural family. Each of the eleven houses in the village is a family home, presided over by a ‘mother’ and an ‘aunt’. These ladies are specially trained for their roles by SOS, and have eight to ten children, of assorted ages, in their care.
The atmosphere in Kanny’s home was just delightful - noisy and exuberant, just as you would expect with any young family around you. The book we had brought as a present for Kanny, which made animal noises when pressed, was a great success with everyone, and the packets of sweets for Kanny’s siblings were surreptitiously handed over to ‘Mum’ for later distribution.
If you have any interest in the welfare of disadvantaged children, do take the opportunity, perhaps when you’re next on a holiday abroad, to visit one of SOS’s villages - they’re over 450 of them in 125 different countries, so you’re spoilt for choice! You can look at the charity’s website and sign up for its newsletter, but it’s impossible to fully appreciate the work SOS is doing until you’ve actually seen it with your own eyes.
So visit a village. You’ll find it an enjoyable and uplifting experience.
Sponsoring a child
SOS Children sponsor Rachel Madden tells us about her trip in January 2008 to the SOS Children's Village Battambang, Cambodia:
My love affair with Cambodia started the moment I stepped off the plane.
During the one hour flight from Bangkok - as the plane flew over mountains, forests, flooded rice paddies, and tiny thatched huts - I became increasingly excited about visiting this 'far off land' that I had read so much about.
Located on the Sangker River just south west of the Tonle Sap Lake, Battambang is known as Cambodia's 'rice bowl'. Even though it is the country's second biggest town, it still has a very local, untouristy, provincial atmosphere. Much of the architecture is French colonial and traditional Cambodian. Unlike some of the more touristy towns, the local economy is truly local - rice, wood, sapphires, and food crops - and is reflected in the character of the town.
As you leave Battambang by road, the scene becomes one of small villages, rice paddies, and farmland, offering an excellent opportunity for the visitor to see a bit of 'unspoiled' rural Cambodia. The nearby countryside houses old pagodas, Angkorian-era ruins, caves, waterfalls, and even Khmer Rouge period killing fields.
Battambang means ‘disappearing stick’ and is named after a powerful stick used by a legendary Khmer king to achieve and maintain power in the Battambang area.
I very much enjoyed my visit to the SOS Children's Village in Battambang and the opportunity to meet Sein Mom, my sponsored child. I was very impressed with the village - it really is beautifully laid out, the houses and gardens are maintained very well, and the whole place must be a lovely home for the children who live there.
Judging by the wonderful sounds coming from the nursery school, the children are obviously very happy there. It was also a pleasure to meet the Director of the Village and Sein's SOS mother, who clearly cares very much for Sein. I had previously sent Sein some photographs of my husband & I and I was so pleased to see them in a frame in her bedroom.
A number of days later, I was truly sad to be boarding my plane home and can honestly say that a part of my heart was left behind in this beautiful country - a country which will continue to draw me back so that I may learn more about her culture & history, and spend more time getting to know the amazing Khmer people.
My experience of child sponsorship
Please read below some of the letters we have received back from sponsors, including those from Sarah Woods, Cathy Park, Ann Bailey, Philippa Fibert and Shirley Dudley.
Visit to Ethiopia
In September 2007 Helen Papworth visited the SOS Children's Village in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Helen describes the Ethiopian new year and new Millennium celebrations on 12th September here:
"I’ve just returned from Ethiopia where, on the eve of the New Millennium, my husband, friend and I visited the Addis Ababa SOS Children’s Village.
Arrangements to visit the village were made beforehand and I received helpful support from the Ethiopia Communication Officer and the village director. He met us on arrival at the village in a busy part of south Addis Ababa surrounded by dirt roads and many buildings. Once we got through the gates into the village it was like entering a calm and peaceful haven of gardens and buildings. A young girl offered to take us to meet the village director who then showed us round the village and answered our questions.
We were taken into one of the houses which accommodate about ten children under the care of their ‘mother’. Everything was being cleaned and some of the children were helping. They had bright airy rooms and bunk beds in most of the shared bedrooms. Compared to the living conditions of many families in Ethiopia, this was a luxury. The children, who were identified by local services as vacancies arose, lived here until they were old enough to attend the youth village.
There were about 150 living in the village and they attended different schools across this part of the city. They helped with other duties and played in the quiet roads and recreation areas. That evening they were going to perform for each other to mark the New Millennium and one group were culling the cow for the celebration meal while we were there. Integration within the community is important and they are sent away to distant relatives for part of each year to help them adapt to normal life. They are educated and trained according to their needs, aspirations and skills, but high unemployment is a problem faced by the village."
Giving Something Back
Sarah Woods is a freelance travel writer, editor and guidebook author. She explains how SOS sponsorship has enriched her world.
I've been fascinated with travel ever since I was a young girl. From my bedroom a globe, world atlas and shortwave radio provided a bridge to far flung foreign lands and I dreamt of witnessing first hand the incredible sights, smells, colours and cultures of the world at large. As a travel writer I have criss-crossed the globe many times in the last 20 years, clocking up at least a quarter of a million kilometres and journeying through more than 50 countries. I never tire of travel and relish every trip I make, even thought it can mean I'm away from home for up to 200 days each year. People often assume it's a 'dream job' but life on the road can often be anything by glamorous. Aside of the airport delays and jet lag I am also shocked by some of the things that I see, from the poverty-stricken villages and poor levels of sanitation to cities where social decay has taken hold and family life has broken down. It's especially difficult when this affects children, given that young people so often represent hope and the future.
I decided to become an SOS sponsor after meeting some street kids in the slums of Panama. I'd written the first travel guide book to Panama by a British author and had been lucky enough to win a highly prestigious award for my efforts. Yet as I held the hand of a sick little girl as she lay shrouded in a pile of rubble and fast-food packing, the glitz and glamor of that Savoy award presentation was the furthest thing from my mind. I'd been so priveledged to be so warmly welcomed by every Panamanian I'd met as I travelled throughout the isthmus, from the Kuna Indians who surprised me with songs and lobster on my birthday, to the potter who shared his life story whilst at the wheel in Herrera. It was time for me to give something back to Panama and I did this with the help of SOS. My sponsorship has helped dozens of children like that feverish little girl I found alone in the rat-invested backstreets, providing the love, support, education and nuture that abandoned children so need. My next trip? It's to Colombia on another guide book assignment and I've felt so enriched by my experiences at Panama's David children's village that I've already started sponsoring a village in Bogota. Why? Because I now feel that this forms an important component to any long term visit - and I feel honoured to be a part such incredible projects. Helping the future of a nation through it's children has given my travel experiences a fresh perspective, I can honestly say that it's really changed my world.
Sarah Woods 2006.
Cathy Park's Sponsorship Experience
I've sponsored a child in Nepal for 20 years now, and think that SOS do a fantastic job around the world. They build and run children's villages wherever there is a need. Support is given in a 'family' setting, with an SOS 'mother' looking after several children. The charity has its own schools, which are often open to other children in the local community.
In emergency situations SOS is often the first relief agency on the scene, as they are already present in so many of the world's deprived and troubled areas. They are welcomed by local governments.
The work of SOS encourages growth of local skills, with eventual independence for the young adults they help. The majority of their children eventually go on to make a real contribution to their communities.
I especially like the idea of a charity that enables children to live according to their own culture and religion. There will ALWAYS be an SOS for children!
Cathy Park 2006
Ann Bailey, a sponsor living in Cambridge, writes:
In 1965, whilst working in Canada, I first sponsored a child called Anni, aged 5. I first visited the SOS Children's Village where she lived in 1969 and since then, except for one year, I have seen Anni every year since (mainly in her country but a couple of times in mine). I have had wonderful holidays in the SOS Children's Village where I met her, her SOS Mother and her eight brothers and sisters in her new family. At Christmas I started sending presents to all of them.
Anni is no longer a sponsored child, she is married (I went to the wedding) to a lawyer and they live with their four children. I am still very much involved with Anni and her family and have just posted a birthday parcel to her youngest child, Jakob, who is now 11 years old. I feel I am part of their family and they are certainly part of mine. I have been to first Holy Communions, school visits and trips to the zoo. I have visited her SOS Mother's own family and taken my sponsored child to the theatre and concerts. Anni's SOS Mother is retired now and still lives in the SOS Village: I see her every time I visit.
After I stopped sponsoring Anni, my next sponsored child was Souad. There was a civil war in his country when I started sponsoring him, so our direct contact was much more limited. We could not send parcels to his country but on holiday I met some nuns near him who took a parcel for me. Souad is now 32, married with a son and living in Paris!
Now I sponsor Martin in Peru. His Christmas card for me arrived last week! Because I have stayed in an SOS Children's Village I know how it works. I know my sponsorship helps do the very best for all the children cared for.
Ann Bailey, Cambridge 2005
Sponsoring a child with SOS Childrens Villages, by Philippa Fibert:
As a newly qualified teacher, I set off to India to work as a project worker. My first port of call, fresh from the aeroplane, was SOS Children’s Village Tambaram, Madras. The resident social worker was there to meet me with his scooter, and clinging tightly to his back, we rode through the colourful, packed streets, avoiding wandering cattle and barefoot pedestrians.
As we neared our destination, the surroundings became eye-poppingly different. There was a teeming squalor that I could never have imagined. We wound our way past the railway station, which stank of urine and swarmed with humanity, past mud huts with dirty looking children playing in the doorways, and through the gates of the village. It was like a haven. Children were playing cricket, women were wandering past. Life was still going on, but in a manageable format.
I imagine it must have been like this for the children too. Many of them came from the area I had just driven through. Here they had space, toys, access to education, food, a family. Here there were opportunities for them to develop to their full potential, to go on to further education, to learn a trade.
Most importantly here they had a family: the director was known as ‘Uncle’, the social worker as ‘saama’ or big brother; I was called ‘saaka’ or big sister. Each child had a ‘mother’ and around 10 other brothers and sisters of varying age who all lived together in separate houses on the compound. And each child has an 'uncle’ or an ‘aunt’ who sponsors them. A more perfectly structured system I could not imagine. This group of orphans would always have their SOS brothers and sisters to replace the families they had lost. The ‘mothers’ too, were often widows, for whom life usually ends after the death of a spouse. They loved and cared for their ‘children’, who in turn had given them a new lease of life.
When I eventually returned to England, and started a family of my own, I was very conscious of the privileges that my own children would take for granted, that compare so starkly with the conditions I remembered from my visit to India. I wanted my children to know about other children and the lives they led, and I wanted them to care about the plight of those less fortunate.
Funding a child though SOS Children’s Villages has allowed my family and I the privilege of watching our ‘child’ Arjun grow up as they grow up. He arrived at the village as a baby with physical disabilities that meant several years of callipers. Every year he writes to us, and we write back to him. He was playing chess when my daughters were learning the game; collecting stamps which we could send; he sent us pictures and we reciprocated. Now he is nearly grown up and living in a youth house as a step toward independence. I know that, despite the disabilities that are still with him, SOS Children will ensure that step is as easy and successful as possible.
It is my belief that if every family in the developed world sponsored a child in the developing world, then we could on a micro level, achieve what the G8 summit is attempting on a global level. And it is of minimal financial impact in our affluent societies. It might be the difference between a second hand buggy and a new one: nowadays my children have one day when they don’t take a ‘treat’ in their lunch box which funds Arjun’s sponsorship and reminds them that ‘treats’ are just that. In fact, now that they are growing up and we have more money to spare, I can’t think why Arjun is the only ‘cousin’ they have. It’s time I expanded our family Are there any little girls in Tambaram, Madras in need of an Aunty?
Philippa Fibert, February 2005
Shirley Dudley, a child sponsor, writes:
Our experience of sponsoring with SOS Children.
When we had our own child quite late in our lives (I was 37, which made me an “old” mother in the maternity hospital’s eyes!), we were so grateful, we felt that we would like to “put something back” by sponsoring a disadvantaged child abroad. I had two older children from a previous marriage, who were then in their teens and going through the usual self absorption period and who, I felt sure, would benefit from sponsoring a child who had very little, compared to everything they had. We chose India because I had conceived on our arrival back from a trip to Calcutta!
We were most excited when the details for our sponsored child dropped onto the doormat. Dorjee, then aged 8, but seeming small for her age, is Tibetan, whose parents are poor refugees, unable to provide their children with even the most basic necessities. They decided to ask for their children’s admission to the SOS Children’s Village to give them a secure future, which must have been an extremely hard decision for them. (Editorial Note: current SOS policy would always be to support a family in poverty, never to separate it ) We couldn’t possibly imagine in our comfortable lives, having to make such a difficult choice.
Over the last 10 years, we have watched Dorjee grow from a scrawny 8 year old into a beautiful, healthy and educated 19 year old. We have had regular letters and photos from her, and lovely letters and school reports from the secretary at the village. Communicating with Dorjee has helped keep the feet of our “big” children firmly on the ground and has given the younger ones an insight into how some other children in the world have to live and information on life in other countries in general.
Mindful of the time coming soon when we shall no longer be sponsoring Dorjee, in 2000, (and with another new addition to our family!) we decided to take on another SOS child. Once again, with excitement, we read all about our Andelina, in Croatia, who was born a month after our youngest. As they are exactly the same age, we are looking forward to seeing her grow up and think this will be especially nice for both Andelina and our own four year old.
We have never made a visit to India to see Dorjee, but who knows, maybe one day we will make the journey, either there, or more likely, to Croatia. It would be lovely to meet one of our sponsored children, especially when they have been such a large and fulfilling part of our lives. We would strongly recommend, if funds allow, sponsoring a child abroad. There is so much to be gained, by the child of course, but also by the sponsoring family.
Shirley Dudley, February 2005
A special little girl in Nicaragua
Recently, Helen and Guy Dodd from Falmouth decided to sponsor a little girl in Nicaragua:
“We have been supporting SOS Children for about 35 years now. The organisation has always seemed to us a reliable, utterly practical, frontline charity.
In the early days we raised funds with the help of school children doing sponsored walks and bazaar stalls, but later we started to sponsor individual children in the poor countries of the Caribbean. We chose this area because Helen was a Spanish teacher and felt a special affinity when she was able to communicate with each child.
A high point for us was when we were able to visit our sponsored little girl in Nicaragua. We received such a warm welcome from the whole community. The little girl showed us proudly around her house, introduced us to her ‘Mama’ and her siblings and was clearly happy and secure. We knew she had come to the Village a vulnerable undernourished orphan. Inside the Village there was safety.
Outside on the streets were children begging, their stomachs extended and hair discoloured with malnutrition. The work is never done. Every time there is a major disaster we know that SOS Children will be there for the most needy children and we prefer to send our donations to them in the certain knowledge that not one penny will go astray. We have also left a donation in our will”