This was my first trip to Timor-Leste and I didn’t know what to expect. Looking at the statistics during my desk review, basic health care is a massive challenge in this corner of the world.

This country has some of the highest rates of newborn deaths in Asia, and the remote villages like the ones I was about to visit in Liquicia where ChildFund works, are among the most dangerous places for babies.

As we made our four-hour journey through the mountains, I reflected on the root of the problem. As with other countries where conflict and occupation has spanned entire generations, Timor-Leste was crippled by deliberate famine, population displacement, destruction of its infrastructure (estimated at 80 percent destroyed), and had its social structure upended by the loss of a third of the population.

The country has had to rebuild from scratch, and to its credit, things have been moving in the right direction, albeit with a long way to go.

The villages were not much more than a cluster of barebone houses lining a dirt road. I was happy to see electricity had made it to these hillsides, but it was very dry, and I’d been told by our team that several healthcare centres in our project areas still struggled with accessing water needed for basic services.

Healthcare centres are rare. Facilities were targeted during the war, and many of the country’s doctors and medical professionals were forced to flee. Women in remote villages often walk several hours in search of help for their sick children.

When I arrived at the community gathering, I was struck by how young the majority of people in Timor-Leste were. The country lost so many people during Indonesia’s occupation. More than 60 percent of Timor-Leste’s population is under the age of 25. In neighbouring Australia, where I live, it is less than half that. The health repercussions of this are something I have to think about as ChildFund looks at future programing here – there is a new generation of young Timorese who need support as they start getting married and having children. Most have limited maternal, child or sexual reproductive health knowledge and services. How can we work together to turn that around?

The remote villages in Timor-Leste lack services and expertise, but the young people I met were eager to embrace anything that could help their communities prosper.

Almost 25 years ago Pam Paterson made a decision that not only changed her life, but went on to change the lives of children in developing countries.

The mother-of-two and artist quit smoking and decided to donate the money she spent on cigarettes to helping children through ChildFund Australia.

“I thought, I’ve got to do something with this money,” Pam says. “I wanted to put the money to something worthwhile. Sponsoring a child was something I always wanted to do, and the money was there then, so I did it.”

Since 1994 Pam has been helping to support and educate girls in India.

“I always felt, especially for the girls in India, that they needed a better chance to have an education,” she says. “I often wrote to the girls I sponsored about how important education was and how important it was to get a good job.”

Pam has been supporting her current sponsored child – Shyamala – since 2006.

Shyamala was eight years old at the time and from a poor village in Andhra Pradesh, south India. Many families in the village, including Shyamala’s, suffered from poor nutrition and living standards, and low literacy rates.

Today the conditions in the village have improved thanks to sponsors around the world including Pam, and Shyamala has finished high school and is pursuing further education studies in commerce.

Australian sponsor wearing black and white stripe jacket and black top

Pam has been supporting children in need through ChildFund for more than 24 years.

Sponsored young woman from India

Shyamala, whom Pam has sponsored since 2006.

Over the years the pair have formed a special bond through writing letters.

“She seemed to be really interested in art and at one stage she wanted to do art, but she’s gone on to do something more practical for her,” Pam says. “She’s getting good marks and studying well.”

It’s been a privilege being a sponsor, says Pam, and the relationships she developed with her sponsored children have inspired her to leave a bequest to ChildFund in her will.

“Leaving a bequest felt like a worthwhile thing to do,” Pam says. “I had an aunt and I have a friend who have left bequests to charities. If you have the means, why wouldn’t you?

“I see my sponsored children as members of my family – they’re wonderful girls,” Pam says. “It’s been a privilege for me to be able to sponsor them.”

The benefits of sponsorship are like a chain reaction and pass on from one generation to the next, says Pam. “We need more people who are educated so the world can be a better place,” she says.

“In the end it’s about making the world a better place. That’s what we’re all hoping for.”