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An instant connection in Kenya

When ChildFund supporter Mandy Eagle met her sponsored children in Kenya, there were tears of joy and gratitude.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I was over there,” the NSW resident says, “but I cried a lot.

“I cried mainly because of the love. When you get there you realise they’ve got nothing apart from their family. They’re lucky to have clothes on their back and they walk kilometres and kilometres in the dust to go to school.”

It had been 11 years since Mandy first started supporting ChildFund when she decided to meet Jane, Naisoi and Seleyian, three of the four children she sponsored through the organisation.

Mandy had been writing to the girls for many years, but visiting them was a chance for her to develop a greater understanding of who they were, their lives, and their hopes and dreams. For Mandy, it was a “life-enhancing and enriching” experience.

A warm welcome

She took away many “precious moments” from her sponsor visit, but there is one in particular that she will never forget: seven-year-old Jane’s joy and gratitude after discovering her sponsor had brought her dolls from Australia. 

“Jane ran directly over to me and wrapped her arms around me and gave me the biggest and most loving hug I’ve ever had,” Mandy says.

“This still brings tears to my eyes. It was in such contrast to how complacent our kids in the West get when given such simple gifts.”

Jane and her family lived in a tiny home in Nairobi’s slums. The family had put in a lot of effort to make Mandy feel welcome, cleaning the place before she arrived and decorating the walls with lace tablecloth.

“They had this little corrugated room where six people slept, ate, did everything,” Mandy says. “The trouble they went to, to make the room as lovely, clean and presentable as possible was beautiful.”

Mandy with Naisoi (in green, right of Mandy) and her family and friends in Kenya.

Family and friendship

Mandy shared a sense of humour with Jane’s mother and grandmother and they hit it off immediately. There was an instant connection, Mandy felt, not just with Jane and her family but with all her sponsored children and their families.

“There was this immediate acceptance of me,” Mandy says. “It was like, ‘you’re here, we love you, we care about you, we are going to make you welcome and feel included as much as possible’.

Sponsoring children through ChildFund has been like having the family she never had when she was younger, says Mandy.

“I was very spoilt and loved, but I never had any siblings to grow up with and we lived in a semi-rural area; there wasn’t a lot of children, so when I got a little older, having sponsored children was good because it was like I had a little family,” Mandy says.

The best thing about sponsoring children is being able to write letters to them and find out about them and their family, says Mandy. A sponsor visit deepens that connection.

“The visit was good for me and them,” Mandy says. “It has made a difference to them meeting their sponsor.

“When you get there you realise that they have also been unsure whether you existed; they think, how can someone who lives somewhere two days away by air, care about us?

“So it’s this real surprise on both sides when you visit. A sponsor visit helps them understand that this is a genuine thing.”

Mandy quickly bonded with her sponsored child Jane and her family. “There was this immediate acceptance of me,” she says.

The trip also gave Mandy a better understanding of how her donations were used. She saw first-hand the positive impact that her support was making in her sponsored children’s lives and communities.

“I was cynical about where my money was going before I visited,” she says. “My visit showed me the logistics required of running an organisation where you’ve got to travel up to nine hours to just get to one project.

“You just realise, to run a project you need a lot of money. Even if you’re money does not go directly to your sponsored child, they are participating in the benefits.

“I have a better appreciation about how aid organisations run because you’re also creating all this local training and employment.”

Making a difference

Mandy says visiting Jane, Naisoi and Seleyian has been the “most enriching experience” of her life.

She still cries when she looks at the photos from her sponsor visit. “I think of the love and care they had,” Mandy says. “In those moments it was an exquisite connection between human beings – on a non-verbal level in a way, where you’re connecting heart to heart.”

Sponsoring a child is not just for the wealthy, Mandy says. “It is being appreciative of how lucky we are here and then taking the opportunity to make a difference in the world where people are not so fortunate.

“I’m not a wealthy person but when you consider what is wealth, it’s all relative. To my sponsored children I am extremely wealthy.

Over time, sponsoring a child becomes a small expense in your life, she says. “You can easily absorb it but the difference it makes over there is huge.

“Wouldn’t you want to make a difference in the world?

Mandy says visiting her sponsored children, including Seleyian, has been the “most enriching experience” of her life.

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