What my child learnt from being a sponsor

After her daughter Jacinta had her first birthday, Sue Mandelik sponsored a girl in Vietnam of the same age.

Thom appeared in a photo in the mail, wearing a bright green top and a blue and yellow bonnet.

The little girl was from one of the poorest communes in Bac Kan province, in northern Vietnam, according to the accompanying sponsorship letter.

At that time, 45 per cent of children under the age of one in Bac Kan suffered from malnutrition.

Thom lived with her parents, who were farmers, in a wooden hut without electricity. The local community had no access to basic healthcare.

The family fetched water for drinking from a nearby stream polluted with waste and dirt, and this often was the reason for Thom’s coughs, diarrhoea and worms, the letter said.

It was a stark contrast to Jacinta’s life in Sydney, where clean drinking water ran from the tap and medical help was a phone call or short drive away.

But it was exactly this contrast that Sue (pictured above) wanted her daughter to experience.

The mother of two sponsored Thom on behalf of her eldest daughter Jacinta for 17 years, and the girls learnt about each other’s lives through writing letters and sharing photos.

“I chose a child the same age as Jacinta as I wanted them to grow up together,” says Sue. “I wanted Jacinta to learn about other people and other cultures.”

Thom (pictured above in 2015) was sponsored at the age of one and grew up learning about her Australian sponsor Jacinta, who is the same age, through writing letters.

For the first few years before Jacinta and Thom could write, their parents wrote letters on their behalf to keep the girls in contact.

When Jacinta turned four years old, Sue and her husband booked a flight to Vietnam so she could meet Thom and her family.

“It was magnificent for them to meet,” recalls Sue. “They were only four years old yet seemed to communicate. They hugged each other, which was beautiful to watch.

“When we got home Jacinta wanted to give everything she owned to Thom as she didn’t want her to miss out.”

Today the girls are young women and, while they stopped writing letters when Thom completed ChildFund’s sponsorship program in 2015, they’ve had a lasting and positive impact on each other’s lives.


Jacinta’s more grateful for the small things in her life as a result of sponsoring Thom.

“I appreciate the small things and don’t take things for granted, like water from a tap and having my own bedroom,” says Jacinta.

“While we are no longer in contact I know the area Thom lives in became self-sufficient, which means ChildFund’s support is not needed in that area any more. We know we helped to make that happen.”

Sue says sponsoring a child on behalf of her daughter taught Jacinta not only about Thom’s culture but also compassion and gratitude.

“I am hoping Jacinta learnt that supporting a child and visiting is a privilege – not a given – and that everyone has a story to tell, and we should accept people from all walks of life,” she says.

“Sponsoring on behalf of your child shows them to accept and appreciate what they have.

“It also shows them that although we may not all look the same, we are the same inside.”

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