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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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The best things about sponsoring children are the relationships that are formed and what it can teach you and your family, says long-time sponsor Karen Wood.

The mother-of-three (pictured below) has been sponsoring children through ChildFund Australia since the 1980s, and says sponsorship has been a mind-opening experience for her and her children.

“Sponsorship has changed me for the better,” Karen says. “It has taught me to be more considerate of cultural differences. There may be a difference in language and the colour of our skin, but we still have the same needs, physically, mentally, emotionally.

“And as parents have the same concerns about our children, and that goes beyond the colour of our skin and our language.”

Through writing letters to her sponsored children and their families – Diah in Indonesia and Man in Vietnam – Karen’s children have also grown up learning about different cultures and how other children around the world live and grow up.

“With my children, they got to see that what we take for granted – like going to school, a bed to sleep in, a meal on the table, a doctor, dentist, and medicines – and what some children around the world don’t have,” Karen says.

She says it has been “heart-warming” to see how the lives of Diah and Man have changed and how they now have access to education and better healthcare.

Karen first began sponsoring through ChildFund after finishing her nursing degree, and has sponsored children on and off ever since.

While life had been “extremely tough” after her partner passed away and she became a single parent, helping children was something that remained close to her heart. “My life had turned upside down but I got back on my feet, and recommencing sponsorship was back on the table,” Karen says.

“I wanted to instil into my children to be there for others, to be considerate, and really help.”

Being a sponsor with ChildFund has been “like being part of a family”. “I can email or call and I can find things out and I can work out the best way to support with my situation,” Karen says.

“If others are thinking of sponsoring I would say without hesitation, go for it. It is just so rewarding.

“You develop lasting friendships.”

Geoff Rhodes has visited his daughter-in-law Lea’s family in Laos multiple times over the past six years. If it’s not Geoff, another member of the Rhodes family will make the annual trip from Sydney to Pakse in southern Laos to visit Lea’s relations.

The two families have shared a special bond since 2013, when a terrible plane crash in Laos killed all 49 passengers on board, including Geoff’s son Gavin and wife Lea, and their two children Jade, 3, and Manfred, 17 months.

Below Geoff talks about how he’s kept in touch with Lea’s family, and why their bond is stronger than ever.

A visit with the family

“We wanted to maintain the relationship with Lea’s family, and they are equally keen to maintain it,” Geoff says. “They are a wonderful family.

“All my grandchildren have been to Laos at least once. They can’t speak Lao and the children over there can’t speak English but they get along.”

The last time Geoff visited Laos was in February 2019. He was greeted with a mighty embrace and joyous bellow from Lea’s elder brother at the airport.

“He screamed at the top of his voice ‘Geoff!’, ran across to me, picked me up and threw me four feet in the air,” Geoff says.

The pair had met many times before, but this was the first time Geoff had, literally, been swept off his feet.

Built in their honour

The exuberant welcome was the start of a week-long trip where Geoff and three friends – Peter, Monica and John – (pictured above) were special guests at the opening of a community hall that the Rhodes family helped to build in a ChildFund-supported community in the country’s north.