Sponsorship gives children and their families the opportunity to grow
When I first made the trip to visit Thanh in Vietnam it was January 2001 and I was just 22 years old. I had spent the last two months travelling around Europe and South-east Asia but I knew my trip wouldn`t be complete without visiting the little guy that I`d been sponsoring for a few years.
Three of my travelling buddies and I drove the two hour drive from Hanoi to Hoa Binh province in northern Vietnam; which was an adventure in itself! When we arrived in the main town we had to leave our car there and walk to where Thanh lived in the rural part of the province as the roads were not viable for our car.
We spent our time speaking with Thanh`s parents and playing with a 6-year old Thanh and his younger sister. Back then their home was a basic four-walled mud dwelling with storage in one corner and a sink in another; I am still not sure where all four of them slept. We gave the kids balloons to play with, which they very much enjoyed and some koala bears, an animal they had never seen before. We all had such a great time.
I am now 35 years old and that visit to meet Thanh and his family was more than 12 years ago. Since then I have travelled the world, I have run multiple businesses and my value system has altered but my sponsorship of Thanh has remained a constant in my life. It really has been such an amazing thing to watch Thanh grow from a little boy into a confident young man.
So when I found out that Thanh would be graduating school this year, which meant he would be coming off the sponsorship program I knew I had to get back to Vietnam to see him one last time.
After months of planning the day of my visit finally arrived. As we pulled in to town I noticed a few changes to the community straight away; besides the many new buildings which lined the town`s main thoroughfare, there had been huge improvements to the roads. Instead of walking to meet Thanh and his family like last trip, we only had a short drive out of town.
I met Thanh and his mother at the local government office, which at first struck me as odd, but I realised that this is actually indicative of a wider progression within ChildFund that I am very happy about €“ ChildFund as an organisation has grown and has become well integrated with the local government in Hoa Binh province. It was wonderful to see how involved ChildFund Vietnam is with the community and how well respected the organisation is for its contributions.
My time with Thanh and his mother was quite overwhelming; it was such an emotional day for all of us. I had not seen them in such a long time and it was Thanh`s 18th birthday. We just chatted, and chatted and chatted. I will never forget that day.
It was great to see him healthy and so happy that he had graduated from school. Thanh told me he was looking for a job with the Vietnamese security force (equivalent to our police force) which is a well-respected profession in Vietnam. You could see just how proud his mother was of him.
They also told me about all the wonderful improvements sponsorship has brought to their lives. The ChildFund program helped Thanh and his family build a new, more secure home for themselves, both Thanh and his younger sister have had the chance to continue their education and Thanh`s mother was also helped by ChildFund Vietnam to expand her buffalo business. It would seem she was quite the entrepreneur and with ChildFund`s support grew her business so she could breed and sell buffaloes at the local markets to supplement the family`s farming income.
Tragically just a few weeks ago ChildFund Vietnam`s local project staff contacted me to inform me that Thanh`s mother was struck by lightning and passed away. She was such a strong lady who had a vibrant and lively personality, I knew her passing would be felt by all who knew her. We spoke a lot over the years, especially when Thanh was younger it was her that wrote all the letters so I found it very hard to hear about her death but I am very thankful I got to see her before it happened.
When I first met Thanh he was just a little boy, I could pick him up and now he is 18 and taller than me! Thanh and his family have been in my life for such a long time it is hard to think of his mother gone and that I don`t sponsor him anymore but I am very happy that he has graduated school and is on such a positive life path.
As I reflect on my time sponsoring Thanh and his family, I`ve come to believe that what sponsorship does for children and their families is give them the opportunity to grow, an opportunity they probably would not have had otherwise. I`ve also realised that my sponsorship has not only benefitted them but my life too; it has taught me a lot over the years, it has been a wonderful long-term commitment for myself and I know that I will never forget the connection I have shared with Thanh and his family.