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Visiting Benjamin was the highlight of our entire trip

Camping under the stars in the Serengeti may sound pretty special, but for Aussie couple John and Di Dempsey, who have been sponsors with ChildFund for almost 30 years, even that was no match for the day they met their sponsored child in Kenya

“We first started sponsoring because we wanted to show our own two children that there are many people in this world who have a lot less than we do,” says Di. “So when we first started, our children were very young, four and five years old. Now they are 32 and 33!”

After sponsoring in Thailand for many years, it was a trip to Kenya for Di`s work in 2010 that saw the couple sponsor Benjamin, then aged 10. “I just fell in love with the country and its people,” says Di. “So when I came home I said to John, €˜We have two sponsored children now but I think we can take on one more.`”

Di`s wish to return to Kenya was granted in 2013 after the couple`s planned Egypt holiday was cancelled when civil unrest broke out. “When I started booking our trip I realised that we were only going to be 200km away from Benjamin so I just knew that we had to get there to meet him,” she says.

John and Di`s three-week African adventure saw them on safari in Kenya`s Masai Mara, sleeping under the stars in the company of wild animals in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, and taking in the history and natural beauty of Zanzibar.

Despite this, the couple says: “Visiting Benjamin was the highlight of our entire trip.”

“We were excited but also very nervous because we didn`t know how everyone was going to relate to us,” says John. “I felt like I was bursting out of my chest,” adds Di.

John and Di travelled to the highlands of Kenya, with ChildFund staff, to meet Benjamin, now aged 14, and his family. “I think it was emotional because we just connected immediately,” says Di. “Benjamin even gave John a big hug.”

They also met Benjamin`s mother, Grace, and his younger sister, Ester. “Grace held my hand everywhere we went,” says Di. “When we saw each other, our eyes met and she just put her arms around me and gave me the biggest hug.”

Ester was a little harder to win over. “She was very shy in the beginning so I decided to leave her alone and let her just find her way,” says Di. “I noticed throughout the day she was watching me and then by the end of the afternoon, when we walking out of a restaurant, she just slipped her little hand in mine and it nearly broke my heart, it was very special.”

John and Di then had the chance to see some of ChildFund`s work in action. “We went to a youth centre where ChildFund is helping young people gain employment,” says John. “I was really impressed by the centre; they were trying to help kids who had left school early or hadn`t been to school at all.

“Then we went to Benjamin`s school where we felt like rock stars, children came running from everywhere to meet us!”

The visit to their school provided Benjamin and Ester with the perfect opportunity to get some snaps of themselves with their school friends! “Since coming home we have made a little photo album for Benjamin of all the pictures from the day and all of their friends,” says Di. “I think him, Ester and Grace will like that.”

After a tearful goodbye, John and Di made the bumpy trip back to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The following morning they had the chance to visit the ChildFund Kenya national office where they saw how everything works.

“The chap in charge there is David, he was a lovely bloke,” says John. “We just sat in his office and had morning tea while he answered all our questions about ChildFund`s work in Kenya. We feel part of the team now!

“I am amazed that you only put $45 in per month but with all these other people that are just like us, together it really does go a long way,” he adds.

Thinking of visiting your sponsored child? It is a resounding ‘Go!’ from John and Di. “It was so fulfilling for us,” says Di. “I have a photo of our two kids on my mantelpiece at home and now we have a picture of Benjamin and Ester right beside them.

“We both get a big smile on our faces when we think of Benjamin, his family and the whole experience. I think about them every day.”

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