A while back I decided to sponsor a child through Childfund International. I don’t announce that here to get a gold star or a pat on the back because I’m not being modest when I say I don’t deserve either of those things for doing it. Since I can comfortably afford it, I feel like it falls more into a sort of ‘least I can do’ category. I didn’t decide to do it out of some deep-seeded love of children (although I like children just fine), or some deep-seeded guilt…the unglamorous truth is that the idea had been bouncing around in my head and then finally gelled when I was watching an old episode of ‘Dead Like Me’ on DVD. One of the characters on the show who worked in an office much like mine sponsored several children, and it occurred to me that with almost no effort on my part I could help someone out who really needed it, at least a little.
So I went online and visited the Childfund International site. The layout of it and process of ‘choosing’ a child was very much like what I encountered on the site maintained by the no-kill cat shelter where I adopt my cats. I wasn’t quite sure how that made me feel. I assume that ‘selecting’ a child rather than having one assigned to you is meant to create more of a connection between the sponsor and the child but I felt weird doing it and wasn’t sure what criteria I should use. In the end I decided to pick a girl (because I think girls get the shit end of the stick too much of the time) and beyond that I picked the one who looked like they needed it the most.
The child’s name is Fatou Cham, and to be honest I know very little about her except that she is in need. She’s a little over ten years old, and lives in a West African country called ‘The Gambia’, in the town of Jambanjelly. She is a Muslim, her favorite subject is Quaranic studies, and she likes playing a ball game with her friends called ’rounders’. All in all, she is about as far outside my own experience as I could imagine. I set up a regular donation through Childfund’s website, and it wasn’t long at all before work, family and life retook my focus and I went back to not thinking about it.
Childfund is very ‘on top of’ the whole thing though, and they’re good about never letting you forget completely (I mean that in a good way). They routinely give you opportunities to kick up your donation, throw in something extra, or sponsor another child etc. They itemize how much of your donation goes where, encourage you to write to your child (something I did), and give you a small window into their part of the world. They also provide you with feedback, letting you know what exactly is going on all the way over there in The Gambia, and how little Fatou is actually doing.
The point where this all kind of hit home for me was a little while back. During the Christmas season I was asked by Childfund if I wouldn’t mind throwing in something extra for the holidays, that would be used to ‘buy the child something’ in a way that sounded almost like a present. I said sure and figured that although I doubted Fatou (being Muslim) celebrated Christmas, every little bit helps. I was assured I would receive an update letting me know what was bought for her with the ‘Christmas money’.
Since The Gambia is on the other side of the world there’s a fairly hefty time delay with these things, and (once again) I’d completely forgotten about it when I opened my mailbox and found a letter that had come all the way from The Gambia. In it was a kind of newsletter from Jambanjelly, Fatou’s most recent report card, an update as to her condition, and, as promised, an itemized list of what Fatou and her family used the ‘Christmas money’ for. *That* was when the whole thing hit home for me. Among other things, the money was used to buy a portable latrine for their home, several vitamin A shots, and several de-wormings for Fatou.
Fatou Cham lives in a different world than I do. I don’t mean to say that her life and country are by definition miserable – it sounds as though she enjoys school, is cared for by her family and has friends that she plays with – but it’s a different world than mine. In my world I worry about getting fat by accident. I will never meet Fatou in person, but the next time I’m asked to send over a little something extra I’ll do it without hesitation and I won’t internally chuckle about Christmas for Muslims. Even though I’ll never know her I caught myself being pleased when I saw her health had been upgraded to ‘good’.
So, even though it doesn’t require any effort on my part, the endeavor has provided me with more perspective. I felt I already had a pretty good one, but I feel like all of us could always use more. I was aware of how fortunate I am prior to this, but I feel it even more acutely now.
And in a weird way, the experience has actually inspired my next project which I hope very much is the next one you all will see.
It’s an experience I recommend.
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