Saturday, January 19, 2013


I sponsored Mgembe in May, 2009.  We quickly developed a special correspondence relationship.  For a young teenager, he was unusually willing to open up about his goals and dreams to a strange lady on a different continent. He was a very good student and an amazing artist.  He often drew beautiful drawings for me and included them with his letters.

Though he and his family live in extreme poverty in Tanzania, with dirt floors in their home and a tin roof that leaks during the heavy rains, no running water or electricity, Mgembe dreamed of being a teacher.  His grades were good and he passed the difficult national test which determines entry into secondary school (high school).

We formed a prayer pact of sorts where we made his goal of becoming a teacher our joint endeavor.  I prayed for Mgembe, and he promised to do his best to stay on track at school.  His promise was sometimes difficult to keep because he suffers from recurring malaria, causing him to miss a great deal of school.  In one letter, he told me that he feels "very lonely" when he is sick.

Mgembe has a strong faith in God, and his letters always contained Bible verses and prayer requests.  He prayed for me, too, and it was apparent that his faith sustained him during the difficult days.

Imagine my sadness when I received a phone call from Compassion in May, 2012 informing me that he had left the program.  All Compassion knew is that his family moved and Mgembe stopped attending the program.  They heard of some vague  problem within the family.  I felt such sadness after believing that I would get to watch Mgembe grow up.  Compassion allows children in Tanzania to remain in the program until they are 22 if they are on an academic path.

I missed receiving his twice monthly letters.  I did not receive a final letter from him, enhancing my concern that some dire situation caused his decision to leave Compassion.

Four days ago, on January 15, 2013, Compassion called again with amazing news:  Mgembe has returned to the program!  The lady asked me if I wanted to resume his sponsorship, and I said, "yes, yes, yes!"  I asked her if we could meet Mgembe along with our other four children on the March sponsor tour, and she said, "yes, yes, yes!"

Mgembe now has a backpack which must somehow fit into our already-stuffed luggage.  I am having fun filling it with art supplies, school supplies, and other fun things.  Nick was already extremely worried about how we were going to get our luggage from Lerna to Africa.  We have some big, heavy suitcases packed already.

 I really cannot believe that I am going to get to meet him.  In one letter a couple of years ago, Mgembe told me that he would like to hear my voice.  Well, I cannot believe that I am going to get to hear my  Mgembe's voice.

I was already excited about the March trip, but now I am counting the days.  When I feel fearful about getting on that plane, I will just remind myself that Mgembe is waiting, and that surely I can get through the long journey if he can get through one round of malaria after another.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


     Nick and I have five adult children, two sons-in-law, two grandchildren, and other special "significant others" and children in our blended family.   We treasure each of them.  
    After talking with my friend Ellen  about the Compassion International presentation she attended at her church in April, 2009, we  were excited to get on their website and choose a couple of children.  It seemed like the right time for us to help kids living in extreme poverty.  We both expected this to mean writing a monthly check and a few letters.  We underestimated.
     What happened is that our Compassion kids stole our hearts.    As parents and grandparents, our hearts were already primed to love.  As all parents and grandparents know, the heart easily expands to love another. 
     Our hearts have led Nick and me to book our spots on a Compassion International tour to Tanzania on March 2, 2013.  We will see Mt. Kilimanjaro (if the clouds cooperate) and Africa's magnificent wild animals on a safari.  We will meet other like-minded sponsors who love their Tanzanian kids.  Most importantly, we will get to see Compassion's work up close and personal. 
      We are expecting to be hot, dirty, and cautious about what we eat and drink.  We have been warned about rough roads and non-existent bathrooms.  Immunizations are underway.  We were told by the travel clinic doctor, "Mosquitoes are the enemy" in Tanzania.  Will our hotel have mosquito nets?  We don't know.  There is a lot we don't know.
     We are absolutely certain, however, that we will cherish the day we meet our four Tanzanian children.  We want to meet them in person, hug them, and talk with them about their interests and dreams.   We are told that it is every Compassion child's dream to meet their sponsor.  I have trouble believing that.  I can't imagine that I will live up to any of their expectations if that is indeed true.  
      Nick and I have begun joking that the four of them will bond over their shared joke of  "How did we get these weirdo sponsors from the US?"   (Cue Nick giving them a detailed demonstration of how to operate the solar light that we are bringing for each family, or my uncontrollable weeping.)   Frank, Marcel, Vaileth, and Eliafile will be able to talk among themselves in Swahili, after all.  They can say whatever they want about us and we will never know.  We will have a translator, but that person will probably be sensitive enough to provide a kind translation.  I wonder if Tanzanian teenagers roll their eyes. . .

      We have never traveled overseas.  We will meet the 
sponsor tour at JFK in NYC on March 2, 2013 with an open mind and lots of enthusiasm.  Did I mention my fear of flying?   Flying a total of 40 hours on this trip  will hopefully cure that problem.   I suspect we will return to the U.S. one week later with a new perspective.  We intend to share that perspective with our family and friends and anyone who will listen.  We believe in Compassion International, and we will tell you all about Frank, Marcel, Vaileth, and Eliafile when we return.


     Nick selected Frank from the Compassion website because he could pronounce his name.   Since beginning that sponsorship in April, 2009, Nick has received stacks of letters from Frank, whom we called "the cutest little boy in Africa" at that time.  He is now 8 years old, and he and Nick have developed a special friendship.
     Frank lives with his mother and baby sister on Lake Victoria.  His mother earns a living, if it can be called that, by "selling small fish." A little research revealed that this is a typical livelihood for women on Lake Victoria, and they often prostitute themselves in exchange for the meager piles of fish that they then cook and try to sell in the marketplace.  
     Homes in his community have cardboard or cement floors.  Malaria and HIV/AIDS are common.  Frank was one of the first students registered in his project (TZ 345) when it opened in 2009.  His earliest letters, written by the tutor at the project, showed his young personality.  "Frank greets you with Shikamoo.  He wants to tell you he has a friend named Baake.  He loves him so much."  In the next letter, "Frank lives with his mom.  He says he loves her so much."  Then, soon after, "He loves studying, and he loves his teacher Scola so much."
     We heard about Frank's love for Scola many times, and then when his baby sister Jackline was born, we heard "Frank loves her so much."  Guess what, Frank?  Nick and I love you so much.
     The tutor who helps him write to Nick said that Frank is always the first child to arrive at the project on Saturday (Compassion project day in Tanzania.)  He waits on the steps for the first teachers and volunteers to arrive.  I hope he arrives first because he is eager to enjoy the fellowship and not just because of hunger.
     Nick sends Frank pictures from his trail camera  and pictures from his hunting adventures (bear, deer, turkey).  He and Frank discuss hunting in their letters.  Frank told Nick that they have "wild dogs and hyenas" near his home.  He said they found a poisonous snake on the Compassion project wall one day.  Yikes.
     I can't wait to see Frank and Nick meet for the first time in March, 2013.  I think they will have plenty to talk about (with the help of a translator).  When Nick selected Frank, he did not know that Frank's father was not involved in his life.  It worked out nicely, I think, that these two ended up together.  Nick has been acquiring fun things to bring Frank (soccer ball, marbles, school supplies) but I vetoed the purchase of the whoopie cushion and rubber snake.  I don't want to be the first couple kicked off a Compassion sponsor tour.


     We think he is pretty special.  Even though Nick is his sponsor, I can't wait to give him a big hug.


     I have a binder full of letters from Marcel, age 13, who attends TZ 813.  I have sponsored him since November, 2009.  In his community, homes are constructed of cement floors, thatch roofs, and mud walls.  Malaria, typhoid, and HIV/AIDS are especially rampant in his area of Tanzania.  Monthly income averages $5.00 per month, and the typical local diet consists of maize, beans, and potatoes.  He helps his parents by carrying water and buying/selling in the marketplace.
     Marcel begins each letter with "Shikamoo!"  which is a Swahili greeting used by young people for their elders.  (The "elder" responds with "Marahaba!")  He is an excellent student (I receive his grade report every year) and he hopes to be a journalist.  He wants to write about sports and politics.  Yes, I have notebooks and pens purchased and packed for him.  Through Compassion, I have been able to send him small notebooks and looseleaf paper in folders, but in March I will be able to give him a backpack full of school supplies and some other fun stuff (like a harmonica and a soccer ball!)
     Marcel and his parents and little brother Yohana attend a Roman Catholic Church, and Marcel draws me beautiful religious pictures. He is quite the artist.  This young man's future seems bright, thanks to Compassion, and I believe that he is already a leader in his family and school.
     Marcel has told me that he hopes I will be his sponsor forever (smile).  In a 2011 letter, he said, "Welcome to Tanzania.  If you come, you will experience many beauties.  We have Mt. Kilimanjaro and many animals."  


     I wish I could see Marcel's face when he is told that I am coming to Tanzania in March, 2013.  Then, when I see him in person, I will tell him that I did not come to see Mt. Kilimanjaro or the animals (though we are looking forward to those things, too!) - but that I came to meet him in person.  I want to watch him sketch a picture on the artist's pad that I am bringing for him.  I want to see him kick the soccer ball.  Soccer (football in Africa) is his favorite sport.  I want to give him a big hug (or two or three).  Don't you think he is a handsome young man?


     I have only sponsored Vaileth since May, 2012.  She is 14 and attends Compassion project TZ 315, which is located in a city of 250,000 people.  The average monthly income is $5.00.  Vaileth lists her responsibilities as carrying water and washing clothes.  Homes in her community are typically made of dirt floors, mud walls, and thatch roofs.  Trachoma (an eye disease) is very common in her community.
     In her first letter, Vaileth said, "Through your sponsorship, I am able to attend school, receive school uniforms and medical services.  I very much like to attend school.  My favorite subject is Swahili."


     That's a girl after my own heart, since I used to be an English teacher.  English, Swahili - a love of language is the same in any culture, right? I can't wait to meet Vaileth, who looks like she wants to smile.  I hope she likes the notebooks, pens, and other special goodies I plan to give her in March.  
      In the second letter I received from Vaileth, she said that she enjoyed the photos I sent her from my daughter Anna's wedding.  She said that her own sister named Anna was happy to learn that there is an Anna in my family, too.
      Vaileth told me that her friends Severa and Monica say hi to me "a lot."  I like that.  Vaileth seems like a smart and sociable girl.  I think we will have lots to chat about.


     I have only been Eliafile's sponsor since May, 2012.   She is 15 and is responsible for carrying water, gathering firewood, and gardening for her family.  In her community, which is near Mt. Kilimanjaro, the average monthly income is $5.00.  Typical homes are built with mud walls and dirt floors. 

      I have received two letters from her and a photo showing  two goats and two chickens which she bought with a financial gift.  She is the youngest of seven children.  

     She proudly told me that she was one of only a few students at her school who passed the national exam allowing entrance into secondary school.  She asked for prayers for the people of her village who were planting their maize crop.

      I can't wait to meet this serious-looking girl in March.  Hopefully, we will see her smile and learn more about her personality and her dreams.