Meeting Siphiwe, my World Vision sponsor child, was the unexpected highlight of my trip. I knew I was going to like it, but I didn’t realize just how much I was going to.
Maybe I was a bit apprehensive or nervous about hanging out with a child all day, especially since I knew her English was going to be basic if really at all. But when I saw her walk into the dirt yard, no longer a photograph, but now an actual living, walking, smiling, being, I immediately teared up.
She was wearing a basic grey t0shirt and the cutest pink skirt, which I noticed later, was on inside out. She either didn’t know or didn’t care. She was barefoot, as most impoverished farming family children are, but after a short time, a boy brought her a pair of high-top converse type shoes.
She sat next to me, very timid and shy. I asked her some questions, which one of the World Vision crew translated. Her favourite food is fish and her favourite school subject is science.
Every time we made eye contact, we smiled goofily at each other and she’d look away.
Siphiwe’s aunt (her mom was able to make it because she fell ill, and her father wasn’t there because he abandoned the family years ago) was at the house to explain all the positive things that had happened to Siphiwe and her family since she became a sponsor child. I teared up as she told me about how their life has improved.
It was the strangest thing, to see this little girl in person. For the past five or so years, I’d been watching her grow up via photographs. I never wrote her or sent her anything. I was a very bad sponsor parent. But now here I was.
The World Vision crew had a day planned for us. Not only does my donation money go to help Siphiwe and her family, but it also gets pooled with other donors in the area to help build up the community.
We travelled from her very remote home, to her school, where I was shown the new toilets that World Vision had built, with an emphasis on hand washing and sanitation. They had even installed a hand washing station.
World vision is also credited for building several water pumps that can be used by the whole community. Some have to walk up to five kilometers to access these pumps, so imagine what their options were before the pumps!
I was also shown a nearby school (about ten km away), where Siphiwe will go after she finishes grade seven. At this school, World Vision had also built new toilets, and also houses for teachers. Getting teachers to teach and remain in remote areas is difficult, so providing housing for them and their families on site at the school helps retain them.
As we walked from building to building, Siphiwe never left my side and eventually, grabbed my hand. We walked hand in hand everywhere we went.
(Side note: this is where I collected rocks for a friend Adrien Thomas. He has asked me to bring rocks back from Africa and I had been waiting until I found some real cool ones. I finally did here!)
We then drove back down one of the unkept, uneven, dirt paths (I’m not sure you could even consider what we were driving on a road), back to the little town of Kalomo where I was lodging for lunch. Waiting for the meal to be served, Siphiwe got adventurous and began to play with my cameras. I must say, she looks good with a camera….
We had chicken and chips, or fish and chips for myself. Siphiwe didn’t finish her lunch, and packed it up to take home. I thought it quite ironic as I heard my parent’s voices from my childhood saying, “finish your dinner, starving children in Africa would love your food.”
On the long drive back to her home, she laid her head on my shoulder and grabbed my hand. We goofed around and took some selfies, which she loved. Along with the chewing gum that I gave her.
Once back at her home, I gave her some gifts that I had brought from Canada. Two Canadian themed notebooks with some pencils for school. I also brought her a Frisbee, something they don’t really have in Africa. It was fun teaching her to play catch with it. Hopefully she is still playing with it. When I go back in the fall, I’ll have to pop by her place for a surprise test.
They also had a gift for me that I wasn’t expecting. Siphiwe and her brother began running around the yard chasing chickens. I thought they were just being kids, but then I watched them separate one from the pack and grab it. Then Siphiwe started heading my direction with it.
“They want to give it to you as a gift,” said one of the guides from World Vision.
Well I graciously accepted my gift with a smile, wondering what the hell a vegetarian backpacker was even going to do with it! I decided to give it to one of the World Vision guys, since they were pretty awesome. Not only did they organize the whole meeting and day for me, but they were fun to hang out with too.
As we got ready to part ways, I could tell that Siphiwe was sad. She looked as if she was going to cry. To be honest, I was barely holding it together myself. I didn’t want to say goodbye to this sweet child, who took such a quick liking to me and vice versa. Her little hand and her shy smile will forever by in my heart.