I’d always believed that child sponsorship was a powerful thing. I knew that my £21 a month winged its way to far away shores, to change the life of a little girl. But seeing it all first hand was a really powerful and emotional experience for me.
I took a trip to Mexico with Compassion, to meet the girl I sponsor.
From my first glimpse of Mexico City out of the plane window, I was struck by the vast mass of shanty towns as far as the eye could see. According to Wikipedia “explosive growth in the population of the city started from the 1960s” so that “between 1960 and 1980 the city’s population more than doubled to 8,831,079″. This had a knock on effect – “under relentless growth, the Mexico City government could barely keep up with services. Villagers from the countryside who continued to pour into the city to escape poverty only compounded the city’s problems. With no housing available, they took over lands surrounding the city, creating huge shantytowns that extended for many miles. This caused serious air pollution in Mexico City and water pollution problems, as well as a sinking city due to groundwater-related subsidence”. So this was the place I went to, and I can vouch that it’s all true.
All I could do was cry and give her a hug
Walking around the huge shanty towns was heart-breaking. The need was vast. The sun was aggressively hot and the ground was nothing but dust. Stray dogs wandered around everywhere, and the streets were covered in rubbish and sewage. It broke my heart to think the child I support has to live in a place like that.
Arriving there felt like a roller-coaster of heart-ache, prayer and shock. Developing countries are not new to me as my Grandparents lived as missionaries in Africa for twenty years. I spent a month with them in Zimbabwe at the age of nine and have also spent time in other developing areas of South America. Yet arriving in Mexico City felt different as I was en route to meet a specific person that I’d got to know through letter writing – someone who wasn’t a missionary, but was a victim of poverty and desperate for a way out.
On the day I was scheduled to meet her, I felt like a bundle of nerves! Her name is Berenice and she and her Mum walked for about an hour along dusty roads in the hot sun to come and meet me at the Compassion project.
I’d prepared some things to say to her in Spanish, but when she walked into the room and our eyes met, all the clever Spanish phrases disappeared from my mind! All I could do was cry and give her a hug. She cried too – so did her Mum. But they were tears of happiness and of the realisation that we all knew each other from afar and now were meeting in person. I can honestly say it was one of the best and most significant days of my life.
The next day I visited their little home. Berenice and her entire extended family live in a tiny concrete building with a tin roof. There is one room for sleeping and one room for everything else. I lost count of how many people actually lived there, but there were at least 4 or 5 in a space we would consider fit for one person.
I also visited the Compassion project that Berenice attends. She has a toothbrush with her name on it, school books, great healthy food every day and a community of teachers that love and support her. The feeling around the project was one of joy, energy and hope. It was a stark contrast to the feelings of despair and sadness that covered the shanty town.
The project stood out like a shining ray of hope in the darkness. Each child then carried that hope back to their home and family. I saw that in Berenice’s home – her mother, aunties and uncles had hope shining in their eyes as they spoke about the way the project has given Berenice a future. The Spanish translator relayed it all to me; their delight that their little daughter and niece now had an education, health care and a place to grow spiritually. It seemed to have taken years off their lives too, as the hard burdens of their own lives were somehow lifted by knowing their next generation would rise above the poverty that surrounded them.
I’ll never forget meeting her and her family. It proved to me how powerful child sponsorship is.
If you haven’t considered it, I’d recommend it! It’s incredible to see how far £21 a month goes in utterly changing a child’s life. I’m still deeply moved from the trip and the things I saw and experienced there will remain with me forever.
Vicky Beeching is a Christian musician and worship leader, as well as an ambassador for Compassion. Check out her blog where she discusses spirituality, technology and music.