One day my friend Lourdes told me that she didn’t want to sponsor a child through the Mediterranea programme because she was terrified to think that if one day she wouldn’t be able to fulfil her commitment she would feel awful. The truth is at first I was annoyed with her. But…she was right. Because in the case of Mediterranea it would be as she says. If Lourdes would have sponsored and after would not have continued her support without a strong reason…yes…let’s not deceive ourselves, it would be a big, big blow for the vulnerable, sponsored family.
However sponsors of Mediterranea are very special people and the sponsorships are special. What is so different?
As we have mentioned before, in Mediterranea we have resisted the temptation to sponsor for a long while. We have been aware of the ‘pull’ of a child’s face and of the thought of helping one child in particular. However, we wanted to be clear, being members of Mediterranea, we help more than one child, we support the whole community. The children yes, but also the employees of the school, the local suppliers and of course the parents and families of these children. Thus, although risking attracting fewer members we have been consistent in maintaining the concept of ‘member’ ahead of ‘sponsor’.
However, on our working trips to the schools of Akaki we have been able to see at first hand, how even in misery there are different levels. Although the criterion for selection of children to our schools is poverty, even among all these families that live in a very precarious situation, there are cases that are especially dramatic. A father, ill with AIDS, who doesn’t allow himself to be beaten by the disease and brings up his two sons. The grandmother who brings up her grand daughter on her barely existent pension, taking food from her own mouth to provide for the child. Adolescents, some even children still, who care for their small brothers and sisters, leaving school to work in order to support the children when their parents die. Widows, who without their husbands have no resources with which to bring up their children.
As we know the history of each child and through them each family (we do this to assure ourselves that these really are families that need our support) we discovered that there were families that needed something more in order to keep going. On occasions we were able to give them work. At times they were able to help each other. But we never had enough to support all of the most needy families. For this reason we dared to start a programme of sponsorship, which has been made possible by all of our sponsors and Ana Calso, our super efficient and untiring coordinator of the programme.
As we have mentioned, this is a very special programme. The stories of these children are not created to touch the heart or to capture funds. They are stories, none of them easy, of real people. Of children. Of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents. Of children who, thanks to us, have this small help that keeps them from absolute misery. They are not able to live off the money that we send, they still have to struggle to live. But this money does allow them to remain in their homes rather than have to sleep in the streets. It allows them to keep going while the children are growing up. In many cases it allows mothers and fathers who are ill to eat and resist their illnesses.
We can tell of people like B. A woman with whom we shared two of the worst days of her life. The first when her husband confessed to being HIV+. The second, two days later, when she came crying to show us the results of the analysis that we had urged and eventually convinced her to make, that as we had all feared she also had been infected. We all cried because B is a mother, woman and victim of an illness that is cruel to all but pitiless to those who have nothing.
We promised to help B, although we nearly didn’t make it because by the time that we were finally able to get the sponsorship programme going B’s husband had died and she had no work because of the stigma of this illness. Without income she had no food and was so weak that she couldn’t get up off her bed. She was on the point of dying. But now…B is fantastic. Thanks to the sponsorship she can eat and this is enough to allow her to with stand the medications (anti-retroviral medicine is provided free of charge by the Ethiopian government) and she leads a totally normal life.
Not long ago, two years after these two horrible days, I returned to see and hug B and her daughter. What a difference to the destroyed woman she was. She has left her dark days behind and now only sees colours. She is pretty, very pretty and smiling, always smiling. She is proud that her daughter now stands as tall as her shoulders and is an exemplary student, studying every day. While writing I am looking at her photo and I see her with a blouse and bag that her sponsor gave her and her daughter with a colourful tiara and pink new shiny jacket that she received from Spain. We cannot fail B or the rest.
These are not children chosen by chance; they are families (because the help is for all the family not just the child) that, thanks to you have the possibility to live. Therefore they need that our commitment will be a sure one. They are not chosen faces, neither by chance nor to fill spaces, we know their names, their families and their homes…and we need to be certain that if you decide to sponsor you do so with conviction. The families need that you remain by their side and commit to them in earnest. If, for whatever reason you cannot help, it doesn’t matter, continue as members. However if you decide to be a sponsor then you have to commit for a long time because you will be the only ones between them and despair.
We are very happy to be able to count on sponsors like you; we know that we can count on really special people for very special children.
With all my heart, in my name and that of Mediterranea, thank you, thank you very much.
PS Lourdes did not become a sponsor but a member and continues being one.