Meeting Sarath

Sarath When I was in India last month, I met the boy I sponsor, Sarath. I had been hoping and praying to meet him, and I just happened to be taking a work trip to India.

I was a bit nervous. Don’t tell, but I’m not great with kids. I know I work at Compassion, but I’m a writer–more natural with a keyboard than with real, live people, let alone children who can smell fear. So I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

The day I visited his village outside Chennai was Pongal, a festival in the state of Tamil Nadu. Along the way, we saw bright sand drawings outside every doorway and cows adorned with flower garlands for the holiday. I had put on my nicest salwar kameez, vainly worrying he would think I was some weird-looking old white lady.

We arrived in Sarath’s neighbhorhood, and I was so happy to see that it was a relatively nice, pleasant place. There was space between the homes, his family had their own bathroom and even a little courtyard to play in and wash dishes.

Sarath was waiting outside. I’d like to say we rushed toward each other and hugged and cried. We didn’t. (I learned on my trip that Indian children don’t seem to be as into hugging as other cultures are.)

We shook hands and he whispered something in my ear. He was very sweet. He was so shy that during the entirety of my visit, he only whispered a couple of short phrases in my ear, so quietly I couldn’t tell if they were in English or Tamil.

We stepped inside and I met his mother, two lovely sisters, aunt, and cousin, who all share the same little room for their home.

On their shelf was a picture of my husband and I. His mother told me that he likes to call us “Mommy” and “Daddy,” even though the project taught him to call us Auntie and Uncle. Sarath tells his mom that even if she dies, he knows he’ll be OK because there’s someone else who cares about him.

Sarath’s mom and aunt inherited their parents’ home, and they proudly showed me their home, the floor all six of them sleep on, where they cook in a tiny side room, and the wall they built to keep out the rain with a family gift we had sent. (Who knew a small family gift could build a wall?)

We asked all the kids what they wanted to do when they were older. Sarath’s adorable little cousin said she wanted to be a doctor, and the family all laughed at her pluck. She’s sponsored too, but her sponsors have never written. She feels bad each time Sarath gets a letter or gift from us. Sarath’s sisters stole my heart. Their eyes were eager and bright, even though they were so shy and quiet.

I gave Sarath his backpack with candy, a shirt, a soccer ball, and frisbee in it, and we began to speak the international language of sports, playing frisbee in the courtyard. We couldn’t share any words, but we’d laugh as one of us would miss it, or as I’d get accidentaly tangled in my Indian shawl.

After several hours of asking questions, playing frisbee, and taking pictures, it was time to go. We walked back through the alleys and gathered a crew of curious young boys and a cow on our way. Before getting on the van, I gave Sarath an awkward little side hug (that I hoped was appropriate for India). He asked me through whispered translation to pray for him every day. He repeated his request several times. Sarath promised he would be praying for us.

Seeing Sarath and hugging him (kind of) and listening to his whispered sentences showed me how real our relationship is. The letters and pictures I send off to a faraway land end up in a real home, propped on a real shelf. The words are read and believed by a young boy who knows that someone cares about him and is secure in that. And that’s what I learned in India.

16 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Vicki Small November 18, 2009

    Tracy, with three trips to the Dominican Republic under my belt, I can assure you that hugs are most welcome, there! So are stickers, by the way, and having their photos taken–with you, with your kids, with their siblings and friends, etc. But don’t feel as if you need to hold back on hugs; if you are at a project, you may have some of the kids coming back for more…and more!

  2. Tracy Jentzsch November 17, 2009

    I loved reading your story. We leave in two days for the Dominican Republic, where we will travel to meet our sponsor child. We are taking our three children as well. We are all so excited, but nervous. I shared your story with my kids, and now they are asking lots of questions about things like hugs! Hopefully we will have a wonderful experience like you did! Be blessed.

  3. Sandra March 31, 2009

    Thanks Amber for sharing your story along with some pictures.
    It really touched my heart and I hope that some year I will be able to visit our sponsored children.I pray that we are making a different in their lives and that their lives will be fulled with hope. You really encourage me that it is and will.
    Thanks again.

  4. Sam P.F Chennai February 26, 2009

    Amber, I am really exicted to hear your story on Sarah. I praise God for making it a blessing for you to be here in India.
    I trust this will be a great encouragement and motivation for many sponsors to meet their sponsored children.

  5. groovyoldlady February 17, 2009

    Our Pinky is in India as well. I’ve wondered if she even cares about the pictures or letters I send. (Not that I intend to stop sending them!) She is quite young, so I rarely hear from her and in the photo I have of her she looks so stern. What a blessing to hear how your sponsored child cherishes your relationship. You’ve encouraged me!

  6. Heather February 17, 2009

    Wow!! What an amazing experience!! 🙂 I would love to meet my sponsored children someday. Don’t feel bad though Amber-I’m terrified of children!! I can handle almost anything but small children..:)
    I loved this post. I love India so I read all of these I can! 🙂

  7. Amber Van Schooneveld
    Amber Van Schooneveld February 16, 2009

    Thanks for all your comments!
    Little i, it was taken in front of his neighbor’s house, not his own. Many of the homes had these drawings in front of them for the holiday. Very beautiful!

  8. Lukewarm February 16, 2009

    Amazing. A true blessing indeed. I hope to meet my sponsored child in India as well one day.

    Also, I believe I saw a video of you and Sarath on the Compassion youtube channel.


  9. little i February 16, 2009

    What a sweet story!

    I have to ask: was the sidewalk drawing in your photo drawn by Sarath? Whoever did it is very talented!

  10. Lindy February 16, 2009

    Amber, What a joy it was to meet your sponsored boy and his family! Thanks for letting us have a peek into your day!

  11. Vicki Small February 16, 2009

    Amber, thanks for sharing with us that you’re “not good” with children! I feel so awkward with them, even when there’s no language barrier, that I sometimes feel as if I become someone else.

    And I admit that the first time I met Denisse, and the first time I saw her and Maria together (both in DR), I wasn’t really comfortable, although I love hugging them! Our visit last October was different–they’ve become my “heart” children more deeply than ever before. We shared, I even spoke a little Spanish, and Denisse even said she could understand me! :o)

    Barbara, it isn’t easy to see or to learn that our kids live in bad environments. We know they are poor–or we wouldn’t be sponsoring them–but if we learn that their homes are abusive, or something, that’s especially hard.

    But going to visit them is not about us, nor should it be. It’s all about them, and how much it helps them to believe, really believe, that we honestly love them. They are so important to us that we will go to visit them, at our own expense! You can’t imagine what they does, how that boosts them! Yes, it will probably change your life, but that’s probably good, considering the culture we live in. (That isn’t any kind of statement about you, by the way.)

  12. Steve Dean February 16, 2009

    Thank you for sharing

  13. Juli Jarvis February 16, 2009

    Judith — what a great idea, to include other siblings in your letters and gifts!

    Barbara — I finally got to meet the boy I’d sponsored for 16 years in Haiti — and we fell in each others’ arms like old friends! We had a wonderful day together, and the last thing he said to me was “I wish I could see you every day of my life!” It was hard to leave, but I know he’s in God’s hands, and that his life has been hugely changed and improved because of his sponsorship.

    Amber — I would volunteer to be the correspondent for Sarath’s sister, if it can be arranged. I would love to write letters to her!

  14. Barbara M. February 16, 2009

    Thank you so much for this story! It is so encouraging to read this. I would love to hear about others who have visited their sponsored children and how it went for them as well if it would be possible. Although it is wonderful to meet, does it in some ways make it harder to come back here with a real awareness of their circumstances especially if they are not good?

  15. Judith Tremblay February 16, 2009

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! I want to visit my own child, and I’m continually encouraged when I hear stories of others visiting their sponsored children.

    It’s sad that Sarath’s sister doesn’t receive letters from her sponsor.

    Sometimes when I enclose things like stickers or little bookmarks, I’ll ask my sponsored child to share them with his siblings, and since he’s still too young to be able to write on his own (and I know his father has helped in writing, so I predict the parents will be reading the letters) I share how I am praying for the whole family.

  16. Chuck Guth February 16, 2009

    It is always an amazing experience to meet your sponsored child (or actually any of them) and truly realize what a difference you are making. What a blessing to be able to be part of this ministry!

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