We arrived half an hour earlier than scheduled and did not expect for our sponsored child to be there. “Edwin!” I heard a staff member howl, and from the tone of her voice I knew right away that our child was already there waiting. She came an hour early.
I looked to where the voice came from and there she was, smiling, walking towards me with a card in her hand. I walked to get the card and knelt before her. My wife followed closely behind.
Are you Shan?
She nodded and gave the cutest smile.
My wife approached her and gave her a big hug. We opened her card together and read her carefully written message.
Welcome! I love you Daddy Edwin and Mommy Daisy.
Later we found out, that every day for a week before we came, Shan has been asking her center director when we would arrive.
After she warmed up a bit and began to communicate freely with us, I asked her a few questions not many sponsors can ask.
Shan, is it OK that we are Filipinos?
She gave me three big nods.
Is it OK that we live in the same country and that I won’t be showing you pictures of a home in the snow or of a snowman?
Her dimples on both cheeks and missing front teeth are what make her smile so cute.
“Do you know where we live?” I asked her.
Very quickly she replied, “In Manila.”
Daisy and I were afraid that she would be disappointed to see that her sponsors were not foreigners. We gave her gifts — bags, stickers, dolls, school supplies, shoes and other cuddly stuff, all coming from Manila, Philippines. We were just one hour by plane away from her.
The delight we saw in her eyes and her cute smile that almost got permanently stuck to her lovely face for the entire time we were there proved to us that we were right in deciding to sponsor a child. We were right to decide to commit US $32 a month for Shan.
While US $32 may not be considered big for the average American, it is quite substantial here in the Philippines, even for someone like me whose income is above what the common Filipino worker gets. (In fact, millions of Filipinos earn just around US $32 a month!)
We’re happy to sponsor Shan. We’re happy to see that the way she reacted to us was exactly how other sponsored children react to their foreign sponsors.
As a staff member of Compassion in the Philippines I have witnessed dozens of sponsor visits, and I knew that my own sponsor visit with Shan was running “normally,” until I saw where she lives.
My wife and I grew up here in the Philippines. We have never lived in another country and have never enjoyed the comforts of living in a developed country.
We know poverty. We have lived with it. So we were not expecting anything out of the ordinary on our way to Shan’s house, which is why I told Daisy to just wait inside the taxi as I delivered the groceries to Shan’s hovel. I knew what was coming my way — congested homes along damp and smelly alleyways with half-naked, drunken men littering the dark corners and mothers washing clothes just beside stagnant sewer lines. I’ve seen them before.
I was carrying two bags of groceries as I negotiated my way through the crowded neighborhood. Then I stopped. I literally felt a thud on my heart and tears began to roll.
I imagined Shan walking and playing through these alleyways. I imagined her running scared away from drunken men. I imagined her playfully skipping over canals filled with green-brownish goo, not knowing how dangerous it is if she falls in.
The unpleasantness of the scenario became doubly unpleasant when I realized that this is Shan’s reality. It’s not the safest place for a child to grow up. Shan’s father was murdered here when Shan was only 2 years old. He was shot in the head in broad daylight.
I was crying when I got to Shan’s tiny home. Her grandmother greeted me, invited me in and offered food. But the taxi was waiting.
As I returned to my wife she was surprised that my eyes were swollen red.
I thought it wouldn’t hit me, but it did; and it hit me hard.
What happened back there? Why did I cry?
I think I finally understood what sponsorship means. It means loving a child as your own but not being able to physically protect her all the time. And so you resolve to be the best sponsor you can be.
Before the visit, sponsorship for me and my wife was just a nice thing to do, a very nice thing. But now we know we just got us a daughter whom we will love, pray for, support, communicate with, and watch over as she grows (although from a distance).
As the Field Communications Specialist for Compassion in the Philippines, I talk with sponsored children, visit their homes and write stories about them on a regular basis. And now that I am a sponsor of one, it won’t hurt that as I write about a sponsored child I will be thinking about Shan.