Our sponsor tour group received a royal Ghanian welcome when we arrived at the child development center. It was a Saturday, and overcast skies had turned bright blue. Children greeted us with drums and dancing.
While I won’t soon forget that beautiful welcome, it was a series of conversations with a teenage girl that changed me that day.
Fourteen-year-old Valinda* and I were drawn to one another. She and her precious smile followed me around, and I found myself on the lookout for her throughout the day.
So I was especially troubled when one of the development center workers approached me.
“Talk some sense into this girl! She isn’t coming to the center most Saturdays. She’s in danger of being departed from the program.”
My heart sank for my new friend Valinda. It was an instant wake-up call to be mindful of the older children and adolescents in our programs.
Here are three important things to remember about our adolescent beneficiaries:
- Adolescents have a responsibility to be part of the program. We have a standard that if a child has unjustified absences for two consecutive months, he or she can be departed from the program. We are not providing a handout; we are actively committed to changing the lives of children and young adults.
This means requiring more of them. As a sponsor, you are helping to provide our kids with an opportunity for better life. But they have to show up and participate.
- Adolescents still desire to be known and loved. Let’s be honest. Adolescence can be a very awkward time. If you disagree with me, my parents have photo albums I’m sure they’d love to share with you!
Older kids aren’t necessarily as cute as the younger children. They’re trying to figure out their lives in the face of changing hormones, tremendous obstacles and peer pressure.
They may push the limits as they reach out for love. No matter their behavior, adolescents require extra doses of patience, guidance and love (even when they act like they don’t want it!).
- Adolescents are more likely to drop out of the program than younger children. We as an organization are still learning how to keep the program relevant and engaging to older beneficiaries. Earlier this year, we created new adolescent curriculum that the child development centers now use.
Another issue we encounter is the reality of older children losing their sponsors for various reasons. An adolescent can be confused as to why his or her sponsor has discontinued the sponsorship.
It can be common for older children to have had a number of sponsors over the years.
Valinda and I talked and prayed together. I asked her what the consequences would be if she continued to have unexcused absences. She began to understand how she would no longer be able to have a relationship with her sponsor, whom she dearly loved.
I’m happy to report that I recently heard from our staff in Ghana that Valinda is now attending the center regularly and they no longer have any reason to depart her from the program!
A word for those of you who sponsor an older child: Do not grow weary in your encouragement! They need to hear from you now more than ever. Speak into the lives of these older children and teenagers. It could make all the difference.
What do you say to encourage your adolescent child?
*Name changed for privacy