Saturday, 19 July 2014

Where We Began: My Introduction to Sponsorship

I still remember the first time I’d ever heard the words, “child sponsor.” I couldn't have been very old at the time… maybe 7 or 8? My parents and I had gone to attend a concert in a neighboring community. It was my very first concert, which I enjoyed with wads of tissue in my ears because my mom was worried the loud music would give me a headache. During a break in the music, the band’s lead singer talked about World Vision and the impact they were having in so many countries.

After the concert, we found ourselves in front of the World Vision table. I still remember my dad reaching for his wallet and telling my mom to “pick a child” as he nodded towards the table. We came home that night with a new member of the family… a beautiful teenaged girl from India named Rajini.

I still remember telling my mom, in all my young wisdom… “Usually the big sister takes care of the little sister. But since we’re looking after Rajini, and I’m younger than her, the little sister is looking after the big sister!”

I sadly don’t remember much of our relationship with Rajini… I do know that we never wrote, being unfamiliar with the impact that letters have on our children and unfamiliar with child sponsorship in general. I do know that a few years later, Rajini’s parents removed her from the program. World Vision then sent us a packet for a new child… a little girl from either Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. Her name was Arti. But Arti only stayed in the program for a year or so before her family moved.

So, we began again… and this time we received a packet for a little girl in Romania. Her name was Livia.

This is the first picture we saw of Livia… she was only five, and lived with her parents in a very poor area. I still remember writing a letter to her for the first time… I was older now, and hungered for the relationship that comes with being a child sponsor. (Probably the reason I now have four kids!)

We’ve been so blessed to watch pretty Livia grow up. Now that she is older, she and my mother exchange letters regularly and are developing a beautiful relationship. She is in every way “my mother’s child”; which I suppose makes her my sponsor sister!

What a change from her first photo!

I remember being surprised at how much older she looked in this photo!
Livia working hard at Mathematics in school! Love the green socks! 
Still working hard in math years later! (Some of her photos have been misplaced)
My favorite picture of her... this one is frameable! I love how World Vision
makes an effort to stand the kids in creative poses for their yearly updates!
Livia loves flowers... lilacs and tulips are her favorites! (Mine too!)

The most recent photo update... age 14. I love her long hair!!

Livia just turned fifteen years old… which means she has been part of our family for ten years. She’s become a staple in our household, and for sure, she is my introduction to sponsoring children!

Dumnezeu să vă binecuvânteze, Livia! God bless you!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Oh, Olivia!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Olivia, I highly suggest you click here: Meet Olivia Manirafasha, for an introduction to our sweet girl and here: An Olive Tree in the House of the Lord, for an incredible update on her story!
“Oh, Olivia.” I sometimes whisper those words with a smile when I see her precious face.

After all, it’s kind of hard not to fall in love with those shining eyes and that crooked-toothed grin! And when I realized that it’s been months since I last gave you all an “Olivia update” I couldn’t wait to dig up some new pictures of her! Our precious girl has been thriving since her family’s transition to their new home. As I shared with you in my previous update, An Olive Tree in the House of the Lord, Olivia has received medical treatment at a well-known orthopedic center in Rilima and she is now walking all over the place!
She was quite the star at Shelter Them’s Christmas party that was held for all of our children! Isn’t she precious?
I still find myself shaking my head at her total transformation. From a helpless, crippled child crawling through the gutters with no hope and no future, Olivia has opened her arms to embrace the possibilities and is taking over her world with her dimpled grin. She pushes herself in every way. She hasn’t let her past hold her down, not one bit… and there’s far more to that mind of hers than we first realized.

When our team first met Olivia, they were told that she was physically and mentally handicapped. In the above photo, her mother supports her as she tries to dance to the music. She was completely unable to stand on her own. But as I studied the photos and videos more closely, I started believing that “mentally handicapped” was an unfair label. Olivia displays signs of cerebral palsy, which doesn’t affect a person’s intelligence at all. How terrible, I thought, with everyone thinking you are mentally challenged. Locked in a body that won’t obey you, trapped by a faltering tongue, and with poverty shoving you down and refusing to allow you a voice. My suspicions were confirmed when I watched a video of Olivia and Jules, who runs the Rwanda branch of Shelter Them, having a conversation about the family’s then-recent move.
Jules: “What should we tell the twins?”
Olivia: “We moved!”
Jules: “You moved?”
Olivia: “Yes!”
Jules: “How is your new place?”
Olivia: “We moved to a very beautiful place!”
Jules: “What should we tell them?”
Olivia: “Thank you and may God bless you!”

That, I thought, doesn’t sound like a mentally handicapped child to me. That sounds like a normal child her age… well, one who has never had a chance at any kind of education anyways; especially if she was treated as less-than-intelligent.

As it turns out, I was right… because as soon as Olivia finished her treatment at Rilima Othopedics Center and began walking, our team turned to the next thing on the “Olivia Bucket List”; school!

In the words of Jules; “I remember her asking me: ‘Uncle, will you take me to school? Will you buy me books?’ Her statement pushed me to go for seeking appropriate school for her.”

It wasn’t long after that that we got the news: A school had been found, and Olivia had taken a big step forward and begun the 100 km journey away from her family to attend a boarding school for special-needs students.

In the above picture, Olivia (on the left) stands with a new friend and classmate that she met at school. Our little “butterfly girl” is bursting out of her cocoon and soaring off to new adventures! With an education, nothing will be able to hold her back… I dream of seeing her become a motivational speaker and/or advocate for handicapped children.

Looking at this photo, it’s amazing how far she’s come… in just two years, Olivia has gone from being a “gutter child” with no future to a sassy, confident diva with a heart-stopping grin! Even her physical stature is changing… she’s grown so much taller and stronger.

No longer can we call Olivia "handicapped"… I think she’s proven herself to be more than “handi-capable!”

I just can’t wait to see where her journey takes her next!