I’ll add a few comments to Bryan’s account of our visit with Abby in metro Manila, mid-July 2016.
Abby started attending her center at age 8 and I started sponsoring her when she was 15, about 5 years ago. She had only one previous sponsor before me, but had never received a letter.
The Compassion student centers are all affiliated with a local church. The activities include Christian teaching, training and info on practical life skills, health checkups and education, tutoring, school fee payment, uniforms and supplies, and a meal while they’re there. They also have sports teams and competitions and teach cultural arts like music and dance.
I’ve noticed that during child visits my general state of mind is basically overwhelmed. Some sponsors have a very parental attitude toward their kids, and feel comfortable advising them on life issues, expressing lots of (possessive) affection, and conversing freely. I can’t really do any of those things. I do love these kids, but I don’t feel they’re mine. Most of them have loving parent(s) or guardians, and other supportive people in their daily lives. I don’t feel comfortable popping up out of another universe, in effect, and taking charge.
So I usually do ask for a hug, but not until we’re leaving. I rely heavily on the other people around us to make it easier to talk. I rely on actions speaking louder than words. They realize that we’ve traveled a long way to see them and bring them and their family gifts, and that says more than anything I could express verbally.
I also try to avoid putting more pressure on them than the visit is already producing (which is considerable, usually). I try to be as gentle as possible, and let them do and be what they want to. I also don’t expect them to remember a lot of details about me from the letters. It’s pretty common to get questions like how many kids I have, what do I do, etc. (obviously, things I’ve written about repeatedly). I figure they have enough on their plate with just surviving from day to day.
Abby is probably my easiest sponsored child to communicate with. She writes in English very well, and I have shared the most about my life with her. But I think both of us were feeling nervous. A correspondence is one thing, and seeing and talking with each other is something else.
But it was good. I think we both wished it could be a longer time. Toward the end of the visit, she said, “This is the most memorable day of my life.”
Some of our conversation was pretty funny. At one point during lunch she said, “I can’t stop looking at your nose, it’s so pointed.” Great self-esteem moment but I laughed. She’s right, compared to everyone around her, it is. And I feel like a giant!! I’m about 5’8″ but that’s well above average for a woman in the Philippines.
It was hard to say goodbye. She thanked me repeatedly for our help, and then said, you never forget to write me a letter. And I told her that she is the child whose letters have been the biggest encouragement to me, which I have definitely needed in this calling.
Abby is a success story. She has her BS in Psychology now, and is working in her chosen field. She is a leader at the Compassion center and in her church. I’m extremely proud to have been a part of the network of people helping to launch this extraordinary young woman.