True Confessions of a Child Sponsor

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Many years ago, I came to know the Mitrata-Nepal Foundation for Children through traveling to Nepal for work. This spring, I was returning to Nepal again, and I reached out to Mitrata to ask if I could meet the student whom I have sponsored over the past several years. Mitrata helped to coordinate the meeting, and in March, I traveled to my sponsored student’s corner of the world and waited anxiously on a couch across from a set of stairs in the Mitrata office to see her in person for the first time.

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My Mitrata sponsorship has stretched almost eight years and has reflected the ups and downs of my own life. In the worst years, I have fallen behind on my sponsorship payment and never caught up. While I waited for my Mitrata student, I thought about how there is an ideal for everything. The ideal child. The ideal parent. The ideal grandparent. The ideal teacher, coworker, neighbor, friend. In the same way, I'm sure that there is the “ideal” child sponsor. And I'm even more sure that I have not been it. But somehow, I've stuck with Mitrata, and I don't think it has anything to do with me; I think it does have everything to do with how Mitrata and its volunteer board are faithful to all of their sponsors.

Lost in my thoughts and discomfort, suddenly, there she was. The beautiful, hopeful face and joyful, grateful voice that came to us in paper over the years was walking toward me. Oh, the embrace. Oh, the tears. The regret and remorse and reassurance and redemption that flooded that moment for me. She's been the ideal child to sponsor, full of grace and gratitude and grit year after year. She probably didn't know how I have failed her and Mitrata at times, how there are better sponsors out there than me. I didn't feel worthy of being there, but I needed to promise her and myself and this selfless, enduring organization that I would do more and do better. I needed reminding of how we all need each other and should always do everything in our power to not fail each other. And when we must disappoint, don't hide. There's no shame in wanting to do more than what you can sometimes do.

Melissa with her sponsored child, Pratikshya Rai

Melissa with her sponsored child, Pratikshya Rai

Surprisingly, the most emotional moment came for me when I visited her mother. She was waiting outside her simple, wayside home. Her chin was trembling, tears swelling, as I made my approach. I had been full of all the same anxieties of meeting her daughter and now her. In our embrace, I felt the humanity pass between us. As mothers, we shared desires to give our children more. We share exhaustion from feeling we've not done enough or have enough. We worry about the future, and we feel gratitude for how far we've come.

She blessed my forehead with a tikka and dressed my wrist in sparkly plastic bracelets. She fed me and gave me something to drink and a place to sit and rest and share our lives for too short of a time. On the walls of her home, I saw photographs of her family and mine. Her daughter had always brought my letters and photos home to share with her just as I had done with the letters and photographs and videos I have received of her. My family and I read those letters together over dinner, admiring the careful handwriting and poetic drawings. We've watched the front of our refrigerator and another bulletin board in our home offices fill with our Mitrata student's photos and letters. We've framed her picture near other frames of family and friends. Through our walls of photographs and letters, Mitrata has connected our opposite ends of the earth, and now our lives and biographies and legacies were intertwined. Together, we are redeeming and changing each other's pasts and futures. 

Child sponsorship offers the privilege of sharing one's resources and an opportunity to show gratitude, but it can also surprise you with humbling realities. Life's hardships are relative—we all experience them. Mitrata has been a quiet and gentle reminder in the background that life is always harder for someone else, and it doesn't take much to change that. 

The best child sponsorship programs work as Mitrata does. They do not operate as a financial exchange between the more fortunate to the less. Their core values are not about equity or social debt but about connection and relationship and humanity—that for better or for worse, we need each other and should be in this thing called life and the world together. My worst days as a child sponsor are behind me. Love humbles and redeems. And my gratitude to Mitrata joyfully indebts me to its mission to educate and empower underprivileged children of Nepal. What better ideal could there be?

— Melissa Alipalo