A few years ago, I was home visiting my parents in my childhood home in Irvine, California. With the windows open, a bowl full of freshly sliced fruit and the familiar smell of summer barbecues floating in with the warm Southern California breeze, I settled into my favorite spot. Not a #firstworldproblem in the world.
Ready for more organic deliciousness, I found myself back in the kitchen. Taped on the inside of the pantry, I noticed a photo of a handsome young boy that I hadn’t seen before.
I was immediately captivated by the sunbeams that seemed to shoot out of his humble smile. His beautiful eyes drew me in. I couldn’t help but notice the hopeful look he had.
“Hey mom – who is this cutie?” I asked.
That’s when my mom first introduced me to an amazing organization that is changing lives every day: the International Children’s Network.
Sponsoring a child in need
She said his name was Enock Katunda and he lived in Uganda. He was an orphan who lived with his Aunt, who was struggling to support him. My mom became his sponsor and penpal.
For $35 per month, she could supply him with food and water, pay for new clothes, send him to school, buy his books and cover any bus fees.
Being from South Africa herself, my mom has seen the struggles of Africa’s people first-hand and has always been committed to giving back to her homeland. I really admire her for that and felt like this would be a great way to not only give back, but also create and develop a personal connection with children in need.
I got in touch with Don Windham, ICN’s Sponsorship Program Director, via email. Within a few days and a few emails, I was on my way to sponsoring 8-year old Grace and 11-year old Cynthia.
Grace and her two siblings were abandoned by their parents. She now lives with her grandmother. Cynthia is the youngest of eight children who lives with her single mother, who was struggling to make ends meet.
Over the next year, we began exchanging letters and photos and learned more about each other. I find a huge sense of enjoyment in the simple act of opening their mail and reading about their lives in Liberia. Their gratitude-infused letters make me want to be a better person.
Grace: “Thank you so much for paying my school fees. I am in school presently and it is always a blessing for a girl child to be in school. I am in 4th grade and my dream of becoming a nurse is getting to be a reality.”
Cynthia: “I want to say I am so happy and want to wish you Merry Christmas and a happy, happy New Year. Here in Christmas we eat lots, visit friends and family members. We also dance and play. Please tell me how you are gonna celebrate? I love you.”
What always strikes me about Grace and Cynthia’s letters is the joy they find in simple things. Playing kickball, laughing with their friends – they express such humble gratitude at such a young age. It seeps off the pages of their letters and straight through my soul.
Finding perspective through giving
The relationship I’ve developed with Grace and Cynthia reminds me to be grateful for the unbelievable blessings in my life. From a bowl of fresh fruit, to a warm breeze, to a roof over my head, I feel incredibly lucky. No blessing is too small to celebrate.
Grace, Cynthia, Enock and countless other children are faced with extreme poverty and hardships 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In spite of their circumstances, they still smile. They still have hope. They still send us happy letters. They feel grateful.
They are excited to create new possibilities in their lives.
What would happen in our own lives if we all found this type of positive perspective?
Did you know that giving someone a gift lights up the same areas in your brain that are active when you receive one?
According to research, giving to a charity causes the same signs of pleasure and reward response in your brain’s circuitry as receiving a monetary gift.
Turns out that giving not only helps your fellow humans – it actually raises your own happiness level.
If you’d like to sponsor a child and have an amazing experience helping someone in need, while also making yourself happier, Enock, Grace and Cynthia’s friends are ready to connect with you.
For just over $1.00 per day, you can alter the course of another human being’s life, while being inspired to live with even more gratitude for your own.
Video courtesy of icnchildren.net