Angela and Warwick Hill-Rennie have been child sponsors for over fifteen years. At the start of this year, they decided to sponsor another child, Le in Vietnam, who is very close to their daughter Simone’s age. They also decided to travel, as a family, to meet Le. Warwick shares his experience of the difference that sponsorship is making to not only Le’s life, but also to his family’s.
Our sponsorship journey with ChildFund started about 17 years ago, sponsoring Ibrahim in Uganda. We started sponsoring Le more recently; we wanted to sponsor another child to not only help them, but we also have a wish to show our own children that the world has many different dimensions. Le is very close in age to our daughter Simone, Le is 13 and Simone is 14. It’s our hope that through writing letters that they can learn about each others’ worlds. Our son Jack is a little bit older, he’s 17. But we thought it was a perfect age for them both to experience somewhere that is very different to the place they’ve grown up in.
Vietnam is developing so quickly, I was actually quite surprised – things like really accessible WIFI show how rapidly things are changing. Other things, however demonstrate the challenges they face. Our journey from Hanoi to Cao Bang took nearly 8 hours, there had been a lot of rain and there were a lot of slips on the road – we did start to wonder if we were ever going to get there.
It was the school holidays, but ChildFund had arranged for us to meet the school Principal and one of the teachers, and Le showed us around her school. The facilities were quite basic in comparison to New Zealand, but the children are delighted to be there and they are getting an education. There was also a computer, showing that technology does have a presence. The ChildFund staff were very proud to show us the work that has been done to provide clean water and sanitation to the school.
We also saw an irrigation project that has made a huge difference to production levels of corn, rice and sugar cane. Families still have to work hard, but they’re very proud of what they’re producing, because it means that their family has enough to eat. Le’s mother makes corn wine, which is very enterprising.
To start with, Le was very shy – she’s only just starting to learn English, so it was probably quite intimidating to have all of us around her. But the shyness evaporated pretty quickly, and it was great to see that she’s got a happy, bubbly personality – she’s cheeky, but in a good way! It was heartening for us to see for ourselves that Le is healthy and well balanced. We also met Le’s mother, who had lots of questions about us, and about Jack and Simone.
"Our visit has changed the way we feel about Le – we’ve seen firsthand that our sponsorship support does make a real difference."
We were also happy to learn that Le is living a good life, and she has options in front of her. She and her mother both really value her access to education, and she’s ambitious about her future; she said that she’d like to go to university. Vietnam is up and coming, so we’re committed to help Le navigate her way as she grows up.
I think the highlight of the visit, for me, was seeing the interaction between Le and Simone. At one stage they were drawing pictures of their worlds; Le’s drawing had rice fields and her community, and Simone drew pictures of her pets and the lifestyle block we live on. There was a connection there that didn’t need language, there was a common warmth and interest and fun – and it just really reminded me that children are children everywhere in the world.
I think it’s easy to be cynical; you read stories about how much money doesn’t make it where it’s really needed, or you wonder how much help you, as just one person, can really be. Visiting Le has really cemented for us that child sponsorship does work. We’re proud that we’re helping Le’s community to help themselves, and we’re proud that we’ve shown our children the importance of caring about and helping others.