Expat Kiwi Anna Robinson has sponsored seven year old Caroline in Kenya since December 2011. Anna and her fiancé Morgan live and work in Egypt, so using the close proximity to their advantage, they travelled to meet Caroline and her family, an experience that Anna says was both overwhelming and life changing.
Caroline (and her father, Robert, who can read and write English) and I write a couple of times a year. When Morgan and I made the move to Egypt to teach, I told Caroline we would try to visit her. We decided to meet my parents and do an African safari, so we made sure that we went via Kenya so that we could visit Caroline as part of our travels.
After a year of living in Egypt, I thought I was well prepared for whatever else Africa could show us, but I was actually really astounded by what we saw. There were many things that they did have that surprised me. But it’s the basic things that they struggle with. I didn’t realise that water was such a huge problem. At least in Egypt they have natural resources, like the Nile, which makes a huge difference. We were shown a water pump that ChildFund had put in, as well as water purifying barrels. It was amazing how thankful the community were for every little thing. It seems so small to us, but it’s vital for them.
Visiting Caroline was quite overwhelming. I was excited beforehand and then nervous on the day. But everything went really well and having Morgan there really helped – he kept talking and playing when I needed a moment for things to sink in. It also really helped that Robert speaks English.
I thought that I was prepared after a year in Africa, but the personal connection with Caroline and going to meet her had a huge impact. When we first drove up to the ChildFund office, I didn’t realise that the whole family would already be there. I got out of a car and a man started shaking my hand saying thank you over and over. I had no idea who he was until a staff member said it was Caroline’s dad, Robert. Then we shook hands with Caroline and the rest of her family. In Robert’s first letter to me he wrote that he wished that one day I could shake hands with Caroline. Making this a reality was definitely the highlight.
Caroline was very shy, but Morgan started showing her some magic tricks and she started to open up. By the end of the day she was holding my hand. She didn’t say a lot, but she did sing a song for us at lunch. I had told them that I used to be a drama/dance teacher, and Morgan is a music teacher, so she had prepared a song for us.
"It wasn’t until I actually got back to the hotel that everything sunk in and I burst into tears!"
I learned Caroline comes from a big family – I met her Mum, Dad and her four siblings. We also met her extended family – her Aunty even did a special welcome song and dance for us. For Caroline’s birthday I had given her some extra money – which they used to purchase a goat. They said it was a lucky goat, because it was pregnant.
We visited Caroline’s school, and luckily had enough sweets to give out to all the children. They were so polite, waiting patiently for their lolly and saying thank you – certainly not what Morgan and I are used to as teachers! We also saw the ChildFund office, a house where people were taking a training session and a water pump. For some reason I was expecting a quiet village, and I didn’t think that there would be so many people living in close proximity. I was embarrassed by how much thanks I was given when I don’t really think that I do much.
I can’t rate the ChildFund staff highly enough. We were met by Head office, as well as a driver and the man in charge of sponsorship. He was so friendly and helped us choose some groceries for Caroline. He answered all our questions, even though some of them were probably a bit dumb, and even stopped when we saw giraffes on the side of the road! (We were pretty excited; we’d never seen them in the wild!) We were also impressed by the staff at the office in the village and the lady who represented Caroline’s area. Everyone was so lovely and seemed genuinely excited that we were there. The day was well organised and ran smoothly. We were even met the following day at our hotel and presented with a certificate and a Kenyan flag.
ChildFund are doing a fabulous job and I’m so glad that there are people in the world who are dedicated and passionate about changing lives and making the world a better place for those who are less fortunate. It made me a bit embarrassed that I teach rich children who have never had a reality check in their lives. I wanted to organise a school trip with every one of them to show them how lucky they really are.
I want to encourage anyone who can to sponsor a child. It really is a small thing that we can do to make a difference. I always knew that I was lucky to be born in New Zealand and have opportunities to be educated, travel and live a comfortable lifestyle, but visiting Caroline really put things into perspective for me. Morgan and I continued travelling throughout Europe and the Middle East after our visit and Safari and I’m really glad I visited Caroline first. I’ve realised that I don’t need the things I see that I want. I have to say that visiting Caroline was life changing and I have tried to pass the message on. But there’s also something about seeing it firsthand for yourself that you just can’t quite share with others.