Maria Hadley shows a book mark and a progress report from Ridwan her sponsored child in Indonesia.
Some time ago, in a suburban Massachusetts town, high school student Maria Hadley made a New Year’s resolution to “do something better.” She didn’t know it would lead to her touching the life of a young boy living in poverty a world away.
Even then, pieces of Maria’s life had begun to align such that sponsoring a child through ChildFund would be a natural step. One piece is her summer job at a local farm stand, where the new high school graduate will spend her fifth summer selling flowers and produce. “I love it more than anything,” she says. Many of her coworkers are Guatemalan immigrants who work long and hard to support their families back home, and Maria hears their stories of struggle and poverty.
There was also the community service requirement for her school’s National Honor Society chapter, which brought her to a meal center in a neighboring town. Her whole family decided to volunteer there together on Thursday nights, serving meals to homeless people. “The only difference between the food servers and the recipients is our backgrounds, the different courses our lives took,” Maria wrote in an award-winning essay about the experience.
Perhaps the sensitivity sparked by Maria’s exposure to poverty both local and global ensured that ChildFund’s commercials would grab her attention. “I wondered why everyone didn’t pick up the phone and call immediately if it meant helping one of those adorable children,” Maria says. “I promised myself that one day I would help one of them, and when I was 15 I realized I had the means to do so.” She could think of no better way to spend her earnings from her paper route.
Soon after she signed up, ChildFund sent Maria information about her sponsored child, an 8-year-old boy named Ridwan, who lives in Indonesia. “The first time I received a correspondence with Ridwan, I cried,” she remembers.
“I knew I was going to get a picture and a life story, but I didn’t know I was going to get a handwritten letter from his mother and pictures that he drew. She told me they considered me a part of their family. It made everything so real — in that moment, I knew that I was making a difference to someone, and the feeling was overwhelming.”
Sponsoring a child truly is a very humbling experience, and I don't think I was totally prepared for that feeling.— Maria Hadley
Maria learned that Ridwan, now 10, and a younger sister live with his parents, who are rice farmers. A lack of irrigation leaves them able to harvest only once a year — not enough to provide for the family’s necessities. “His mother says he loves flying kites and playing marbles,” says Maria. “She told me that he wants to be in the army because he saw soldiers on TV and thought they were ‘very dashing.’”
The relationship of sponsorship has surprised Maria a little. “Going into this, I had the mindset that this was just a small thing to boost my conscience,” she says. “But now I realize that for his family this means so much more. Ridwan promised to ‘study hard in order not to make [me] upset.’ Being upset had obviously never entered my mind, but it showed me how important this is to his family. Sponsoring a child truly is a very humbling experience, and I don't think I was totally prepared for that feeling.” Maria saves all Ridwan’s correspondence, the school progress reports and hand-drawn book marks.
Maria will be studying hard as well this fall as she heads to Boston University with a plan to double major in linguistics and nutrition. “They’re totally unrelated, but I couldn’t make up my mind,” she says. Linguistics reflects her interest in the global community, and nutrition harks back to her farm stand experience and, she says, “a desire to help others live healthy lives.”
No doubt Maria’s interests will come together and take her to surprising places — and she and Ridwan will continue to inspire each other all along the way.