The first photo of Biruk that Bill saw on ChildFund's sponsorship website.
Meet Bill the sponsor. Or, rather, meet some of his sponsored children — he prefers to share their stories over his own. There are 14 of them, mostly boys who live in Ethiopia and who have lost at least one parent. A businessman living in Massachusetts, Bill’s been sponsoring with ChildFund for almost a year and a half.
The first was Biruk. According to the description Bill read on ChildFund’s sponsorship web page, Biruk had been deserted by his father and lived in the small village Meki, where his mother did odd jobs that barely brought in enough income for food, clothing and education for Biruk and his siblings.
Bill shares Biruk’s first personal message to him and its impact on him: “‘Since you are one member of the family, we love you very well, because you are ours and we are yours.’ Well, there could be no turning back after that.”
Biruk and his family shared their one-room mud-and-thatch house with their farm animals.
A star student, the boy jumped into correspondence enthusiastically, giving Bill a poignant picture of his life. Answering a question about his favorite holiday, Biruk wrote, “My favorite holiday is Christmas. I like Christmas because one of my younger sisters was born on Christmas, and I was very delighted. Unfortunately, she was passed away on Christmas day also. I was very sad at her death and I am surprised that her birth date and death date became on similar day.”
Meanwhile, Bill added a few more sponsorships.
Wishing for better-quality photos than the ones that came occasionally with the letters he received, Bill suggested to two of his sponsored children, Aberham and Teshome, that he would be happy to buy them digital cameras. “They respectfully declined,” says Bill; for Aberham, food was a more urgent need, and Teshome’s family really needed an ox — one-third of their crop yield went to pay for farm labor.
Biruk’s sister and mother pose before their new house under construction, before the mud wattle is applied to the stick frame.
“That’s when the light bulb clicked on and I began to inquire about each sponsored family’s living conditions and special needs,” he says.
It turned out that several of Bill’s sponsored boys needed beds. “As of 10 years ago,” he explains, “two out of five rural Ethiopian children slept on the ground; a higher percentage than that shared living space with their livestock, all recent news to me and I thought I knew a lot!” Teshome and his grandmother were among those who shared their space with farm animals and really needed, more than an ox, a new home. Tsegay was born HIV-positive and needed a special diet. Biruk’s family, living in a one-room shack with a torn thatch roof, needed a new home. They also requested a cart so they could start a delivery service in their village to generate income to help with construction. Bill has provided funds for all of these and more.
Sometimes needs were obvious even before the responses to his inquiries arrived. When Bill saw little Eneyew’s picture, he noticed right away that the boy’s left eye swerved independently away from center. On inquiry, Bill was told the diagnosis of strabismus, and that the child was expected to grow out of it. Bill encouraged ChildFund to seek a second opinion from an eye specialist. ChildFund did, and surgery was recommended. Bill offered to pay, but ChildFund declined and covered the operation.
Biruk poses on his family’s new cart in front of their new wattle house, which has a metal roof.
Impressed, he added several more sponsorships.
Sometimes Bill learned of needs through a bit of detective work. A picture of Biruk’s new house under construction showed the boy’s sister but no Biruk, who was at school. “This begged the question, why wasn’t the sister in class that day?”
He learned that the girl, Eyerus, suffered from tuberculosis as well as a kidney problem and has so far missed a year of school. She has been treated for the TB and recovers at home until a hospital bed in Addis Ababa becomes available for treatment of her kidneys — access to health care in Ethiopia is difficult. Biruk included a picture of Eyerus receiving an award for academic performance, an echo of an earlier photo of Biruk being similarly honored. “If she recovers from her illness,” he wrote, “she will continue her study.” UPDATE: A bed in the hospital finally came available for Eyerus, and she was there for several weeks. She is once again recovering at home.
“Would Eyerus survive without ChildFund’s intervention?” Bill asks. “I think not.”
Eyerus’ teacher presents her with an academic award.
For Bill, the sponsorship journey hasn’t been all urgency and need. Relationships have flowered. He enjoys sharing photos of his two grandsons. Sometimes the boys ask when he will visit, but Bill has chosen to invest in the additional sponsorships instead.
“Biruk was probably disappointed when I let him know that I could not afford to travel,” says Bill, “but in the end he commented, ‘It’s OK, we meet each other often in our letters.’
“Did I tell you I love that kid?”
Whether Bill says it outright or not, his actions show he loves them all.