Caroline, Marion and Beatrix Kirwin
Marion Kirwin’s Philadelphia-area home burned in 2005. This mother of three mentions her house fire only to explain why some dates are approximate ― the paperwork was destroyed — regarding the children she has sponsored for decades: two girls in Thailand and one in The Gambia. But the three are clearly indelible in her memory as she details the stories of their relationships.
The first was Sula, in the early 1980s when Marion was in her 20s and Sula was a toddler, continuing until the girl turned 18. Then there was Pacharin, also in Thailand, since about 1996. Marion has many photos of now-17-year-old Pacharin and her family, tracing her growth into a young woman, as well as “endless drawings and letters” she has received. The third child is Mariama in The Gambia, now 11, whom Marion began sponsoring in 2008.
Marion recalls that she and her husband were newlyweds in Arlington, Va., both graduate students with limited income, when she heard ChildFund's TV messages and felt compelled to become involved. ChildFund “seemed like the right thing to do from the start,” she says. “My kitchen refrigerator and desk have always displayed photos of and drawings by both my biological children and my sponsored children.”
Marion's sponsored child Mariama, in The Gambia, wearing an outfit purchased with a gift from Marion.
The letters Marion receives from her sponsored children “are so full of gratitude and thanks ... from the whole family.” Pacharin always saves half of everything sent for birthdays or Christmas to fund future education, which makes those gifts a real investment in a future. Mari, the youngest of the three, often sends photos of herself wearing the new clothes that she has bought with Marion’s gifts. These photos are treasures in themselves, as Mari “looks so proud and excited” to wear her new outfits.
“ChildFund has been part of my life for more than 30 years,” says Marion, who hopes to visit one of her sponsored children one day. “It has enabled me to learn about other cultures, to impact lives in those cultures and to develop friendships with children and their families. I have benefited from the experience as much as my sponsored children.”
...if we can give a child a leg up with education and nutrition, we can initiate a ripple effect throughout a community and into the future. — Marion Kirwin
Over time, Marion found unexpected ways in which sponsorship is rewarding. “I have more recently come to realize that my giving was impacting the lives of my biological children, since both my daughters are now sponsoring children,” she says. “And this was not due to prodding of any sort from my end.”
Daughter Caroline, who at 24 sponsors 3-year-old Tola in Cambodia, says that a couple of years after finishing college she felt she was in a financial position to do so. While Tola is still too young to read or write, Caroline is “very excited to get to know him better as he grows up,” she says. “Mom's passion for [ChildFund] was quite apparent growing up, and that desire to help others who are less fortunate was passed down to me.” Caroline’s sister Beatrix, 26, is the third Kirwin woman to have committed to the ChildFund cause. She sponsors 5-year-old Levienna in Dominica.
This is a growing family tradition to celebrate, in terms of both Marion’s own daughters and the children whose lives and families she has touched. “There is always the obvious emotional pull to help vulnerable children,” says Marion, who also volunteers with at-risk children in her area. “But from a purely practical standpoint, if we can give a child a leg up with education and nutrition, we can initiate a ripple effect throughout a community and into the future.”