On a Friday evening in 1988, a bouncing baby girl called Penda was born at a small ward in the outskirts of a little town in The Gambia. That was me.
Before long, our family would include seven children — three boys and four girls. My father earned a small income as a radio mechanic, not enough to meet our basic needs. Very few people at that time had radios or televisions, much less damaged ones to repair. My mother was a very resourceful housewife who grew vegetables in the backyard to feed our family. But she was not working, so the family depended on my father's earnings.
We usually had meals twice daily, but on some rainy days, when there were no radios to repair, we had only one. We all had to share the little that was available — usually a couple of vegetables from my mother's small garden, some fish and rice.
Our small house was overcrowded. Our parents shared one room, and seven of us shared the other, sleeping on a grass mattress with a tattered bed sheet, sticks and twigs pinching us all night (they helped us wake up early the next day!). Each of us had three to five items of clothing to wear. Our parents could not afford to send all of us to school, so only I, my elder brother and my elder sister could go. The rest stayed at home helping out in my mother's garden. Those of us in school struggled very hard to keep up our education. We would wear one uniform for a whole academic year, patched all over with different-colored thread. Sometimes we went to school barefoot. Our unique school bag told anyone who saw us how “rich” we were: We used plastic bags to carry our books and supplies.
Although we were fairly healthy and energetic, my parents worried whenever the rainy season approached, because we would all get malaria once or twice during that period. Our malnutrition, poor shelter and lack of mosquito nets and health care aggravated the situation.
Now I am 23 years old, and it has been 16 years since ChildFund walked into and transformed our lives. ChildFund has provided what I have needed for my education, and the same goes for health, shelter and nutrition. The gifts I have received from my sponsor have greatly helped me and my entire family to meet our basic needs, pay expenses and, most importantly, send the rest of my siblings to school.
I appreciate my sponsor's support today more than ever before, now that there is no parent to give me and my siblings either financial or moral support. The health program of the Saamasang Federation, ChildFund's community partner here, has given us access to basic health care and sanitation, including mosquito nets. Now my family and I hardly ever fall sick.
ChildFund The Gambia has given me and my family the key to the doors of success in life, and each day we get closer to achieving our big dreams. I have just graduated from the University of The Gambia with a bachelor's degree in political science, and I aspire to study until I earn a Ph.D. This will prepare me to better contribute to my community, my country and humanity at large.
The lesson I learned from the sponsorship program is this: It takes only a big heart and great love for humanity to exert changes in the life of others! Therefore, one does not have to be a millionaire to be able to help others who are disadvantaged. Someday, hopefully soon, I would love to give back this noble organization and step into the shoes of my sponsors to help others.
In some of The Gambia's several languages, thank you!
Aa Baraka! (Mandinka)
Note: Children usually remain in sponsorship until they finish secondary school, around age 18, but in cases where they continue their education or vocational training, they may remain enrolled longer.