Russell Harris is in a job he’s not supposed to have. When he started as a temp in ChildFund’s Donor Services call center in December 2007, Russell had just returned from three years in Argentina, where he’d worked for Verizon Business as a circuit provisioner. His plan was to spend time with family in his native Richmond, Va., and make some money before heading back to travel around South America.
But then his mother was scheduled for surgery within days after his intended departure. His coworkers wanted him to stay. He had also become involved with Richmond’s fledgling community around capoeira, a Brazilian martial art grounded in dance he’d started learning in Argentina. “I found myself in a job that I wasn’t supposed to have, in a community that was just starting to flourish,” he says, “and there were just signs saying that not only was it time for me to stay home, but it was being made simpler and simpler for me to stay home.”
So now he’s one of the friendly people you might meet through the phone line if you call ChildFund with a question about sponsorship (800.776.6767). Perhaps you want to know, for instance — as many, many sponsors do — what you could possibly say in letters to your sponsored child.
Russell’s answer is straightforward: Write as if you were writing to any child of the same age. “A 12-year-old in Zambia is going to pretty much have the same types of interests as a 12-year-old in Bolivia or one in the States,” he says. “They like to hear about your life. They like to hear about what you’re doing, something as simple as what you did that day, or if you have a trip planned. They love to hear about family life. I remember this one letter where the child knew every member of the family, which is just a testament to the length of the sponsorship. They were doing things back and forth — little gifts and stuff.” (Russell reminds sponsors to think flat with gifts — stickers, ribbons, etc.)
But there are sponsors who confess, “I’m just a terrible correspondent.”
“I get that a lot,” says Russell. “I understand that since letters are part of the program, you feel this pressure, but at the end of the day, whether you write or not, what you’re doing is you’re helping this child or family. The way our programs are set up, there is nothing that takes away the beauty of what you’re doing; you can only add to it.
“A sponsor is providing education and access to doctors and nutrition, as well as everything else that’s in the program, and they’re doing this over a span of how many years? But this beautiful lovely person tells me that they feel terrible because they haven’t written.” He shrugs. “The child still knows you care.” For more about writing to your sponsored child, see the complete answer at FAQ 8 as well as our letter writing tips. For more about Russell, read on.
|Russell Harris’ 411|
|Russell Harris, Service Representative, Donor Services|
|Do you have favorite phone call memories or stories?|
|I get a lot of stories from the "lovely people," as I call them. One that really sticks with me is this woman I spoke with, whose husband was a sponsor when she met him. When he showed her the picture of the child, she swore to him that 2,000 other people had the picture of the same child. The child’s name was Basan. And he told her, "No, this is legitimate, this is a great organization, I’ve been with them along time," and she would not have any of it — she said, “This is all just a scam.” Then her husband had to go to India on business, and she went with him, and they had a chance to meet Basan on a ChildFund-guided tour*. She tells me this story of a three-hour scooter ride from the national office to the project. They had sent word ahead that a sponsor was on the way, but project staff didn’t know what sponsor it was, so everybody in the village met them when they got there. Basan recognized the sponsor. They hugged, and the village planted a tree in the sponsor’s honor. |
The beauty of working in Donor Services is that every day, I get to hear something that makes it real. I’ve spoken to nurses who are putting their sponsored children through nursing school.
We get inundated with these stories. The reason that I took to calling them “the lovely people” is simply that, even with difficult calls, they’re always coming from a place of love, for what needs to be done.
|Your involvement with ChildFund seems to make your world bigger.|
Being here, I get to rub shoulders with people who are so far ahead on that path. The people who are working in programming, the vision they have — and the people who work in Donor Services, and the love and the vision they have — this place is filled with beautiful people.
What ChildFund does is a simple act of defiance. No matter how difficult or how arduous or how insurmountable a task may seem, that doesn’t take away the fact that it needs to be done. So you stand in defiance of everything and say, “I will do this: I will come in every day and make this world a better place for a child, at least one today.” And that kind of breathes through this place.
*All visits to sponsored children must occur through ChildFund and involve background checks and other measures in teh interest of child protection. Learn more about visiting your sponsored child.