Taking Sponsorship to Another Level

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By Erin Nicholson, ChildFund Staff Writer
Posted on 3/19/2015

 

Chris Grecco and his sponsored child

Chris and Henry, 11, meet for the first time.

“Until you go and see what their life is like, it’s hard to wrap your head around what your sponsorship means. These are real people with real lives, not numbers coming out of your bank account.” Chris Grecco, Henry’s sponsor

Chris Grecco’s sponsorship story starts out like many others: He heard about child sponsorship through a co-worker, and when he came across a ChildFund ad online, he signed up. He chose a little boy named Henry from a small village in Uganda.

They exchanged a few letters. Chris learned that, just like him, Henry loved soccer. Chris sent pictures of his family, and Henry wrote back about his studies, his likes and dislikes. Chris’ own daughter is around Henry’s age (now 11) and he found it interesting to observe the parallels and differences in their lives.

But, when that same co-worker took a trip to Bolivia to visit her sponsored child, Chris was really inspired and his story turned not-so-typical. He looked for ways to get to Uganda. He learned about Soccer Without Borders, a nonprofit organization operating in the United States and Kampala, Uganda’s capital, which accepts volunteers for a weeklong festival each January. Hoping to combine it with a trip to visit Henry, he signed up to volunteer in 2014. Unfortunately, the volunteer commitment prevented him from making the 8-hour trip to Henry’s village. But he vowed to make another trip as soon as possible. This January, he finally made it happen.

It’s a trek to get to Aakum, Henry’s small village in the northeastern part of the country. “There’s no reason to go,” Chris says. “It’s not a place people go.” Aakum doesn’t have tourist safaris and majestic mountains like other parts of the country. It’s mostly flat, arid land, and it’s one of the most impoverished areas of Uganda. But Chris was excited to go, because “you’re going to see things other people aren’t,” he notes. “The first thing you notice is people walking along this long dirt road, many of them carrying water for miles, and you realize this is their life,” says Chris. “It’s very rural, there’s no wildlife – there’s cows and steer, but no giraffes. The people carrying their fruits and vegetables and water, sitting on the side of road selling things; in some ways it’s nice. They sit around and talk all day. But then you realize why they’re doing this.” In one word: Survival.

Chris Grecco and his sponsored child

The playground at Henry's school.

Aakum is a world away from Kampala, where Chris spent time volunteering with Soccer Without Borders last year. Decades of violence, along with seasonal drought and flooding, have mired the region in poverty. Food shortages are common, and children suffer from malnutrition and hunger. Malaria is a constant threat, and the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS has left many children orphaned and at risk.

Chris stayed in a hotel in Soroti, a town near Aakum, a seven-hour drive from Kampala. ChildFund staff drove him another hour and a half to the tiny village of Aakum, where he met Henry, his brother, sister, uncle and grandmother at the school.

“Henry’s parents aren’t really in the picture. He’s raised by his maternal grandparents,” Chris explains. “He was a little bit apprehensive at first, but not really. He walked over and gave me a hug like we had known each other all along.” Chris was struck by how much effort it must have taken for the family to make the trip together to see him, and give up a whole day of work.

Chris Grecco and his sponsored child

Chris poses with Henry's family holding their gifts from him.

They talked about life in the village, how Henry liked school, and the areas where he was struggling. Henry and his sister, who is a year younger, are actually in the same class, Chris thinks because her English is better. He also showed the family pictures from his home of Lancaster, Kentucky. “They all wanted to know if we ever got snow,” he chuckles.

During a tour of the school and community, they saw a music room with hand-made instruments, and a carpentry shop, one of several job-training projects. The carpenter, who makes wooden beds and chairs by hand, is also the local beekeeper, managing several hives for harvesting honey on the outskirts of town (“where it’s quiet, so the bees don’t get scared,” he told Chris).

Finally, they went back to the school for a meal of chicken and rice prepared by some local women, and to exchange gifts. Besides some practical items for the family, Chris gave Henry an Arsenal Football Club shirt (Henry’s favorite team) and a soccer ball. And in return, Henry presented Chris with a hand-carved stool, traditionally used for milking a cow.

Chris learned that the last sponsor’s visit to this village was in 2012, and he realized what an exciting occasion it was for everyone – not just for him. “It’s something I will always remember for the rest of my life, but I suspect they will, too,” Chris says. “[Visiting] brings to life your sponsorship, and probably makes you feel a bit better about it, too. As soon as I got back, I wanted to sponsor another child.”

And he did just that — sponsoring a little girl from the same village, so he can visit her when he sees Henry on his next trip, which he says he will “definitely” make soon.

If you’re inspired by Chris’ story, please consider sponsoring a child today.