This summer, a young man who grew up in ChildFund’s programs in The Gambia showed up at our headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. It was a wonderful surprise for everyone who works here, because it’s rare that we get to meet former sponsored children in person.
Momodou Bah, who’s now 30 years old, was a recipient of a Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, an important honor the White House bestows on 500 African men and women, out of a field of 50,000 applicants.
Momodou is The Gambia’s youngest elected ward councilor — a position similar to a county supervisor — and has many ambitions for the future. Since the age of 22, he has represented eight villages, including the one where he grew up as one of seven children in a poor household.
In Richmond, he spent several weeks taking an intensive load of classes at Virginia Commonwealth University, learning about civic leadership and government, lessons he has taken back to The Gambia. Momodou and his colleagues also met with Virginia officials, including our governor and the mayor of Richmond, and the program culminated in a weeklong conference in Washington, D.C., where President Obama spoke to the Mandela Washington Fellows in a town hall meeting.
Being honored with his award was an incredible experience for Momodou, but possibly even more exciting was the opportunity to meet his former ChildFund sponsor, Debbie Gautreau, who lives in Massachusetts. They met for the first time in person at Debbie’s home in August, and we spoke with them recently about the visit.
“It was very emotional for me to meet the person who actually contributed to my future by sponsoring my education,” Momodou said. “I was accompanied to Boston by my sister. I couldn't help my tears when I gave my dear Debbie a hug and had the opportunity to thank her for all of her support. I also met her husband, Paul, her daughter, Natalie, and her son, Jack.”
Photos and captions by Alena Kazub
Debbie, who began sponsoring Momodou when he was in second grade, lost touch with him when he aged out of sponsorship 12 years ago. She still had very fond memories of him, especially his drive to succeed academically and professionally, and kept all of his letters and the picture she received when she started sponsoring him.
“We had the best time, and both of us said it was better than expected,” Debbie said after the visit. Momodou’s sister, who is studying at a university in Washington, D.C., cooked a traditional Gambian meal for the family, and Debbie and Momodou had the chance to talk about his childhood and his hopes for the future.
“He’s very sweet,” Debbie said. “He reflects a lot.”
Debbie also had a surprise in store for Momodou. In his community, he has led a project to restore disappearing mangrove trees; their loss caused a dramatic decline in the local fishing industry. The trees, which have extensive roots that thrive underwater, provide protection for fish eggs, and without them, fish no longer can thrive. With the help of hundreds of young volunteers, Momodou’s project has led to the planting of 40,000 saplings.
After hearing about his work, which continues in The Gambia, Debbie’s friends and neighbors made a financial contribution to the mangrove project. Momodou was moved and gave a short speech of thanks during a gathering at Debbie’s home.
“Debbie still wanted to continue supporting me and my community,” he told us. “I am glad to have the opportunity to thank ChildFund and Debbie for all the support at a time I needed it most.”
Now that Momodou has returned to The Gambia, Debbie said she hopes to visit him one day.
“I think I’m going in a few years. One of my sisters is very interested. I’m really going to try. I’m still on a high over it,” she said. “He said we’re family now. I think this is a lifelong friendship.”
If you want to build an amazing lifelong friendship like Debbie and Momodou, please consider sponsoring a child today!
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