22 years later, a sponsor and her sponsored child finally meet

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Posted on 11/22/2023

By a roadside in a rural town near Lusaka, Zambia, grows a little orange tree that has withstood the test of time. Two photos tell its story – planted as a sapling in 2001 by a little girl in a red dress, still thriving today in 2023. Even more beautiful than the tree’s growth or the fruit it produces, however, is the story of the two women it brought together.

A young girl in Zambia plants a tree, surrounded by community members.

Regina in 2001.

Two women, one from Zambia and one from the U.S., stand in front of an orange tree.

Regina and Joan in 2023.

A fateful trip to Zambia

It all started in October of 2001. Joan Palmquist and her husband, Randy Hildreth, a couple from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, decided to travel all the way to Lusaka, Zambia, to experience a total solar eclipse.

In preparing for the trip, Joan realized that Regina, the child they sponsored through ChildFund, lived not far from Lusaka – and that they had a free afternoon. Working with the ChildFund Zambia office, Joan arranged for a driver to take them to Regina’s community so they could meet. Seeing an eclipse was exciting, but meeting Regina, then only 6 years old, would be thrilling on an entirely different level!

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The bus from Victoria Falls to Lusaka had trouble, and instead of arriving at noon, they got in at 8 p.m. This was before cell phones, so there was no way to alert anyone of the delay.

Randy and Joan were forlorn – but the real heartbreak came two months later, when the photos arrived. They showed the entire community staying home for the day, in their Sunday best clothing, waiting in the sun and holding a big sign that read “Welcome Randy and Joan.” The community members had even planted an orange tree in Joan and Randy’s honor, since this would have been the first time a sponsor had visited their community.

A second chance for Joan and Regina

For the next 16 years, Randy and Joan continued to support Regina, also putting her through nursing school.

So how did they finally meet?

This year, to celebrate her 70th birthday, Joan decided it was time. Randy had passed away in 2022, so two of his nieces joined Joan on the adventure. Joan emailed Regina to see if it was possible, and she responded within a few hours saying yes, yes, yes.

On August 6, they flew into Lusaka, and the next day a driver took them to Regina’s mother’s home, where they spent the afternoon, sharing a meal. Regina, now 28, returned to Lusaka with the women. They spent a day there being tourists in the city before Regina caught a bus home.

Even after all these years, Joan is still supporting Regina. Right now, she’s raising money to put running water into the local health clinic where Regina lives. There is a borehole about 300 yards away, but the community must carry water by hand, bucket by bucket, to the clinic. Working with ChildFund, Joan hopes to complete the work early in 2024.

“Meeting Regina and her family was an emotional and edifying experience,” Joan says. “We forget how truly blessed we are, and to have been able to change this one young woman’s life … is so rewarding.”

A group of people pose for a photo in Zambia.