That's me on the right with my parents and three sisters.
I believe in child sponsorship because my sisters and I were sponsored kids. I know it works.
I grew up in a poor community. No water. No electricity.
My parents didn't even finish grade school. But they were big dreamers. When they met and fell in love, they decided that unlike them, their future children would get quality education, find good jobs, and have resources to help others in need.
My father worked as a machinist. He never missed a single day at the foundry; still, his measly paycheck could barely support his young family's basic needs.
Sending me and my younger sisters to school – and keeping us in school year after year – had become to him an overwhelming dream.
My siblings and I went to the best school in town. Founded by an Irish priest, Fr. Edward Kelly, it ran a sponsorship program with the Catholic Children's Fund (CCF) to help poor children have access to education.
CCF made it possible for me and my three sisters to finish grade school. That was all my parents needed – a bridge that prevailed against an obstacle and allowed us to cross over to the other side.
My mom told me I was a "generic" sponsored child, meaning my tuition was subsidized. My parents still had to pay their share of – you wouldn't believe this – one peso a month (*) to cover other school-related expenses. (* 2¢ in today's conversion rate.)
Well, maybe she exaggerated a bit; she really couldn't remember the exact amount now. Let's just say my parents' out-of-pocket contribution was so small they could actually afford it!
My sisters, on the other hand, were fully sponsored. Their tuition, books, school supplies, and uniforms were all free. In addition, donations to the sponsorship program allowed my mom to acquire new livelihood skills.
I was her eager assistant. We grew mushrooms to eat and to sell, and we sewed cotton gloves for a few cents a pair.
Did I tell you we didn't have water?
Some days after school and on weekends, I would fetch water from an open well about 300 meters away from our house.
Sometimes I carried the bucket in my hand; sometimes on my head. At other times my shoulders took the full blunt as I tried to balance two jerrycans suspended from each end of a long bamboo stick.
Man, it was hard labor! And I was little and clumsy and the road was stony and slippery. By the time I got home, the buckets were already half-empty.
I hated poverty.
But I loved how my story unfolded.
One day, I came home from school to find some neighbors digging a well in our backyard. Just days later, the same guys built us a decent latrine. I found out that our sponsors had provided the funds and our community had rallied around to provide labor.
I can't recall exactly when things started to change. But I could feel there was a little bit more joy, more hope, more life. Our eyes began to see more clearly; our hearts had become grateful.
Eventually, we had stepped into a better place as a family that I was let go from the sponsorship program so that another kid could have a chance at joy, at hope, at life.
The limited time I was on the program meant boundless gratitude for my parents. It was like the sponsorship program had offered them a crutch so they could continue to walk as they overcame the assaults of poverty.
My sisters and I graduated from elementary school, jumped right into high school, moved to the big city for college, did some graduate school, snagged excellent jobs, and discovered our passion for service.
We overcame poverty as we knew it.
Above all, we found a new hope, a new life, and a new future in Christ.
And it all happened because a stranger had compassion on a little girl from an unknown town and saw her bright future with eyes of faith.