About a month before I left on a trip to Africa with Team World Vision, the fundraising arm of World Vision that raises money through marathons, I received a packet in the mail. Inside was a picture of Isaac, a smiling seven-year-old. He had been assigned to me by World Vision as a sponsored child. The kids on child sponsorship mailings are always beautiful. But were they really just using bright smiles to pull at my heart strings?
According to the marketing materials, for just $35 a month, I could ensure that projects deemed as top priorities by Isaac's community were funded through my donations. Though the dollars wouldn't all go directly to Isaac like some child sponsorship organizations', he would benefit directly once water projects were funded and schools were built. When I travelled to Kenya earlier this year, I got to see for myself what child sponsorship means in real-time.
As we swerved back and forth down the dirt path leading to the Cheptigit Primary School in Kenya on a desperately ragged, gnarled, arid landscape that resembled the surface of the moon, I wondered what it would be like to meet Isaac in person. World Vision had chosen this site so our group could see a "before" example. They would be drilling a borehole the following week, but up to this point, Cheptigit had no clean water, and no improvements to the school or village. The terrain looked uninhabitable, and yet this was the area Isaac and his family called home.
As our vans pulled into the dusty schoolyard, students, teachers, and even the headmaster greeted us with songs. Two small, corrugated tin structures—the school—and two latrines were all that dotted the land.
When the World Vision ADP manager introduced me to Isaac, he shook my hand in the traditional way Kenyan children show respect—with his left hand on his right forearm. We greeted each other shyly. I did not want to overwhelm this seven-year-old, and he was intimidated by my white skin and foreign language. I was probably the first muzunga he had ever met.
He enjoyed the bag of goodies I brought for him—a notepad and pens, a paddle with a ball on a string, a blow-up punching ball, and a bottle of bubbles. His mother, Alana, watched as he tried out each of his new toys. He proudly wrote his name for me in his notebook—with impeccable handwriting. The headmaster gave us a tour of the school. In the Form 2 (second grade) room—Isaac's classroom—a blackboard with one corner broken off hung askew on the exposed stud on the interior tin wall. Dilapidated wooden desks—a bench seat for two attached to a narrow slab of wood for writing—were lined up in rows on the dirt floor.