Loving a Child That is Not My Own

culture and society, heavier things, storytelling

I’m nervous, I say out loud.  I’m moments away from meeting my sponsored child, and the last thing I want to do is to force a four year old girl to be in a sudden relationship with a stranger.  I didn’t want to create another awkward snapshot of an American smiling broadly grasping a child looking resigned.

I see Meilyn and I recognize her from her photo.  The interpreter introduces me to Meilyn and her mother, Leydi.

I crouch down on the ground so I’m the same height as Meilyn.  I don’t want to scare her, so I keep my arms by my sides and make sure there’s distance between us.  Before I can say hello, she throws her arms around my neck and embraces me tightly.  I return the embrace, and she does not let go.  So I do not let go.  And now I’m crying and her head is pressed up against my cheek and I will myself to pull it together.

“La madrina,” Francisco, our guide and interpreter, says to all of us.  “Or el padrino.  Your sponsored child thinks of you as a godmother or godfather.”

The morning with Meilyn wasn’t seamless.  My Spanish can only get me so far, and even when questions were asked and answered, there was a little bit of nervous laughter among the three of us.  Some uncomfortable silences.  As it should be, I think.

I’m not a fairy godmother or a superhero swooping into make their lives better and now they must adore me.  We are here and we’re forming a relationship, and Meilyn is my sponsored child.  While I’m not bringing her into my home and raising her, I’m making room in my heart for her.  I’m saying yes, I can love another child.

I open my backpack and hand her a doll.  She hugs it and keeps it against her chest.  Looks at me.  She blinks.  I blink.  She blinks.


I tell myself that it’s supposed to be this way.  It’s not magical.  It’s awkward and hard and heart-wrenching, but it is love, and love is not perfect.  I push Meilyn on the swing, and we’re both a little stiff.  I find that I’m connecting better with Leydi.  We’re different, but we’re the same.  Two mothers from two different worlds, only wanting the best for our children.  We talk.  She is young (23), and raising Meilyn on her own.  She sells fruit and shaved ice and bags she crochets out of her home.  I feel a mutual trust forming, and I try to relax a little.  Meilyn’s a four year old girl.  I know four year old girls.  I mother them.  I tuck them in at night.  I can do this.

I ask Francisco to ask her if she wants to play tag.  Her eyes light up.   We spend the next hour playing.  I chase her; she screams.  I hide (badly) and she finds me.  I pick her up and spin her around and she throws her head back and laughs.


I am surrounded by strangers and other bloggers that are now my friends but we’re only two days in so I don’t want them to think I’m crazy.  I force myself to push those feelings back to connect with Meilyn.  We play a cat + mouse chase game.  She swings at a pinata and I cheer her on.  I’m sweaty, my jeans are covered in mud, and the humidity is unkind to my hair.

And as our time together goes on, we all relax a little.  I’m sitting on the ground, and Meilyn climbs into my lap and sticks part of her doll in her mouth like a little kid would chew on a security blanket.

roo-meilynShe wants to run off and play during lunch time, so I sit with some mothers and we eat.  I ask them about their children.  They warn me that I had dumped way too much of the jar of hot pepper salsa into my soup.  “Mucho pica!”  I take a bite, my mouth is on fire, my eyes widen, and everyone laughs.  Barrier-breaking laughter.

We are different, but we are the same.

It’s time for Leydi and Meilyn to go.  I crouch down again, and Meilyn hugs me, plants a kiss on my cheek, and skips off.  I stand up, and my goodbye with Leydi is a little harder.  She starts speaking and the interpreter is not nearby, but I understand most of what she is saying.  I understand the emotion in her voice.  She is grateful, but I am undeserving of the gratitude.


What I do for her is simple.  I write a check for $35 a month, but I know what it means to a child here.  To us, $35 is dinner out or seven Starbucks lattes or a pair of jeans on sale.  To a child in the World Vision program, $35 is clean water and food and schooling and nutritional education for their mothers.  Before World Vision started their program in this village, 90% of children were malnourished.  Now only 3% are.

I’ll write Meilyn and Leydi and send pictures.  If I choose to send them extra money for a holiday or a birthday, World Vision will help them make wise purchases.  But it’s more than money.  I am her madrina.

What I do for Meilyn is simple, but her mother is embracing me like I have saved her.  And all I’ve done is try to be the answer to Remmy’s prayer; all I’ve done is try to do what God asks of us – to love one another.

A sponsorship changes a child’s life, but it’s changing mine, too.

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  • Reply SaraAnnRaps September 12, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I couldn’t wait to read your next blog post about Guatemala, so I made the mistake of reading this at work and now…my allergies are acting up. It is simultaneously wonderful and heartbreaking that the least we can do means everything to them.

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      Oh no! :) Thanks for reading it.. and yes, so true… wonderful AND heartbreaking.

  • Reply Liz September 12, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Most amazing post ever. Good for you Roo. I’m checking out World Vision now.

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 8:08 pm

      Oh thank you, Liz! Please do. And please let me know if you sponsor a child. :)

  • Reply Kristen K. September 12, 2013 at 10:20 am

    As if you weren’t amazing already. This is a wonderful post. Roo, this world is a better place with you in it. Thank you.


    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 8:11 pm

      Kristen, you are too kind, and I’m certainly undeserving of a compliment of that magnitude. Thank you for reading!

  • Reply Katy September 12, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I had a sponsored child who looked a lot like Meilyn. I sent her money for a couple of years, and then I got a letter that she had passed away. I hope that I can find the courage to sponsor another child someday, but I still struggle with questions about Damarius. Meilyn is precious–I’m glad you got to see her happy and healthy.

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm

      So sad to hear that about your sponsored child. So heartbreaking, Katy.

  • Reply Laura September 12, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Oh, Roo. Thanks for letting us be part of your journey. This is beautiful.

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      Thank you so much, Laura! ♥

  • Reply kirby September 12, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Oh Roo another days of tears, but tears of joy. Thank you for inviting us into your experience. I feel like I’m their with you and yes you are her Madrina, and Madrina’s are the best! You are so amazing and I love you.

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      Oh thank you, Kirby!! :)

  • Reply Erin Lane September 12, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Oh lady! What a beautiful post. So glad you are able to experience this. You have such a huge heart!

  • Reply Tammy September 12, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Oh, Roo.
    Goosebumps running up and down my arms like crazy. Tears welling in my eyes. Thanks for these posts, for showing how little it takes to make a difference.

  • Reply Rebecca September 12, 2013 at 10:58 am


  • Reply Andrea September 12, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Ok, crying again. It’s great that you’re doing this. You’re changing that little girls life, her mothers, your own, your daughters (through the perspective you’ve gained there) and ours. Thank you.

  • Reply Jodi T. September 12, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Oh!!! I’m at work, and trying not to cry. This is so awesome, Roo.

  • Reply Natasha September 12, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Thank you, thank you, Roo for sharing this. (And I’m crying two days in a row now, c’mon) World Vision is a wonderful thing, and all of you sharing your hearts and thoughts are wonderful.

    • Reply Roo September 13, 2013 at 1:33 am

      Ohhh Natasha, thank you for reading and crying with me two days in a row. Love to you.

  • Reply Megan September 12, 2013 at 11:55 am

    I love this! You made me tear up, too.

  • Reply Laura September 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Absolutely amazing

  • Reply Christ September 12, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    Love, Love, Love this. I’m so proud of you! It’s great to get an inside look into what World Vision does. I sponsored a child years ago when I was a missionary in GA. I feel awful about it because I wasn’t able to keep up with payments and I had to stop. I still have his pics though. Emmanuel was his name. I pray someone else was able to help him. I am seriously considering sponsoring again now that I have a stable income. Your posts are inspiring me!

  • Reply Morgan September 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    This is incredible, and that little girl is BEAUTIFUL! She is very lucky to have a sponsor like you!

    Growing up, my parents sponsored two little boys in Haiti. Every night before bed, my sister and I would pray that God would be with Eweetu and Charles. I so appreciate my parents setting that example! It was such a blessing and I cannot wait until to support a child of my own!

  • Reply Rebecca September 12, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Hey Roo! Very interested in sponsoring a child through World Vision. Do you happen to know what percentage of the $35/month goes to the family? Thanks!

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      Hi Rebecca! World Vision goes into a region and registers the children. They are registered until they are sponsored. Registered children receive the same benefits as sponsored children (nutrition programs, etc) while they wait to be sponsored. So, sponsor money goes to benefit all of the children in that community.

      As far as dollar breakdown goes, fifteen cents of every dollar is used for administrative costs, which includes fundraising. World Vision is extremely efficient in gaining corporate sponsors, so they actually make back money. So $1 donated ends up being $1.30.

      Sorry for the long winded explanation. I hope I answered your question! :)

  • Reply Grace Andrawos September 12, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Hey Roo,
    This is so touching. Im actually sitting down at work reading this and tears fell down my eyes.
    I showed it to a couple of co-workers, one of them is Latina from Nicaragua , and she found this story beautiful.
    Im so proud of you , and so glad that its changing you as a person. The Love you receive from families from there is absolutely priceless.
    Im excited to read your next blog. So encouraging.

    God bless you :) xoxox

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing, Grace! xo

  • Reply andrea @ my kinda perfect September 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    you’re really inspiring, roo. we can love one another. we can help one another. we can make this world a better place.

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      We totally can, Andrea. Absolutely. :)

  • Reply Lisa September 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Roo, what an amazing post. And what an amazing example you are setting for your girls! I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I often wonder if a lot of these programs do what they claim to do, i.e. if the money actually goes to the children and families, so this is heartening. Will definitely read up on World Vision.

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      Lisa, I totally understand and I think it’s wise to question where money is going.

      As far as dollar breakdown goes, fifteen cents of every dollar is used for administrative costs, which includes fundraising. World Vision is extremely efficient in gaining corporate sponsors, so they actually make back money. So $1 donated ends up being $1.30. :)

  • Reply Ashley L Pelletier September 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    She’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. This is beautiful. I hope you enjoy every moment. <3

    • Reply Roo September 12, 2013 at 8:01 pm

      You are so sweet, Ashley! Thank you!

  • Reply Joanna Rist September 12, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    So beautiful. The pictures are amazing, she is darling. I sponsor a little girl in Honduras and I would love to visit her some day. Awkwardness and all. :)

  • Reply Jenn September 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm


  • Reply Sandy@sinsationallyme. September 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    The world needs more Roos. <3

  • Reply [Guatemala bloggers] Speaking love through soccer balls and bear hugs | WORLD VISION BLOG September 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    […] Roo Ciambriello: “Loving A Child That Is Not My Own” […]

  • Reply Catherine September 12, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    I must be getting sick – I have this dreadful lump in my throat! Seriously though, I am loving these posts. Just the reminder I need for our family to sit down and decide where we want to sponsor a child from. Sending virtual hugs to you for the mountain of emotions you must be sifting through. x

  • Reply michelleLG September 13, 2013 at 12:18 am

    Tears!!! Though, admittedly, i am pregnant (again). But still, the tears!! Prayers for your sweet goddaughter girl and her mama. Also, you totally own the humor thang, but your heavy-hitting post got game. :)

    • Reply Roo September 13, 2013 at 11:57 am

      Oh congratulations!! :) And what a compliment, Michelle. You made my day.

  • Reply Stephanie R September 13, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Hey Roo,

    Just wanted to thank you for your beautiful and inspiring posts on your trip… You’ve made me tear up the last couple of days and opened up my mind about sponsoring a child. I trust in your judgement and am looking into sponsoring a child through World Vision. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  • Reply J.Mill September 13, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Sweet Jesus this is beautiful!

  • Reply Chrissy September 13, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Bless the little children…and the mothers and las madrinas. World Vision is where it is at! I sponsor a little boy in Tanzania…it is my great joy to be able to do so.

  • Reply Monica September 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Oh Gosh – this one made me cry. What a beautiful message and I know that you clearly don’t want to make this about you Roo – but what a beautiful Madrina you are. xx

  • Reply Kristin September 13, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    This is a great post Roo. As others said, with all these programs it’s always hard to know if the money is actually going to the community and the children so seeing your documentation is great. I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to support a cause and I think sponsoring a child through World Vision just may be it.

    My boyfriend was born in El Salvador so I think we’ll be looking at children there to sponsor this weekend. His family flies his grandmother (who lives there) out here every few years and everyone always send items / money back with her, but I think to help support another child who isn’t family will be great as well.

  • Reply Jacqueline September 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I love their names. And I love her lil lady skirt. What a sweetheart. How could you not love?
    I love when an experience like this gives so much back that you weren’t expecting to receive. Hope you’re soaking it all in Roo.

  • Reply Tammy September 17, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    I love your blog because it makes me laugh. But this arc of posts… starting with the egg… makes me cry. You are an amazing writer.

  • Reply Lesley September 17, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    thank you for this post. I too wonder about organizations like this but World Vision sounds to be class A and one to support. Also as much as I love your humor, these serious posts are some of my favorites. You really get me thinking of what can I do to be a better person. You are inspiring and your children should be so proud of you. I feel lucky to have met you.

  • Reply Kathryn September 20, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    This is so beautiful, Roo. After reading your posts about World Vision, I’ve been talking my husband’s ear off about them. I think about the things I spend $35 on without even thinking and it makes me feel so stupid for not using some of my fancy latte money to help a child and a community get on their feet and stay there.

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