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.
She 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.