Friday, May 11, 2007

Comprehending Poverty…and Sponsorship

Posted on behalf of Deron Denton.

This is the second time I’ve been to the Dominican Republic – both times have been as a writer with Children International. Although I have been deeply affected and moved each time we enter a family’s home, this was a little different. That’s because Thursday, I visited my own sponsored child.

I met Nelson two years ago outside the Mao community center. Then, I learned about how difficult his brief 10 years on earth had been…about his mother who suffers from mental illness and cannot care for him…about how terribly malnourished he had been…and about his illness. Nelson has neurofibromatosis – a genetic disorder affecting the development of nerve cell tissues. Although it can become life threatening, he also has a reasonable chance of living a normal life…“normal”, aside from the stark poverty in which he lives.

After we returned home from that first trip, I discovered that Nelson didn’t currently have a sponsor. Instantly, I decided to sponsor him. So this was my first visit as a sponsor. He and I have corresponded through letters since then, and have grown to know one another a little better. I mentally prepared, or tried to prepare, for a more emotionally involved visit.

Nelson and Deron talk a little baseball.

Before coming back to the Dominican Republic, I remembered that, like virtually all Dominican children, Nelson loved to play baseball. But, also like so many, he had never actually owned a ball or glove. That just seemed to be the perfect gift to bring him, along with a baseball cap.

Allow me a brief side note before I tell you about my visit with him: A good friend emailed me a long passage he had read which he thought might be apropos to the work we are doing this week. In it, the author writes about the Latin roots of the word “comprehend.” It comes from the roots “cum,” meaning “with” and “prehendere,” meaning “to grasp it.” When I read those words earlier this week, I thought about how difficult it is to grasp the depth and extent of poverty we see on these trips. Although it is our job to convey this through the words and photos we share with you, nothing really compares with seeing it for yourself.

Framed by poverty: Nelson calls this dark room home.

After visiting with Nelson at his home, I now understand something else that is equally difficult to comprehend without direct experience – the bond that can develop between sponsor and child.

Deron tries out his fastball...

...But he´s no match for this pro in the making!

We played catch with his new glove and one of his new baseballs. Nelson showed me his pet fish, where he sleeps (sharing a twin-sized bed with his father), and where his sister cooks for them. He also showed me where he bathes. It is a crude structure made with a scrap of tin siding and wood. There is a faucet rising about three feet off the bare earth and a bucket to hold the water. The comfort – and privacy – that most of us take for granted when we bathe is unknown to Nelson.

This corner of Nelson's tiny back yard is where he takes a shower.

As I was leaving, Nelson’s father called to him from the area that serves as their kitchen. When Nelson came back out, he was holding four eggs in his small hands. They were eggs that their own hen had laid. He handed them to me as a gift. Whatever sense of “professional detachment” I had maintained to that point was gone. My eyes welled up. This was food the family could not afford to do without. Yet they were offering them to me.

As I started to explain that I had no way of preserving them, Kelly spoke up, suggesting that Nelson eat them for me. Everyone agreed that was a great idea.

Nelson, his sister and his father shared a few moments of happiness when Nelson's sponsor, Deron, dropped in for a visit.

Nelson and his family probably have no idea of the actual gift they have given me. It is a gift that will last as long as I do. It is a kinship with two new families: My fellow sponsors…and Nelson’s.


evergreen3 said...

All of the stories from the Dominican Republic this week have been so well written and thought provoking with photos that touch the soul. Although my 3 sponsored children live in other countries, their situations are so similar.
Thanks for your efforts on behalf of those who have little.

Anonymous said...

what a nice story. thank you for sharing. your words make it obvious that every sponsor should visit there kids.

Dana T said...

i sponsor five children, and desire to visit them all although i have yet to make that happen... this story brought tears of joy to my eyes seeing how sponsorship, including my own, really affects the children and families involved. through your stories and pictures it really brings to life the reality of poverty, but also the reality of how much sponsorship helps. kudos to all of you for such great pieces!

Anonymous said...

Being a new sponsor, this blog really brought tears to my eyes. It's absolutely amazing how making a committment to a child can bring about such depth of emotion and compassion.

My goodness, thank you for all you are doing there. I hope that someday I will be able to meet my child face to face.

Tad said...

Excellent article Deron. I don't think I can really comprehend the combination of job satisfaction and urgency to work even harder to help even more kids that you must feel. The world in general and the USA in particluar is blessed by what you are doing. When I think of the efforts we need to make to counterbalance what we are doing elsewhere... Baffling. I'm still working up to sponsorship, but have not convinced my wife - yet. We make all financial decisions together and now we are in the pray-about-it mode. What amazes me is that we could sponsor a child with $22/month and that in many cases that small amount would increase the family income by 15-25%. What would a 25% increase in my income feel like?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Beautiful story! Thanks. Deron, for sharing the real hope and real help sponsors are providing to the Children International family. Your story filled my eyes and soul with tears, knowing our kids continue to offer us more than we can imagine. You also showed how we sponsors make a difference!