Friday, November 28, 2008

What Matters Most

Posted on behalf of Gretchen Dellett, writer for Children International.

The day was uncomfortably hot and my eyeballs felt like they were coated in dust. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?”

It was 1993. Employed at Children International for barely two months, I was trekking down a smelly, trash-strewn path in Cartagena, Colombia, on my way to conduct my very first interview on behalf of the organization. I was terrified. Suddenly my former job as an insurance copywriter didn’t sound so bad.

I was ushered into a tiny shack with a dirt floor. The air was thick with humidity. Bugs crawled on the makeshift walls. I perched on a cracked plastic chair as I got to know Marlene, a mother of three who had learned to read and write with the help of the program. She had also learned to make handicrafts, which she sold to supplement the family’s income. The more I learned, the more I was humbled by Marlene’s gentle spirit and the way, despite her horrible circumstances, she still had hope for her children’s future.

As I turned to leave, she took one of her handicraft pictures off the wall and thrust it toward me, an eager smile on her face. “Oh no, I couldn’t,” I told her through the translator, knowing she could sell the item.

“I want you to have it,” Marlene replied. “Today is my 29th birthday, and because you were here, it was the best day of my entire life.”

Wow. I didn’t understand how I could make such an impact on someone’s life by my mere presence. But upon reflection, I realized that by simply being there and listening to her story, I made Marlene feel – perhaps for the first time in her life – like she mattered.

That’s exactly what sponsorship is all about. One person…making an impact…letting someone know that they matter. What more can we ask for as human beings?

Now here I am, 15 years later, and still dedicated to my work at Children International. I’ve been many places and met many memorable people since that first trip to Colombia – but I’ve never forgotten Marlene. To me, she’ll always represent the spirit of the sponsorship program. And yes, I still have that picture she took off her wall to give to me.

No comments: