Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Brief History

This story begins sixteen years ago...

I have been a Sponsor with Children International since I was fourteen years old. My first child, Gisel, was only five years younger than me when I became her Sponsor back in 1996. She was from Colombia, and I really enjoyed writing back and forth to her in Spanish (which I was studying in school).

When I graduated high school and joined the Army, I added two new Sponsorships: Angela from Ecuador and Joan from the Philippines. To this day I'm not really sure what made me branch out from the Hispanic countries to look for a girl across the Pacific ... but I'm so glad I did.

Life threw me a curve ball in 2004 when I was honorably discharged from the Army. Suddenly, I had no income and no way to pay my bills, nevermind support three sponsorships. In one of the most agonizing decisions of my life, I had to let go of Gisel and Angela. I was DETERMINED, though, not to lose all three of them. The decision finally came down to financials--of the three, Joan's circumstances were by far the most devastating. Fortunately, Gisel was responsored quickly, by a woman I had worked with in the Army, and she went on to graduate from the program.

I continued to sponsor Joan through the ups and downs of marriage, divorce, a couple moves and new jobs. As I regained my own financial footing, I again took on a second Sponsorship: Jie, also from the Philippines.

For several years, I only had the two girls. Then, in 2010, I suffered another blow. Joan's father passed away, and then her family moved unexpectedly. Children International was unable to locate them and therefore I was unable to continue her sponsorship. This news broke my heart. Joan, my beautiful Joan, who I had managed to hang onto against all the odds, who I had Sponsored for nine years ... was gone.

Children International offered to send me the photo and details of another little girl waiting for Sponsorship, to replace Joan. I very nearly told them no--no one could ever take her place! After much soul searching, however, I agreed ... and I met Hazel. And while she can never take Joan's place in my heart, she has done a fine job for herself of creating her own special place right beside!

Two years later, it's 2012. I've rediscovered the LiftOne community and discovered how much it has changed. I immediately fell in love with this new ability to connect with other Sponsors and, through them, to learn about the children they are helping. I've been so inspired by the stories I've read, in fact, that I took on FOUR new Sponsorships within weeks of each other! Jasmin, Chris, Joyce and Maria are all also Philippino, and I look forward to getting to know each of them!

I also began a weekly ritual on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, which I call "Shannon's Spotlight Child of the Week." Each week, I browse through the list of children waiting to be sponsored, and choose one who tugs at my heart strings. I post a direct link, along with a brief description of the child's circumstances, in hopes that someone I know will be moved to take up a Sponsorship.

It is through this project that I found my next child: Yulliana. Of the 330+ girls in the Philippines currently awaiting Sponsors, she and she alone shares my birthday (which is coming up in a few weeks). What better birthday gift could I give to both of us than to create a beautiful new Sponsor-child relationship?

So now in total I individually sponsor seven beautiful girls: Jie, Hazel, Jasmin, Chris, Joyce, Maria and Yulliana. Each one brings a ray of light to my life and a smile to my heart. I have also joined my very first Group Sponsorship: Cristine! She is also from the Philippines. This is a brand new experience for me, and I am super excited to get to know her and the other Sponsors in the group!

I am planning to travel to the Philippines at the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014, and I cannot wait to meet each of these marvelous young ladies!