The Greatest Gift This Holiday

Photo by Shannon Mills photography

As many of my friends can attest to, our kids have too much “stuff” today. I don’t enjoy throwing birthday parties or buying Christmas gifts for my kids simply because they don’t need anything. They have meals, shelter, a highly ranked and fantastic school and teachers, and an incredible amount of love. Their basic needs are met however we are fortunate enough to take vacations and show them the world, other cultures and experiences. I want to practice what I preach to them and not focus on material things both for me and them but as I already knew, I am flawed.

This year there were a few things they needed but other than that, we both chose to scale back to lower the expectation of getting a lot of material things and not wet their appetites for more “things”. My husband and I prefer giving experiences as opposed to items which had me researching new ideas and opportunities for this upcoming year. It was about then I came across a post from a relative of his on social media about her experience sponsoring a child in Africa. After talking to her, I posted on social media to get some ideas of reputable programs where I can look to sponsor a child and give this as a gift to my family. I received a fantastic response (thanks everyone!) and was able to get two friends to share their experience. If this interests you please read their testimonials regarding their personal experience with their sponsored child followed by recommended organizations and their contact info at the bottom.

                                             Their Stories & Experiences

photo by Shannon Mills photography

Shannon, my gorgeous Chi Omega sorority sister and friend from college, learned of “Invisible Girl Project” and became friends with the woman whom started the organization. She picked up several children’s books on India and educated herself with her children about the struggles that little girls face in India. They learned that little girls are viewed as a burden, not a blessing and are often unwanted, unwelcome, and discarded.

“That year our oldest daughter, Acacia, turned 10. Instead of gifts, she decided to sponsor a girl her age. She chose Jesintha. A precious, dimpled smile, Indian beauty. We wrote letters to her telling her she was valuable and precious. We began to pray for her. And our love for India and the girls there grew. When Invisible Girl Project asked me to travel with them that January to take pictures and help share their story, I jumped at the opportunity.”

“Meeting Jesintha in person rocked my world. I saw the stark contrast of the unwanted girls- vulnerable to trafficking and violence- and Jesintha and her friends in our partner’s safe home- laughing, playing, learning, healthy, and safe. I heard their stories; I talked with our social workers that helped me understand the reality of what some of them have already endured. I was hooked! We continued to sponsor Jesintha and write letters to her, telling her what a blessing she is. I went back the next year, took thousands more pictures, experienced the joy of the safe ones and the sorrow of those not yet safe. And I will be heading back in 7 weeks! Each time I come back motivated, impacted, challenged, excited. My kids have made gifts and sold them to raise money for IGP, they’ve written letters and drawn pictures, they pray for the social workers doing the hard, daily work there, they have grown in compassion and are learning the joy of service.” 

Our relative, Lisa, had this to say regarding her experience about Imana Kids. Lisa was the person who posted the idea of giving the gift of sponsorship after her own incredible experience.

The original orphanage these kids lived in was basically child labor for one cup of beans daily and a dirt floor cave to live in. The toilet was a hole dug in that floor. Erick’s friends worked with the Rwandan government to get the kids out and this couple started a sponsorship program to provide food, housing and an education. They encourage people to go on a mission trip (they go twice a year) and take gifts and have bible school for littles and job interview training for older kids.

My sponsor son prays for me daily. He calls me mom and tells me he loves me. He messages me on messenger and sometimes calls me on the phone. It definitely feels more like family adoption than just sending a check to an organization. They are raising money to build a village with a school and housing units and a medical facility. The land has been purchased. I was afraid to fly to Rwanda but God definitely called me to go visit and it was life changing. So much love is given by these children and young adults who are SO appreciative of being given a chance to break free from unfortunate circumstances. Last year my school did some activities to raise awareness of what it is like to be an orphan in Rwanda. Students responded very well.”

photo by Shannon Mills photography

If these stories inspire you or you are looking for a unique way to celebrate the holidays with a different sort of gift that will last a lifetime, below are several vetted recommendations I was given.

Christ the Center: Run by a relative of my friend, a couple of people recommended this organization. Currently they have 400 students and are working to open a high school in Africa. You get a photo of your child each year and their progress.

Imana Kids: Our cousin is on their board of Directors for this organization in Iowa and where I got the idea. His Mom posted about how amazing their experience has been (see above, “Lisa”).

Got Your Back Uganda:  This site has adorable photos of these kiddos and what they want to be when they grow up. Helping them fulfill their dreams through education and support so she can be a Doctor is simply amazing.

Children of the Nation:  List various levels of sponsorship and the children don’t age out as they help see them through their education and transfer into a University, trade, vocation or small business to aid the entire process to adulthood. They rescue orphaned and very destitute children in Africa, Haiti and Dominican Republic.

The Compassion Project: A couple of friends responded referencing this program. Stated there is an app in which the sponsors can communicate with the child they support.

Invisible Girl Project: Program insight above by Shannon and her experience with this Raleigh, NC based program.

Compassion International
photo credit Compassion International