“You have no idea how long I’ve prayed for this,” said my mom, Anita Charles, as she lay on her twin-sized mattress beneath a bright blue mosquito net.
We were in Wamba, Kenya to visit Arima, a girl we had sponsored through Compassion for over a decade. When we’d first picked up her child packet at a Compassion Sunday event at our church, we’d chosen her because she was the same age as me. Now, we’re both 22. I was headed to Kenya on a study abroad, and my mom planned to join me once it was finished. It was the perfect opportunity for us to finally meet Arima.
“Prayed for what?” I asked absently, absorbed in unpacking.
“Look at that green folder,” she said.
I opened up the green plastic folder strewn amidst our belongings, thick with papers. Inside was every picture, every drawing and every letter that Arima had ever sent us, including her original sponsor packet. My mom had kept it all.
For anyone, meeting their sponsored child is an anticipated, emotional moment. For my mom, there’s an added layer of meaning. Forty years ago, a sponsorship packet from Oregon held a picture of her, a smiling young girl from Chennai, India. She knew how important every one of Arima’s letters were because she used to write them too.
My mom grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in one of India’s largest cities, Chennai. She and her brother were raised by a single mother on a teacher’s salary. Though my mom had a supportive network of cousins, aunts and grandmothers to help her grow emotionally and spiritually, the family struggled. She and my uncle took turns sleeping on the ground as there was only room for one bed. There were often cockroaches in their sugar.
In India, as in Kenya, the public education system is often underfunded and overcrowded. An education at public school often doesn’t set students up to go to college or find a career, pressuring parents who want a better future for their children to pay for private school. These fees are a huge barrier to quality education, and my Pati (grandmother) was struggling to pay them.
One of my mom’s teachers noticed the family’s struggles and helped register my mom in Compassion’s program at a local church.