Sunday, March 8, 2009


At church today we had a visiting priest, Deacon Ron Jenkins, from Nova Scotia. Whenever we have one of these visiting speakers come to the parish, I always feel obligated to be a little bit more attentive and alive.

The deacon's homily drew me in. Many of these homilies I've heard from visiting priests inspire me, and this was no different. As a deacon, he's ordained not into the priesthood but to service, charity being a major life commitment. He has a passion for all things...especially candy bars. I thought that was a funny comment to make. So did he, and the more he got to thinking how many candy bars he buys, he would go and sponsor a child instead, at the cost of 1 candy bar a day.

When he sponsors a child, he would end up eventually visiting them, spending time with the child, the family, the community. He would then return home to Nova Scotia, and he'd close his eyes, see the poverty he left behind, and end up sponsoring another child.

By the end of his homily, he must have showed us pictures of at least 5 sponsored children. He invited us to come up to the altar after mass and consider sponsoring our own child; sponsor packages complete with children's profiles and photos were laying humbly on the altar steps.

So after mass, I made my way over to the front of the church and tried to find an opening in the crowd: there were so many people hovering by the altar steps that I couldn't even pick up a package to read. I could see the kids were grouped according to Country of Origin.

It's funny to think of how one picks a sponsor child: How do you prefer someone from Africa over one from South America or Asia? Who's more deserving of your money? -- who is more impoverished over the other? Does a picture really speak a thousand words? In 5 minutes, you're supposed to select from the "limited" selection (there were about 30+ profiles available) the one kid who you want to have, potentially, a long term relationship with (though sponsorship can stop at any time...but why should it?).

I had wanted to sponsor before, but didn't know who to trust with my money. This Canadian organization, formed in 1996, is called Chalice, a Catholic Sponsorship Programme, formally called Christian Child Care International. They changed their name recently to promote the organization as a Catholic charity, and to erase confusion with all the other child sponsor programs available worldwide. The deacon had mentioned that almost 90% of the funds go straight to the children, and upon examining their financial statements online, he's right (why would he lie?). That was a big one for me...I want to give my money where it'll work for the kids and not administrative costs.

So, I wanted to pick a child, but which? The photos all pleaded for our help, anybody's, but who would I reach out to? Upon quick reflection, I wanted a girl, since I may not be so lucky as to have a little girl of my own, having already two boys. There actually weren't too many girls: mostly from India, some from Chile, or Guatamala. There was one pretty looking girl from the Ukraine. Ukraine? Are they an impoverished country?

The profile was of a 10-year-old girl, whose dad passed away recently, and lives with her mom and paternal grandfather. Her mom, an accountant, works little (unstable employment) and doesn't earn much. The little girl loves math and wants to be a banker one day. Her name is Khrystyna.

Apparently, Ukraine has a really high unemployment rate, and there are thousands of children orphaned as a direct result of this. And, I had to look this up, but Ukraine has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in Europe. I was going to put Khrystyna's profile back down on the altar steps, but I took it home with me, contemplating my desire to give.

Is she less deserving because she doesn't live in a clay hut in the desert? Should I ignore her plight, even though her mother has a job? Should she be denied because her skin colour isn't dark and she doesn't have to farm to make a living? These were my preconceived notions of what a sponsor child was, as portrayed so graphically on TV. But if I "return" her, what will be of the "what ifs" that'll pop up for me later? It's not like I already made contact with her, but I'll always remember her's so angelic, yet so sad.

I sometimes wonder, however honourable the cause is, if our society exploits these kids, despite anti-exploitation efforts, just to make a buck, further their own ventures, to seemingly make things "right" in this world. To put a face to the poverty most of us inadvertently ignore can't be wrong though, right? And with so many issues in our own backyards, does it matter if we do good elsewhere, where its impact may go unnoticed during our daily grind?

But despite all these debatable issues, I'm making a commitment to sponsor Khrystyna, in an effort to give back to the world, and to thank God for the blessings he has already given me in my life. If I could afford to commit to more children in this world, I would. God's given me two beautiful children already. I hope even helping one more child counts for something.


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