I sponsor a nine-year-old girl called Carla in Mozambique and I have always hoped that one day I might get to meet her. When I heard about ActionAid’s First Hand Experience volunteering project, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. I signed up and ActionAid said they could arrange for me to visit Carla. I was over the moon.
Our team were there to build a centre for victims of violence. Sadly in Mozambique cases of violence against women and girls like rape and female genital mutilation (FGM) are common, so centres like this are really important to support survivors and change attitudes.
To learn more about what our team did on our First Hand Experience you can read my blog 'Highlights of Mozambique - an experience I'll never forget', but here I wanted to focus on the opportunity I had to visit Carla and learn about the amazing impact child sponsorship has had in her community.
Meeting Carla for the first time
It was a week day, so Aida from ActionAid Mozambique took me to meet Carla at her school. I was both nervous and excited. We walked 100 yards down the busy, main road, and then turned off into her school. After looking in at the new computer centre, recently built with the help of ActionAid, I was shown to one of the classrooms. Standing in the doorway was a small girl, in a blue dress with a satchel over her shoulder. Aida smiled at me and said, “Alan, this is Carla”.
It is difficult to express my feelings at that moment. With a huge smile on my face, I knelt down and gave her a big hug. I told her I how happy I was to finally meet her and gave her some small gifts I had brought.
Carla had the most wonderful smile, and spoke in such a soft voice. I stood up and was surprised by how many people had appeared around us, taking photographs.
Then we moved into her classroom, where her class had prepared a welcome song. “Happy to be together, we are happy to be together,” they sang, accompanied by clapping and banging on their desks. Next, they danced for us, and a few of the children read out poems they had written. Aida kindly translated into my ear. It was very moving. I felt incredibly touched by the warm welcome.
Visiting Carla's family home
We then visited Carla’s home and I was introduced to her mother and grandmother. Carla’s father was away searching for work in South Africa. They welcomed me with open arms and huge smiles.
I told them a bit about myself, and we talked for a while about Carla under the shade of a tree outside the house. I said to Carla’s mum that she must be very proud of her daughter: the day had been busy and demanding, but Carla had been an excellent representative for her school.
All too soon our meeting was over and I left wishing them all the best for the future. I wish I could have stayed all day. Carla walked with me back to the ActionAid offices, holding my hand as we walked along the busy road.
We hugged and I told her I would write when I got back to the UK and send some photographs of my visit. Then Carla turned around and skipped off back to her family. As we approached the offices an elderly man walked up to me and asked what I was doing. I told him that I had come to Mozambique to help build a centre in Maputo and also to see the young girl I sponsor here. He shook my hand and thanked me for visiting his town and said he hoped I would come back again soon.
We arrived back at the work site just as all my teammates were finishing their lunch. Everyone was excited to hear how my visit had gone.
Why child sponsor visits help the community
Later that day, I had the opportunity to speak to Mr Amade Sucá, the Director of ActionAid Mozambique. He thanked me for taking the time to visit Carla. I said it should be me thanking him for offering me such an amazing experience. He then explained why my visit was so important. Visits like this show to the local people, the direct impact that ActionAid is having in the area.
With new buildings like the computer centre at Carla’s school, and visits by child sponsors, people in the community see directly the results of ActionAid’s work. When people sponsor a child in Mozambique, their contribution is not only helping children like Carla, but it also goes to other projects in the area, such as ActionAid Girls' Clubs, Farmers' Associations, school meal programmes and adult literacy seminars. It helps everyone.
So if you don’t already, I'd really recommend sponsoring a child, and if you do, then going on a First Hand Experience is an amazing way to learn more about their county and culture, and – if possible – to meet them. ActionAid’s next first hand experience is in Cambodia in November. I'll be there, and I hope you can join me!
Photos: Alan Henderson