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June 2019
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2012-09 Dear Dad

James column for the Sligo Weekender

When parents are blessed with an only child, that child ought to receive full attention. When parents have two or more kids inevitably the attention becomes divided, and yet those parents more often than not do a great job of rearing those children. In an orphanage of fifty or more residents, no matter how hard the devoted and loving staff try, that one-on-one attention will naturally become watered down further. And while those orphans will boast life-long brothers, sisters, friends and role-models, they often have no real parent-figures.

As a sponsor-parent it is vital to have empathy with your sponsor-child, to try to get your head around the challenges these brave young souls have been forced to endure throughout their relatively short lives. Through my writing most of you will be aware of the beyond-basic conditions these inspiring children are born into, through no fault of their own. Suffice it to say (aside from enduring smiles, strong faith, determination and a will to survive) they have nothing. Their minimal life-possessions are housed in padlocked tin boxes under their bunk-beds.

Tribal culture, political unrest, malnutrition, disease, poverty, and the widest gap between rich and poor is the norm.

For decades in our supposedly developed countries organisations such as World Vision and SOS Children have run sponsorship schemes for developing countries. Sligos own Kenya Build (Registered Charity CHY19235), recently honoured on RTEs Mooney Show, also has a child-sponsorship scheme. Having travelled to Kenya repeatedly since 2007, I have witnessed first-hand the profound and positive impact a sponsor-parent has on their sponsor-child. The ¬35 per month (or ¬420 per year  whichever suits) is focused on the chosen sponsor-child, and helps insure that childs health, education, food, clothing and more, but inevitably a wider circle within the orphanage reaps the benefits of that donation. As always in Kenya Build, there is no middle-man; every cent goes directly to the child and his/her orphanage.

¬420 is one pack of cigarettes a week for a year (52 packets)? Many spend more on pet-grooming  you get the point.

Taking on a sponsor-child is a commitment not to be taking lightly. Financial reliability, whether monthly or annually, is important. After that you can just wait for the school reports and three letters a year from your child if thats all you want. Writing to your child is encouraged however, even intermittent postcards. Visiting your child is less common but also encouraged and proves to be a most gratifying experience for all parties involved. Sponsorship normally lasts until that child becomes self-sufficient, and has grown up healthy, educated and poised to break the cycle of slum-life.

Many sponsor-kids have been orphaned by AIDS or political unrest, some survived machete attacks on their families, some are ex glue-sniffers or prostitutes, some were simply just found  too young to relate their individual stories. Discontinuing child sponsorhip is very much frowned upon (sadly it has happened on occasion), as it is highly unfair to a child already orphaned once in their lives.

For me, sponsoring Joseph has made a huge difference, transforming him from a bully (after his parents died he only knew domestic violence as a toddler) to a role-model. Joseph has climbed from the bottom of his class to being always in the Top 3. But Im not sure who has grown more in my six years of being a Sponsor-Dad  me or Joseph! I had no idea Id get so much out of this unique relationship also, on so many levels.

For the child, it is arguable that more important than all the surface benefits is the emotional stability from having a new parent in their lives. How can you blame a child who has never known what it is like to be part of a family unit to long for that warm feeling?

If you want to choose a child, or have one chosen for you, contact me at or Basil at . I thank you sincerely for allowing me to indulge you with this somewhat in-your-face-plea for sponsor-parents on behalf of Kenya Build, the orphanages and hundreds of parentless children.

And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth. (Raymond Carver  Late Fragment).
I truly believe deep in my heart that every single child on this planet deserves this, as well as a real chance at life. We need you, and it does make a real difference.