By Cheryl Petroff, CFCA sponsor
I had the pleasure to take a CFCA mission awareness trip to El Salvador in 2008 and 2009.
I can’t convey in words exactly what I experienced, but what I know for sure is that both trips were life-changing and some of the best experiences of my life.
In 2008, I went with a friend who sponsored children in El Salvador. I had sponsored a child years ago, but when she was retired from the program, I never got another child to replace her.
I told Henry Flores (director of the communications center in El Salvador) that I was interested in sponsoring a child with special needs. I know many times the cutest children are picked first and sometimes children with special needs are left behind. Henry told me that he had a special family he would like me to meet. He arranged for my group to go to the home of this family.
After a walk through an alley and up a steep, dirt path, we arrived at their home. I was in utter shock at the condition of this home. It was a small building made of cardboard, wood and metal. It had a dirt floor, and there were four beds against the walls inside. Outside was a small area that had a metal roof, but only poles were holding it up ñ this was the cooking area.
I meet this wonderful mother who you could tell loved her family and was doing the best that she could. She appeared very sad. She was raising four children on her own. Her husband had abandoned her and the children. All three of her sons had disabilities.
Her youngest son, Omar, was in bed and was rolling from side-toñside, making noises. He was severely handicapped and totally blind.
Her middle son, Luis, was blind in one eye, but was smiling and happy to have visitors.
Her daughter, Kenya, was very shy but was without any handicaps. She was attending school and had hopes of being a teacher or secretary.
The eldest son, Alonso, was lying in a hammock and swinging. He was totally blind and was so thin that he looked like a young child instead of his 20 years of age.
I told Henry that I wanted to sponsor the child with the most need. He said that he would ask the mother which child she wanted sponsored. She indicated that she wanted Alonso or Kenya sponsored. She indicated that Omar had little hope for improvement with his condition, but the two that she picked could have a better life if sponsored.
I decided to pick Alonso. As I stood there watching this family, I felt the strongest desire to do more if I could. I left that hilltop sponsoring both Alonso and Kenya.
Through the year, I received beautiful letters from Kenya. She wrote for herself and her brother. Her letters were like a Christmas present each time I received them. She told me over and over again how thankful she and Alonso were. She told me about her schooling, and that Alonso was being tested so he could be taught a trade. The letters have become an important part of my life.
I had decided on the second day of my 2008 trip that I would be going back to El Salvador.
I went back this year thinking that there was no way that I would have a better experience than the past year. Well, I was very wrong!
We visited Alonso and Kenyaís family again this year. I knew the way up the hill, so I went ahead of everyone. When I got to the top, I didn’t recognize the home. I actually started to walk back down the hill, but when I looked back, I decided this had to be it when I saw their mother looking out at me. I went to her and got the biggest hug. She looked so happy!
The house was now larger. Bunk beds replaced the mattresses, and she even had a sofa in the large room. The place actually looked larger. There was a difference in her, too. She was smiling and was so happy. The kitchen now had walls, and she had an actual stove. The place looked much neater and cleaner.
My two sponsored children greeted me and hugged me. I felt like I was in heaven. The kindness and love I felt in that home was like nothing I have ever experienced before.
The difference in the home and family was unbelievable. Alonso had gained weight. Omar was walking and was not as thin.
And then there was Luis, who was still smiling and kept looking at me. In his eyes, I saw that he too needed someone to sponsor him. I decided right then and there that I would sponsor him. When they told him, he couldn’t believe it. He was so happy and hugged me so hard. I will never forget this visit. I found out later from his mother that he had cried last year when he was not sponsored. I think God was right there in that spot, guiding my heart.
I can honestly say that this year was better than last year.
I love CFCA, and I love the people who work for this organization. I love El Salvador. I would encourage anyone who has or has not sponsored a child to take a trip to one of the countries where CFCA works to see what it is really like. You will never be sorry. It is the best investment I have ever made.