By Gustavo Adolfo Aybar, communications services manager for Unbound Sponsor Services
As a native Dominican, raised in the United States the majority of my life, I believed my summer vacations, plus my connection to the island — both personal and through my studies — kept me culturally aware and prepared to serve as an ambassador for families struggling in poverty. That was before I traveled to El Salvador to participate in an Unbound staff awareness trip.
I discovered that the obstacles I overcame as a low-income, at-risk youth, while significant, were not equal in severity to the obstacles faced by the families Unbound serves.
For me, growing up poor meant it was senseless to budget and plan and, at times, to even hope for things or situations that would improve or enhance my life.
For many of my family members, a day-to-day existence is the norm. They worry about the right now.
Families in the Unbound program in El Salvador also face these worries, but for them it involves food, water, transportation and shelter — everything we consider necessities in society.
On the staff awareness trip, we had many experiences that connected us with sponsored friends’ lives. We danced with sponsored elders, we met mothers of sponsored children and saw their commitment to improving their lives, and we heard countless testimonials about how Unbound helps families.
One of the more memorable experiences occurred while visiting the home of Gumercinda, a beautiful and spirited 79-year-old sponsored elder. Her right leg was amputated because of an illness, so she remains bound to her wheelchair and is fully dependent on her daughter for support. Gumercinda’s daughter is now battling cancer, which prevents her from working long hours to support the family.
Despite their challenges, the pair exuded dignity and brought joy to everyone around them.
As an adult, I now understand how truly difficult my family’s situation was when I was a child. As high school students, both my sister and I worked full-time jobs to help supplement the household income. My mother worked long hours and all of us rode the bus or walked to every destination.
Bedtime rarely came before midnight, and homework was an afterthought. My mother valued our education, but as a single mother with one income, it was hard for her to make sure we were fulfilling our educational responsibilities.
Sponsored friends face these kinds of challenges and more.
Many of the sponsored friends we met were asked to describe the benefits of the program. I was aware of how gentle and respectful the question was posed, and that each person or family was a willing participant in sharing their story with us.
Nevertheless, the mere fact the question was posed created in me both positive and negative feelings. I saw hopefulness that a sponsor would help their child continue in school and maybe even go to college, and sadness for not being able to personally provide these great gifts to their family.
As a proud Latino, a father and an ethical and driven person, I realized how humbling it would be to know I was not able to provide for my family’s welfare and future on my own. I thought of the dreams I now have for my young son, and of how I have grown and seek continued growth to raise a man capable of unconditional love, financial success, and being a gentle and caring individual.
On the Sponsor Services team, we get questions from sponsors asking about education and health updates for their sponsored friends, or what urgent needs their sponsored children and families might have, as well as many other kinds of questions.
Throughout the week in El Salvador, I came to realize on a deeper level how those questions help sponsors gain awareness of their sponsored friends’ lives, and how truly valuable sponsorship is in connecting people from all walks of life.
I have seen the beauty and humility in the faces of the families I met in El Salvador, and I see beauty and humility in our sponsors who accompany their sponsored friends along their journeys.
I now understand more fully why our work is so important and that we cannot walk alone.
Walk alongside someone and sponsor a child or elder today.