Jul 13 2016

Trip stories: ‘Beyond our expectations’

Bob and his sponsored friend, Mercy enjoying a beautiful day at the Blue Post Hotel and Park near Nairobi, Kenya.

Bob and his sponsored friend, Mercy enjoying a beautiful day at the Blue Post Hotel and Park near Nairobi, Kenya.

Bob Hirtzel and his wife Pat traveled to Kenya on an Unbound Awareness Trip in February 2016. Sponsors for 18 years, they support children in Kenya, the Philippines and Guatemala. After the trip, Bob wrote a thank you letter to many of the Unbound Kenyan staff he met on his trip. This piece is pulled from that letter.

I’ll start by saying that our awareness trip with Unbound went beyond our expectations. Everything about it was awesome. Before traveling, I found myself constantly wondering — when we experience Unbound’s work with our own eyes, will we come away feeling that it truly makes a difference?

On day one, we were met by more than 50 local Unbound staff from nearby program offices, each one eagerly introducing themselves and sharing about their program and their role with Unbound. Immediately, we got a sense of how big Unbound’s work is in Kenya.

We also gained a deep understanding of what is involved in delivering benefits to our sponsored friends. We learned that it is not easy to do this effectively, in a way that leads to a better life for the sponsored family but also gives them a feeling of dignity, responsibility and hope for the future. I was impressed with the focus on education and the role of the mothers groups.

Then it was time to meet our sponsored friend, Mercy, and her father. In Mercy’s very first letter to us, she asked — at 10 years old — if we could ever come to Kenya to visit her. I hadn’t expected that question from her, but it’s been on my mind ever since. And now, suddenly, there we were in Kenya. Mercy was right there before us, meeting us with hugs and a huge smile that gave us inexpressible joy.

It was a touching moment for everyone when Pat Hirtzel and sponsored friend, Mercy, hugged as they met for the very first time.

It was a touching moment for everyone when Pat Hirtzel and sponsored friend, Mercy, hugged as they met for the very first time.

Seeing the other sponsors experience this joy was also very moving. To see the huge smile on the face of Mary’s sponsored elder; the poem that Yvonne wrote for Bridget; and Jude meeting his twin girls — they were all such special moments that touched all of us.

Many more special times followed — spending a day getting to know Mercy and her sister at a wildlife and nature park, experiencing the vast beauty of the Kenyan landscape around Mt. Kenya, visiting the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Kazuri Bead Factory — all reflected the diversity and beauty of the place and people.

As we traveled to Timau and Nanyuki, the blessings continued. So many people came to greet us in these places, always with much joy and celebration. It made us realize how much they appreciate what Unbound sponsorship has done to improve their lives and their outlook for the future. In each place, we saw pride and happiness in the people as they generously opened their homes to us. I found myself wondering, if I lived in a small place with no water and part-time electricity, would I be smiling? Well, these people were.

Of course, my favorite memory will always be visiting with the children. I love the children. Some of these kids will stick in my mind forever. They are a constant reminder — this is why we sponsor, to give them hope for a better life.

First and foremost on the minds of sponsors who travel on awareness trips is meeting their sponsored friend and learning about the work Unbound is doing. seeing the beauty of Kenya, experiencing the cultural events, meeting so many wonderful people both from Unbound and from the community; this truly was an “awareness trip”. I came away with a feeling of love for this small part of Africa. And yes, I got the answer to my question: Does Unbound sponsorship make a difference? Absolutely.

Read more personal reflections from recent awareness trips.

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