In 2006, four years after my first visit to Sinazongwe to meet my family’s sponsored child, Olivia, I had the opportunity to return to Zambia. Once again I made the five-hour drive from Lusaka, the capital city, to Olivia’s remote village on the banks of Lake Kariba to see how she was doing.
What a difference a few years and a couple of water wells can make!
I hardly recognized her grandfather’s enlarged compound with its new houses and flourishing gardens. The clucking of chickens and turkeys competed with the welcoming cries of the children who ran out to surround the car as we drove in. I searched their faces for the somber little eyes that I remembered so well, but Olivia wasn’t there. I can still remember the thrill of surprise when I looked up and realized that the smiling young woman who was standing quietly, watching me, was my Olivia! She was now 14 and had grown into a lovely young lady.
With a laugh, Olivia gave me a hug and said, “Welcome, Mama,” in a voice husky and filled with emotion.
The first time I met Olivia, in 2003, she would barely look at me. Now she took my hand and led me toward the center of the compound where her grandfather, Ensende, waited to welcome me.
While Olivia had definitely gotten older, Ensende seemed to have gotten younger. The sparkle in his eyes as we shook hands was unmistakable. This was a man who no longer carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.
World Vision had come alongside to help him in the tremendous task of feeding and educating his grandchildren — and he was taking full advantage of the help that was offered. But the one thing that hadn’t changed was his obvious love and pride in his granddaughter.
As Olivia took me on a tour of the small community, I saw that several new buildings had been added since my last visit. She excitedly explained that she no longer slept on the floor of her grandfather’s house. Instead she and an aunt now lived in a separate house that World Vision helped to build. The year before my husband, Bob, and I bought Olivia a proper bed and now this was one of the first things she wanted to show me.
After visiting the well that I had seen my first trip and making sure it was still functioning properly — it was — we sat down to talk. Olivia told me that she was working hard in school and that she sang every Sunday in the church choir. I smiled, remembering the little girl who loved to sing about “calling God on the telephone.” Obviously, He was still answering!
When I asked her if she still wanted to work for World Vision, she smiled shyly and shook her head. “I hope one day to be a teacher,” she said.
I told her that was wonderful — she would be a great teacher. Then I told her that in a real sense she already “worked” with World Vision. “Everywhere I go I share your story and show the video we made,” I said. “Hundreds of children have been sponsored because of you!”
As the time to leave drew near, I asked Olivia one final question: “Tell me the biggest difference our sponsorship has made in your life?”
Her eyes searched her hands as she pondered the question. If there was one thing I have learned about my sponsored daughter, it is that she is a thoughtful person. She took her time to answer. I expected her to say the water wells World Vision had dug had made the biggest difference, or perhaps the school fees that sponsorship helped to cover.
But instead she looked up and said, “It means someone loves me.”
She was right. Somebody does.
Two years after that visit, World Vision staff informed Marilee that Olivia had opted to leave the sponsorship program to get married and start a family. In next week’s God Space, she will share how the miracle of sponsorship is continuing to bless Olivia and her family.