SHERRY FEHR OF MARTENSVILLE,
Sask., had a package ready to mail to Luca, the child she and her family sponsored through World Vision. Among other small surprises, it contained a Fehr family picture with their four children, the oldest two near the same age as Luca.
Proximity in age was one of the reasons the Fehrs had specifically chosen Luca out of the countless photos they viewed of children in need. Plus, they were drawn to him. He was the one. They just felt it.
Sherry hadn’t mailed the large envelope yet because she needed one more stamp.
“The next day a package came from World Vision and I opened it up very excitedly,” remembers Sherry.
Instead of good news from Luca, Sherry read bad news from World Vision. The letter informed her that Luca and his family had moved away from the community.
“It was a letter saying he was gone. I remember feeling really bad and surprised by that,” says Sherry. “There was actual grief that ‘our boy’ was gone.”
Criselda Lagakos, the manager of sponsor retention at World Vision Canada, says that “The number one reason a child drops out of sponsorship is that the family moves out of the community.”
When this happens, contacting the child’s family is very difficult. Unlike a Canadian changing residences—which could involve mortgages, movers and months of preparation—a family in a World Vision community may gather up their belongings and quickly relocate without warning or fanfare.
There are other, less common reasons Canadians lose a sponsored child. “A child may become overage, graduate or marry, or the World Vision project is completed because the community is ready to carry on on its own,” says Criselda.
Sometimes, with those reasons, there is opportunity for a sponsor and child to exchange goodbye letters. But that’s not a bittersweet experience that most sponsors, such as Sherry and her family, enjoy.
Sponsors, especially those in the 25 per cent group of sponsors who write to their sponsored child, may feel like Sherry did: “The rug pulled out from under our feet—that’s exactly how it felt.”
As Sherry continued to read the letter from World Vision, she realized that a new sponsored child—a girl this time—had been assigned to her family.
In her distress, Sherry almost sent the profile back. “But then when I read she didn’t have a mom, I thought that there was a reason she came to us, and in that way we made our peace with the whole process.”
That is exactly the amicable resolution that World Vision hopes for.
“We’re saying thank you to the sponsor, and we’re inviting them to have a new experience with a new child,” explains Criselda. “We hope they will see that the new child also needs help.”
Melvin Kearley, a sponsor from St. Alban’s, N.L., has received multiple “Dear Melvin” letters from World Vision, and has experienced just about every reason why a sponsored child drops out of a program.
Melvin lost two sponsored children when they moved away, one when a project was complete, one when a child began to work, and one when a child simply stopped participating.
Melvin and his wife have said yes to a new sponsored child each time. “Part of my journey is saying that sponsorship has been a way to live a Christian life and serve where I could. I guess it’s felt good that we could do it, that God has blessed us to be able to do it,” says Melvin.
Sherry Fehr agrees. “Definitely, still sponsor. I think that the good you get out of it, even though you risk these things happening, is still definitely worth it,” says Sherry. “Plus, it’s about helping a child. I feel a little bad about feeling bad at all,” she admits.
But it’s okay to feel bad, says Criselda. She has spoken to some sponsors who create a scrapbook with pictures and letters from their previous sponsored child as a way to say goodbye and remember.
“If people are upset, they should please give us a call,” says Criselda. “We love to answer questions and concerns. With a new child, you have the opportunity to write to them and know about another culture and another little world.”
Sherry won’t take the photo of Luca off her fridge. But there is a new photo right beside it, of a little girl named Siri.
*This article originally appeared in the Winter 2013/14 issue of Childview.