Rebecca stood nervously in front of a classroom full of Ecuadorian students, teachers and parents. The speech she had spent weeks writing and perfecting with her Spanish teacher in front of her. When she looked out into the sea of faces, she instantly spotted the child she had spent years writing letters to, her sponsored child, Priscila.
“It was quite daunting to go to the school and give a presentation on Australia in front of 32 kids, some parents and the teachers, in a second language, when you’re not very good” Rebecca says, laughing at the thought of it.
If you’re wondering whether speaking the language and standing in front of a school is a requirement of a sponsor visit – it’s not. But for Rebecca, the idea of challenging herself and speaking the language was all part of the experience. “I chose Priscila purposely from Ecuador as I had a long-term goal of visiting her and being able to speak some Spanish.”
“I wanted to give something back,” she recalls. “They all really liked it and at the end, one of the teachers said that she learned a lot.”
Meeting 11-year-old Priscila was a special moment. “Within the classroom I saw Priscila. I recognised her straight away amongst the other children,” Rebecca says, “she was quite thrilled, I think, that I was there.”
Standing outside in the school yard, Rebecca watched as the young boys and girls performed traditional Ecuadorian dances.
“They were just so cute,” she says. “The Ecuadorian people are very reserved and they don’t show their emotions, but it was a big thing for me and I nearly felt like I was going to start crying, but I didn’t, I held it together.”
“I felt like my visit was for all of the children, not just one.”
It wasn’t until she arrived in Ecuador that she understood the sense of what life was like for her sponsored child and family. “When I was there I thought, on the surface it looked quite clean and tidy and things were okay, but I could tell life was really hard.”
“The most surprising thing about my visit was when I learned that Priscila’s sister married at 13 years of age. The World Vision staff were telling me that the teenage pregnancy rate was really high.”
“Priscila’s mum appeared to look older than me but I was told that she was probably five years younger. She had given birth to and raised nine children in one of the poorest areas in Ecuador.”
For Australians, hearing about child marriage is difficult, which is why local staff took Rebecca through the projects to share a bit about how we are responding to these prominent issues.
“They had nutritional training for the mothers who are pregnant,” Rebecca says. “There’s a teenage group where they try to encourage them to go to school and develop an interest in recreational activities such as soccer, and then there’s the educational training about nutrition and health for the under-fives. There is also an artisanal program to address unemployment.”
“I did think it was better to be living in a World Vision program area than not to be,” she says, after being asked about how she perceived World Vision’s work, especially in addressing issues such as child marriage. “It provides hope to people, and the conditions are better if World Vision is there. If it wasn’t there, then the community would probably continue in a process of poverty and early pregnancy, but because the program is there, over time, it gives people hope that they’re going to have a different future.”
Rebecca was insistent that she now felt more encouraged than ever to send letters. “I always write to her and encourage her to go to school and to do well at school, but now I’m going to try and send that message a lot more strongly.”
“I do feel that many people read my letters,” Rebecca began, “I’ve previously found Priscila's letters to be reserved, but now that I’ve visited the country I’ve realised it’s their culture. It’s just the way that they communicate. In some respects Ecuador can be quite formal and conservative compared to Australia.”