6 Years of Child Sponsorship with ActionAid

I’ve mentioned before why I decided to travel, but I’m not sure I fully explained why I travelled to Africa, or more specifically, Tanzania on my first ever solo trip.

It was partly because I wanted to travel somewhere different to most other backpackers and partly because I thought climbing Kilimanjaro sounded kind of cool. But the main reason was because I wanted to visit the little girl I sponsor there.

Child Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania

I’ve been sponsoring MwanaArafa through ActionAid since 2008. I chose ActionAid because their goals and issues really resonated with me ”“ especially helping girls to get an education. I loved receiving her letters, updates and pictures, so when I decided to quit my job and head to Africa, I found a volunteer placement in a town near to her village, in the hope that I might be able to organise a visit.

Each month I donate to ActionAid, with 80% of the money going to MwanaArafa’s community (the other 20% is spent in the UK on public education and finding more sponsors). The money is spent on whatever the community deems most important. In this case, it was the village primary school.

Child Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania

The staff were really helpful and took me to meet the little 8-year-old girl who had been sending me letters for the last year. MwanaArafa met me and the ActionAid staff with her sisters and mother. She was shy at first, not sure what to make of this stranger, but soon was giggling and playing games. It was a Saturday, so the school was quiet, but it was great to see that the money I had donated had contributed to building a school.

Child Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania Child Sponsorship ActionAid Child Sponsorship ActionAid TanzaniaChild Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania  Child Sponsorship ActionAid TanzaniaChild Sponsorship ActionAid TanzaniaChild Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania

Now 5 years later, I once again found myself on the bumpy road on the way to her village, in the car with Samuel who had taken me the last time.

I assumed this visit would be similar to the last one, but then I hadn’t really considered that it was a Wednesday this time . When our car pulled up the the school, my mouth fell open as I realised that the  ENTIRE school were there to greet me. I was a little bit overwhelmed as I was shown to a seat at the front. They were putting on an assembly and I was the guest of honour.

Child Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania

As the head teacher began talking, I instinctively turned to my right and saw MwanaArafa sitting to the side, watching me. She’d grown into a beautiful young woman. She smiled as shyly at me, as I did back at her.

A whistle blew and the assembly began with the games teacher who who made the introductions. Hundreds of curious eyes were upon me. The children performed the school welcome songs with dancing, drumming and acrobatics.

Child Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania Child Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania

Next the head teacher stood up and read through the school report and the work ActionAid had done locally. Looking around I could see that a number of new classrooms had sprung up since my first visit. Next Samuel stood up and talked a little more about ActionAid as a whole before turning to me and saying “Now it’s your turn”. I hadn’t been prepared for this, but bumbled through, thanking everyone for the lovely welcome.

MwanaArafa presented me with lots of drawings she’d done for me, and they’re right here next to me, making me smile as I sit here writing to you. I, in return, gave her a pack with all the pictures that I’d taken when I was there in 2009. Her face lit up, as did those of the teachers and her mum when they saw them, as it’s probably unlikely that they had any other pictures of themselves.

Child Sponsorship ActionAid TanzaniaChild Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania

I was introduced to all of the teachers who greeted me warmly and shown around the school.Whilst there is still work to be done, I could see just how far they’d come in just a few years.

Child Sponsorship ActionAid TanzaniaChild Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania

Once the formalities were over, I headed over to MwanaArafa’s house, where her mum was sitting on the step with two small children, who regarded me solemnly. Samuel made jokes and translated for MwanaArafa and I as we chatted for a while, before it was time to leave. I would have liked to have spent longer in the village to really understand the impact sponsorship has because a few hours is never enough and with any type of social or infrastructure work, it’s rarely a fast process. But regardless, I felt proud to know that I had played a very small part in helping the village children to get the education they craved and deserved.

Child Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania
Then (2009)
Child Sponsorship ActionAid Tanzania
Now (2014)

If you’re interested in child sponsorship, please have a look at the ActionAid website and check out #GiveAFuture on Twitter!


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  1. Helen, this is a lovely story! I’m definitely one of those people who is somewhat skeptical about sponsorship programs so it was great to read the experience of someone who got to see the results first hand.

    1. Thanks Alyssa! It’s good to be skeptical about this kind of stuff for sure! I think when you see it in action, it puts it a bit more into perspective, and when the locals speak well of the work being done, then I always think it must be ok! 🙂

    1. Seeing her all grown up was amazing! It’s been wonderful to follow her journey for so long. She’s getting to the age where I stop sponsoring her soon, so I’ll be looking to sponsor another child. She seemed to love getting the photos!

  2. Thanks for sharing Helen!
    Education is also a big subject for me but I am always afraid of scams. I do understand that some money has to go to running the for-purpose organization and finding new sponsosr but it is hard to be sure if any money really makes it where it is needed.
    I will have a look at ActionAid

    1. With ActionAid it’s 80% to the projects and 20% to admin, which I think is pretty good for a really big charity. I know some programmes where the money goes direct to funding the children’s education, so it depends what your aim is! With ActionAid, the money goes to the whole community which is great, if you sponsor an individual child with a tiny charity, all the money goes towards them, so I guess it’s a question of what you believe!

  3. Wow, this is awesome Helen. I can’t really think of anything that would be more rewarding than your experiences here. It’s good to know good organizations that stay true to their mission still exist. ActionAid definitely seems like one I can get behind!

  4. Hi Helen! I just recently discovered your blog through googling packing lists for Kilimanjaro (my husband and I will be climbing it NEXT WEEK!) 🙂 I love everything that you write! This post in particular is beautiful! I too sponsor a child in Africa… “my” little boy – who is actually not so little anymore – lives in Mozambique. I would love to someday return to the country to visit with him in person. Africa has held a very special place in my heart since I first visited in 2007, and I’ve loved reading about your adventures there. I’m looking forward to reading more! 🙂

    1. Sorry for the late reply, totally missed this! How did Kilimanjaro go? Fill me in!

      Thanks so much, that’s a lovely thing to hear. Glad you like my writing!

      So cool that you also sponsor a child!

      Africa is the type of place that really gets under your skin isn’t it. I’d love to travel to Mozambique someday! Looking forward to hearing all about Kilimanjaro. Did you reach the top?

  5. It’s really cool that you were able to go and meet her! I wonder if that happens often, it would be pretty amazing if it did!

    I’ve been considering sponsoring a child, but there are so many worries involved. Knowing that the money actually reaches the people it should help is the main one, and I agree with you that an 80:20 split is a pretty fair one. I’ve also read that sponsoring an individual child can cause friction and envy in the community, so the fact that ActionAid help the community as a whole is great. I’ll definitely look into them when I’m in a position to commit to regular donations 🙂

    1. Hi Amy,

      I think a few people meet the kids every year, not sure how many though!

      Yeah, there are advantages and disadvantages to both! My friends at Mara Explorers Camp also run a porridge programme where all the kids get fed every day and so can concentrate at school, which is also a really cool way to sponsor children as they all benefit!

  6. Wow, what a wonderful story. It is lovely you were able to meet her not once but twice and see that yours and everyone else’s sponsorship is making a difference to lives.

  7. Love this! My family sponsors a child in Zambia and we very much look forward to meeting her. My daughters write back and forth with our sponsored “daughter”, Faith. I can’t wait for them to have the chance to meet in person and deepen their connection to her and to her country.

  8. Wonderful story… Again Helen you are amazingly lady, and thank you for your good heart for helping that young lady… Is that Bagamoyo? Mungu akupe afya njema.(God will give you good health)

    1. I don’t know about that, but thank you Germanus!

      It is Bagamoyo, well, a village in the Bagamoyo district anyway, not in Bagamoyo town.

      Asante sana. Lala salama.

  9. Thanks for the good work you are doing of supporting girl-child education in Africa and it really shows great love and passionate you are having towards people. May the Almighty God continue to bless you more and give you more strength to do His work.

  10. im sponsoring a young boy in Kenya with action aid, my gap year (im planning) is starting next year and I want To go over there. After making a connection with this boy, I’d love to continue to sponsor him through the charity but also privately, is this something which is possible (if you know the answer). Because I never want the contact to end haha, and I’d love to continue watching him grow and help him with a charity, but also alone, and visit him alone without the restrictions of time limits with a charity etc, is this something you’d know the answer to?

  11. Hi what a beautiful story , I’ve just sponsored a little girl in The Gambia, I had researched action aid and found the 80/20 split very reasonable so went ahead . So thank you so much for this story and for sharing your experiences .

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