At the risk of sounding too philosophical, do you ever question why you’re on this planet? Why your children are here? Why any of us are here? Do you ask yourself questions like “What am I meant to be doing?” And by that I don’t mean “the laundry, the shopping and the bathroom cleaning” – I mean it more deeply. Much more deeply.
I’m finding as I get older, that my need to ‘Make a Difference’ is getting stronger. My want to help someone, something, others, is growing, as is my desire to help my kids achieve the same.
Just last week, I was lucky enough to chat with Aussie mum of four, Tracy McCallum. Tracy has been sponsoring kids with World Vision for over 16 years. Recently, Tracy and her husband Murray, took their four children, Tom, Flynn, Cam and Rosie, to Malawi to visit their sponsored child, Giddiness. Tracy shared with me all of the things that she and her family gained from not only their incredible trip to Africa, but also from their many years as a sponsoring family.
Below is my interview with Tracy, and following that, some comments from her wonderful children. I hope you get as much out of it as I did.
Q: When did you decide to visit Malawi and meet your sponsored child?
We decided as a family to take our children to Africa before we had children! Murray and I had backpacked separately around Africa in our early 20s and that had a lifelong effect on us both – Africa got in our blood. We started saving for this trip to visit our sponsored child four years ago. Planning to meet Giddiness took three months.
We travelled to five countries over the six weeks we were away, including volunteering for a week in Arusha, Tanzania, where we stayed in a homestay and volunteered for a week in primary (and some secondary) school teaching. All four of our kids taught every day. We worked full days and caught the local bus to and from work to our homestay. We were dusty, dirty, but the happiest and closest we have ever been as a family!
We now, as a family, help to sustain this school on an ongoing basis and personally are sponsoring seven children through boarding school, with the help of some of our Aussie friends.
Q: Why did you think it was important to bring your family with you?
We are a comfortable middle-class family from Melbourne who are fortunate enough to really want for nothing. We work very hard to allow our children, for example, shoes when they need them, nice clothes when they grow out of them, social media devices to connect with friends, the occasional holiday, an abundance of healthy food, a nice home with a pool and everything a child could wish for.
We wanted to teach our children the importance of being grateful and humble. We also wanted them to really grasp how they are so fortunate to have what they have especially when they have never experienced what it is like living in a third world country. To Murray and I, this trip was more important than the kids missing a few weeks of schooling. Their developmental growth, sense of social justice, feelings of being a significant influence in the lives of others, and our ability to help to create caring, resilient and community minded individuals was paramount to our visit.
Our eldest son has since mapped out on his bedroom wall his next backpacking trip to Africa so that he can see and be involved in the countries we missed!
Q: What were the highlights of your trip to Malawi, both in terms of experiences and 'lessons learned'?
We learned so much about the village in terms of its geography, economic climate, and social welfare (or lack of). For example, the community that Giddiness, our sponsored child, is from is the Ngodzi/Matowe ADP [an ADP is an Area Development Program – a defined geographic area, typically of 10,000 to 50,000 people, where World Vision partners with groups of communities to run long-term development activities].
It is a rural area with around 30,000 people. The ethnic groups are the Chewa and Yao and they speak Chichewa and Chiyao. The predominant religions are Muslim and Catholic. It is located in the Salima District.
The average age of children commencing school is seven and classrooms are overcrowded. Most people are farmers, but the area is prone to floods, which damage crops and spread water-borne diseases like cholera. Malaria is also common in this area.
In 2014/15, supported by World Vision and the Australian Government (DFAT), World Vision rehabilitated 13 water taps, which improved access for more than 6000 people, including 70 people living with a disability. There were also four new water taps installed – two at primary schools and two at a health centre. These benefited over 2000 people.
It was amazing to see that 320 people were also trained in management and maintenance of water points. Hygiene education was also shared among almost 16,000 students in 16 primary schools. There were 23 people trained to repair water taps and rehabilitate pipes. As a result of the installation of water points, the area has not registered one cholera case over the last three years.
Previously, girls would walk long distances (up to two kilometres) to fetch water. They can now draw water within 20-300 metres from home, and this has resulted in school girls arriving on time for school.
Salima is a commercial centre, as well as functioning as a resort. We learnt that so many of the local villagers have never walked into Salima, so therefore have never seen a white person. We took out our cameras and the children ran away.
Q: What was it like meeting Giddiness and her community?
We were overwhelmed at our welcome. We were sung in by the women, who have the most amazing voices. Then the waves parted and Giddiness walked in – in all her finery. The most beautiful sateen dress, looking nervous and as overwhelmed as were felt. We were then welcomed with speeches from the village elders, our sponsored child's family and the Salima Mayor. We were all struggling not to cry at this stage, as it was ‘life-changing’ stuff. We in turn were expected to stand and give a speech each, which both we and our four children did with pride. We all had tears in our eyes as we had no idea our visit was so important to the village.
Giddiness's family made the most delicious hot meal for us that we ate with our hands on their mat in their mud hut. We gave them personal thank you gifts and the mother cried. We all hugged.
Our children’s most vivid and best memories when asked by friends is always the people. Our children have come home with more resilience, respect, courage, and community and world awareness than we could have ever imagined. They also have a stronger sense of responsibility for social welfare, kindness and a heightened work ethic.
Q: Why would you recommend sponsoring a child to other Aussie families?
When you sponsor a child, he or she becomes part of your family. You receive photos and messages of updates on their progress. Having witnessed this first hand, we know that what we were receiving in the mail about Giddiness, was indeed true, and that our small amount of funds sent each month improved four local villages, allowing them to drink clean water, eliminating disease, educating all the children by building schools, and teaching them self-sustaining skills to grow crops.
Having Giddiness in our lives gave our Aussie kids a sense of feeling they are significantly helping the lives of others and recognising they have the ability to make a difference. Giddiness became one of us, and we feel very humbled by that.
Here’s what Tracy’s kids have to say about sponsoring Giddiness and visiting Malawi:
Rosie, 11: "A big thanks to World Vision for our amazing time with our sponsored child, we really appreciate all that that you did for us! I especially loved how everyone greeted us with their amazing songs they sang when we drove in, it made my heart fill with joy and I am so happy we got this experience with World Vision because it helped me learn that some people in the world are not as fortunate as I am yet they were so happy no matter what condition their world was in."
Flynn, 14: "Visiting our sponsor child with World Vision is a day I will never forget. It was an emotional day, meeting all the children and their families, seeing their homes and living conditions, and just feeling as though we were one with their community, as we felt very welcome. It really put into perspective the contrast between their lives and ours, and it was very displeasing to see the limited food, water and education that they had in the past. To World Vision, we thank you very much for organising this special day, and it will forever remain a day I will never forget."
Tom, 13: "I really enjoyed my stay with World Vision. World Vision is helping to change these people's lives. They put in heaps of drinking fountains and spent the money also on classrooms and helping to educate the children. The tour around the villages was amazing, as was getting to spend time with the families. I would recommend sponsoring or visiting with World Vision."
Cam, 16: "The services that World Vision provided ultimately graced our family, as participants in sponsoring a child, with a heartwarming and emphatic experience in meeting our sponsored child and her village. The coordinators of our experience allowed the day to unfold in a way that heightened our awareness of the true reality of poverty, and the need and urgency to act compassionately, through supporting those less fortunate. Being shown facilities provided by World Vision reinforces our value in committing to giving to this organisation, which we have witnessed to increase the living standards of those they provide for."
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This content was created with thanks to our brand partner World Vision.
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