This month St Mark’s Church launched the HG1000 campaign, which aims to get 1000 children living in poverty sponsored by people from Harrogate and buy 1000 water filters for families in developing countries.
The idea for the campaign came from Rev Guy Donegan-Cross along with a team from child sponsorship charity Compassion, who brainstormed ideas while waiting in an airport after visiting projects in Africa.
Harrogate mum of two, Michelle Hayes was one of those who travelled to Tanzania to see first hand the work Compassion does to help children living in poverty.
As a Compassion ambassador Michelle has helped hundreds of children from around the world find a sponsor.
Michelle and the team went to the Arusha area near Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and visited four projects in the region.
She said: “It was my first visit and I was apprehensive but it was amazing.
“It was very different to what we are used to and what I expected. I had visited Africa once before but this was different, I was able to see inside people’s homes and had the opportunity to see how people lived.
“Their homes were so basic, no toilets, no running water, nothing. It’s hard to put it into words the vast difference, it was hard to get my head around that level of poverty.”
Compassion, who run child sponsorship programmes in 26 countries around the world, looks for a church to partner with and then works with the church leaders to identify the families in the communities which are most in need.
Michelle said: “It was an opportunity to hear stories first hand, one girl had lost both her parents at a very young age. Compassion became her family, a surrogate family who brought her up.”
“I met one little girl who had had to have five operations in her lifetime, all of them had been paid for by Compassion, without them she wouldn’t have been able to afford medical care.”
Compassion started work in Tanzania in 1999 and now has 271 projects helping around 260 to 280 children at each project.
Michelle said: “One of the things that really impacted me was that the team there were doing such a phenomenal job and the children feel it is such a place of love and happiness.
Compassion hire local staff to work at the Compassion centres. Michelle said: “It is about helping local people to help local people. Not going in and taking over.”
Compassion centres run parenting classes and also have a child survival programme where they help mothers from pregnancy until the child is four years old, when they look for sponsorship for the child.
There are around 30 centres running the child survival programme in Tanzania with 988 mothers and babies being helped through the programme.
They are provided with health care, nutritional support and the mothers are educated with skills to help them earn money in the future.
Compassion projects then look to sponsor children from the age of around four or five years old in order to have the maximum impact on the child’s life.
Michelle had the chance to meet some of the children at the projects she visited.
“In some ways they were just like any other kid, they were boisterous and were excited people had come to visit them.
Michelle said: “In some families only child will be sponsored and I wondered if that cause jealousy and resentment.
“I was told that was a very ‘westernised’ view point and that there isn’t jealousy because the sponsorship of a sibling can lift the whole family out of poverty, the food is shared, the sibling helps the others with school work and so on.”
All of the children Michelle met in Tanzania were so grateful to have the help of Compassion. “But there are kids who can’t go to the Compassion project who don’t have that chance, that is what breaks my heart,” said Michelle. “The amount of kids who want or need to be helped by the compassion who can’t be, that is what drives me.
“That is why we want 1000 children to be sponsored by people from Harrogate and people from Harrogate can help people living in poverty across the world.
“People often see poverty as something so huge that they think, what can we do? But even if you just help one person that can change things, that can be the start.”
The joy of child sponsorship
Michelle Hayes and her family sponsor six children across the globe and she said she wishes she could sponsor more.
She said: “After sponsoring four children, I started to work as an advocate encouraging people to sponsor the children, but at two meetings I have run there was just one child left, so I took on another each time.”
She said: “We write letters which is just so lovely to build a relationship with them and knowing the money is directly going to improve that persons life rather than just going into a pot of money somewhere.”
Michelle’s two children are actively involved in the sponsorship and 15-year-old Jamie and 13-year-old Josie write letters to their sponsored children and next year Michelle hopes to take her daughter to Ghana to visit a Compassion project.
She said: “It makes it more personal for the children and it’s a connection, it helps them realise how lucky they are.
“They are interested in the world and politics of different countries as they know someone living in that country.”
So far 385 children have been sponsored as part of the HG1000 campaign and 41 water filters have been bought by people in the HG postcode.
To get involved in the HG1000 campaign see https://my.compassionuk.org/app/Harrogate or call St Mark’s Church on 01423 544 528 for an information pack.