Seeing the differenceWaynesville couple travels to Africa to meet sponsored child
A trip to Africa was always a dream of Waynesville residents Bill and Jane Cole. Like many who make the trip, the Coles were eager to view the exotic wildlife they’d only ever seen in zoos or on TV, but their trip ended up taking on a special significance for them.
For many years, the couple has sponsored a child through Plan International, a children’s development organization that works to improve the lives of children and communities around the world by providing education, clean water, access to health care and other locally-initiated projects.
“We want to share our good fortune and help others in dire need,” said Bill of their reason for getting involved with Plan International.
Over the years, the Coles have sponsored four different children until they reached adulthood at age 18, and for the past five years, that child has been 7-year-old Emily, who lives with her grandparents in Kenya.
Every month, the Coles give $29 to sponsor Emily, which means a Plan representative in Kenya makes sure she is able to go to school and receive proper health care as she grows. Bill and Jane receive pictures of Emily and get updates on her progress through Plan, but since they decided on a trip to Africa anyway, they thought maybe it was time to meet Emily in person.
“The interesting thing about the trip is that we thought we were going to see the animals, but we ended up falling in love with Emily and her family,” Bill said.
“It’s hard to even put into words what it felt like meeting that little girl for the first time,” Jane added.
Plan worked with the Coles to make the visit happen, and Bill and Jane said it was one of the most rewarding experiences they’ve ever had in their lives.
Welcomed by Emily’s whole family, including her mother who is usually working away from home to support her daughter, the Coles were overwhelmed with the warmth of the family.
“They just seemed so happy to see us,” Jane said. “The first thing I noticed was just their smiles.”
Pretty and very shy, Emily warmed up quickly to Jane, who brought her a bright flowery dress to wear. She even showed her how to twirl the dress’s full skirt, much to the little girl’s delight.
“I could tell just by her little smile that she was very pleased with the dress,” Jane said. “The rest of the time she stuck by my side.”
The family treated the Coles to a meal of chicken and rice, and despite her shyness, Emily showed off what she’d been learning in school.
“When you’re helping someone by sending a donation, it’s a very abstract concept,” Bill said. “It’s an entirely different experience to actually visit them in their home, and it’s extremely rewarding to see that what you’ve been doing has been truly helping someone.”
The Coles were also taken on a tour of the school and were shown several of the successful projects going on in the community. What makes Plan International particularly effective, Bill said, is that they help the community members work the projects that are most needed locally, such as the new well that gives them clean water.
“It wasn’t outsiders going in and telling them how to live. They form teams from the citizens there and those are the people making changes there,” Bill said. “People from inside the community are effecting the change.”
But what most impacted the Coles during their visit was that they could directly see the difference their small monthly donation was making for Emily, who has a better chance at a brighter future with their help.
“We’re hoping we can help Emily stay in school,” Jane said, which is particularly important for females who are being more and more empowered through such programs.
Of course, the Coles also spent time on their trip exploring the nearby reserve, where they saw everything from giraffes and zebras to lions and cheetahs, but the memories they most cherish are those of the little girl named Emily, who they finally met in person.
For information on Plan International, visit plan-international.org.