“Can you visit in December and make me the happiest child”

So wrote Laurent last year, and my heart went out to him. How could I refuse such a request? There was no need to discuss this with my husband as we both knew I’d go.

My week encompassed visiting projects on education, clean safe water, empowerment of women and child and maternal health care, all of which support the new Sustainable Development Goals and have given me invaluable examples to use in my presentations as a World Vision Ambassador.

I arrived in Dakar on a cool, breezy Sunday night, the sights, sounds and African aromas welcoming me back. Although tired, the excitement and anticipation of the forthcoming week took precedence, eventually I slept! On Monday I visited Goreé Island, the former slave fort just off the coast. A visit well worth making despite difficulties with local taxis, but it all added to my Senegalese Experience.This photograph is the ‘Door of No Return’, through which slaves passed to be shipped across the ocean!

Wherever I’ve been on my journey with World Vision I’m always amazed at the dedication, professionalism and warmth of the staff. Everyone was so generous with their time, their patience in answering my questions and we laughed, joked, chatted and shared mealtimes; I felt very much ‘part of the family’.  

We left Dakar in the trusty World Vision Toyota truck, to travel 150 kilometres to Laurent’s village. Senegalese radio was playing and it was lovely sitting in the back listening to Pière and Julian’s chatter and laughter and taking in the African scenes flashing past the windows.

Our first stop was to a “Women’s Livelihood” project, a new initiative giving women knowledge and skills to use local resources to produce goods to sell at market. The resulting profits are put back into the group for further development. 

I was very warmly welcomed by this lively group of 38 women representing 19 communities. As part of the wider initiative they are taking their skills and knowledge back to their own communities resulting in long term benefits for all. They were in the process of making soap, papaya jam (I helped this group) and fruit juices, all of which I sampled - delicious! This project is already having benefits for their families and children, healthy fruit juices to drink and jam to spread on their bread at school.  There are strong plans in place for future development and expansion of products.

When Wednesday morning dawned I was awake at 05.30 in anticipation of the days’ events, as this was “Laurent’s Day”. I wondered how he would be feeling as he walked to school - nervous? I certainly was.

I first met the Head Teacher and asked about various aspects of the Senegalese educational system and presented him with a trophy to be awarded on an annual basis to the student who has achieved well across all disciplines. Education opens so many doors for a better future and I wanted to leave a lasting legacy as an encouragement to the students.

My visit generated much excitement and interest amongst the students as we walked across the school compound to Laurent’s class where I spent a short time observing a lesson. He was very shy and understandably so.How different these classrooms are compared with those in the UK. It was heart-warming to see a well stocked library and to learn from the librarian that it’s well used by the students.  

Next stop, Laurent’s home. We drove over rutted sandy ground taking the route that Laurent walks four times a day for 40 minutes each time. Little did I realise what was in store. We turned a corner and saw two horsemen in traditional dress, a donkey and crowds of people. I travelled the last part sitting on the donkey, with a traditional ‘head wrap’ put on by one of the ladies.

As I write this now, the tears are forming in my eyes. In front of me the whole community were singing and playing drums, a table was set with flowers and gifts, the chairs for us were covered in fabric and colourful mats placed on the sandy ground. 

A dress and head wrap had been made for me and a shirt for Laurent to mark this very special occasion. Words cannot convey how humbled and privileged I felt receiving such a warm and generous welcome. Dancing, drumming and speeches followed and I too managed a few words and conveyed my thanks to them for the opportunity to meet Laurent in his community. 

With Laurent, his Granny, Uncle and World Vision staff we walked across the compound to his house.

The first thing he did, was to take from a plastic box under his bed, the various photographs, birthday cards and Christmas cards we had sent over the years, and I found it hard to hold back the tears as I realised just how much he treasured them. 

With much laughter and hand shaking we exchanged gifts of T-shirts, Manchester United items, baseball caps, Frisbees, groundnuts, a carved calabash and one of Uncle’s shirts for my husband Sam - this last gift overwhelmed me, and again tears were very close.

They have so little yet give so much. 

I urge all sponsors to make a visit to their child, it is the most wonderful and heart-warming experience you will ever have. It certainly puts life into perspective for us living here in the affluent West. These visits are very much welcomed by the World Vision staff working in the field locations who see the impact that our letters and gifts have on the children.

At each project I visited, the warmth and generosity of their traditional welcomes was fantastic, particularly when I joined in the dancing! It never ceases to amaze me how far sponsorship money can go in bringing about life changing benefits to communities.

This visit will stay in my heart forever.

Why don't you make the journey to your sponsored child's community to visit them and see more of how your donations are being put to great use. Find out more about visiting your sponsored child »