Giving

Subba Reddy is an young man who lives in a slum near Vijayawada, India, with his parents and little sister. My husband and I have been sponsoring his education for the past six years through the charity Care and Share, but recently, he wrote to let us know that he's finished his program. Our relationship appears to be coming to an end, and I'm full of both joy and regrets. It's been a bumpy road.

We support three more kids at Care and Share also, and over the years I've spend a lot of time fretting about what lousy sponsors we are. I think about the kids often, but somehow I always forget their birthdays and only manage to send a couple of letters each year. One of our sponsored "daughters" complains that my letters are too short and I don't include enough photos. To be honest, I find it hard to know what to say to the kids beyond "keep up the good work in school" and "we love you." Making a connection with Subba Reddy has felt especially challenging. He was almost a teenager when we were matched, with essentially no facility in English. Anything I write to him has to be translated by an Indian social worker, and I find myself writing what I think might easily translate vs. a message of substance. And really, what do I have to say that might interest a teenage boy on the other side of the world?

Subba Reddy had never attended school before Care and Share gave him the opportunity. By necessity he was placed in a first grade classroom, a gangly 12-year-old surrounded by far smaller boys. He'd been studying for a couple of years and appeared to be making decent progress when we got some upsetting news: he'd decided to drop out and go to work with his parents as a rag picker instead. He'd simply found it too embarrassing to persevere as the oldest student in class. I cried, imagining him now spending his days sifting through mountains of toxic, stinking garbage with his bare hands, scrounging for recyclables that could be resold for a few rupees. I knew that his dropping out wasn't my fault, but still, I wished I'd done more.

Care and Share asked us to sponsor Subba Reddy's younger sister in his place, but we declined. We intended to donate the same amount as always, but we didn't want to be officially matched with a new child. Subba Reddy's exit confirmed that we were lousy sponsors, but we wanted to do better. We resolved to invest more time developing relationships with the other three kids...and promptly failed.

One of the nice features of the Care and Share program is that sponsors can send an extra $20 every now and then, which allows a child to shop for new clothes. I never remember to arrange these shopping sprees until Christmastime hits, and the year that Subba Reddy dropped out was no exception. Still feeling sad about what had happened, I sent $20 each for our three remaining kids, and impulsively threw in the extra $20 that I would have have spent on Subba Reddy if he was still in school. I trusted that Care and Share would put the money to good use.

Then, a small miracle occurred. Subba Reddy played hooky from work one day and stopped by the Care and Share office. "Your sponsor sent you money for shopping," the staff told him, and they took him to the store, just as they'd always done. The misunderstanding about the $20, and the reconnection it forged, eventually led Subba Reddy to enroll with other boys his age in a vocational training program. Here, he found his niche studying auto mechanics. Now in his latest letter, he writes:

Mom and dad, I am very happy to share that I have completed Technical course and working now. I am earning Rs. 4,000/- per month. I am happy that now I am able to support my family. Thank you for all you have given me till now.

A salary of Rs. 4,000 is not so much, even in India -- not quite $100 US -- but it is a respectable wage earned under safe conditions, and a far cry from rag picking. Subba Reddy has every right to be proud.

The truth is, we gave so little. We could have given so much more of ourselves. Thanks, Subba Reddy, for all you have given us. Keep up the good work. We love you.

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