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Facebook "Spirit and Smiles" - A Sponsorship Story
by Ronne Rock
Posted on Tuesday, December 01, 2015
She had no idea the impact a simple conversation with friend a would have on her life. But for Ellen Ratcliff, a veterinarian who traveled with Orphan Outreach to Kenya in 2014, a casual chat with Jim Clawson (fellow veterinarian and Orphan Outreach advocate for the Madeleine School in Bungoma) about the long-term benefits of short-term missions was the beginning of her own passion to get involved in orphan care.

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"I could see the affect it had on Jim, and I knew I wanted to be part of something like that," shares Ellen. And when she and the team stopped on a dirt road a quarter-mile from the Madeleine School so they could be welcomed by the teachers, students, and townspeople, Ellen was overwhelmed. "There are so many moments that elicited strong emotions running the full spectrum. But probably the single biggest moment I revisit in my head is our walking arrival to the school. All the students and teachers were filling the red clay road for a quarter of a mile from the school gate and it seemed like every person in Bungoma had joined them. They welcomed our arrival with the most overwhelming celebration of song and dance and festivity imaginable. I was speechless, could barely get ahold of myself, alternating between laughter and tears. Although my chest was tight and I was experiencing complete sensory overload, I remember looking down at all the little faces smiling at me and the tiny hands holding each one of my fingers - there must have been five kids per hand - and knowing I was in the right place. That moment turned my whole world on end. Thank God."

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The welcome was just the beginning of what Ellen and the team would discover at Madeleine School. "It is like no place I’d ever been before. The kids are joyous even though they have so very little. The teachers give so much of their time, effort and loving energy to the kids. Every person who works there is intensely focused on the same goal – making the school self-sufficient to be able to provide the best education to the students. Providing an education to these children who are so at risk of slipping through the cracks, is their ticket to safe, productive adulthood. The education they get at Madeleine is not only reading, mathematics, etc, it’s English and Christianity as well as practical skills such as agriculture."

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The mission team worked for days at Madeleine School, providing medical and dental check-ups, helping a new social worker update profiles on the students, teaching, playing, and even joining many of the townspeople in a special 7K race to raise money for water cisterns. When Ellen wasn't with the kids, she and the other veterinarians were traveling to farms to find dairy cattle for the school. Two cows were purchased - both healthy and pregnant. When the cows gave birth several months later, the leaders at Madeleine School honored Ellen by naming one of the calves after her.

She's flattered by her namesake. But the children she sponsors at Madeleine School are her pride and joy. Ellen sponsored Vivian before her journey to Kenya. "She had such terrible medical problems and thanks to the ACK Madeleine Centre Facebook page, I followed her health and treatments, making me feel like I was part of her life. Getting to meet Vivian face to face was very sweet – she was feeling so sickly when we were there it really made clear to me how badly she needs the support of Orphan Outreach.

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"While we were there I fell in love with so many of the kids. But every time I walked across the lawn or sat down, the two little friends, Esther and Bridgit, were right beside me.   They wanted to hold my hands and touch my hair and have piggy back rides. Their constant affection was like medicine for my heart and soul. After returning home, I sponsored both of them."

Ellen's newest sponsor child was a dose of sunshine in the midst of sickness. She had been ill for several weeks, and decided to brighten her day by revisiting some photos and videos of her time in Kenya. Checking the Orphan Outreach sponsor page for Madeleine School, she saw that Nixon was available, and the decision to sponsor him was instant. "I love his playful disposition and his infectious smile. I can’t wait to learn more about him."

After sponsoring Nixon, Ellen had an idea. "While on the sponsorship page I just got overwhelmed by all the sweet kids I knew needed someone in their corner, solidifying their enrollment at Madeleine School, ensuring they have opportunities for a successful adulthood.   Since I was in bed on that day, and Facebook was my only real contact with friends and family, I decided to make a post with two photos of kids and their personal stories and see if I could get a couple more kids sponsored."

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Within minutes, two young girls had been sponsored. So Ellen decided to keep telling the stories of the kids she loves in the tiny town on the Ugandan border.

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"At first it was my brother, Noel, who sponsored the two children I originally posted. I was so happy because I loved that he was involved now. I expected that would be as far as it would go. But since he sponsored them so quickly after I posted them I decided to share a couple more children’s photos and stories."

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"I thought that putting a specific child with their personal story would be most effective – versus the blanket post with a link to the whole page. I figured if people could see the spirit and smile of a specific child they might fall in love like I had."

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What happened next was enough to bring Ellen to tears.

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It just became a chain reaction. I was in absolute disbelief as more of my family and friends messaged me to help them choose a child. In some cases, hearing the student’s dream (wanting to be a pilot, a nurse, an engineer) gave a similarly trained person to want to support them and help their dreams come true. A nurse sponsored a girl who wanted to be a nurse, an engineer sponsored a boy who wanted to be an engineer, it was so neat. I had no idea it would turn out to be a chain of children getting sponsored.

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Within a week, 22 children had been sponsored because of Ellen's "spirit and smile" idea on her Facebook page. She knew how valuable social media was in receiving information about her sponsor children, but she was in awe of how precious it had become in growing her sponsor family.

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"Social media can be a powerful force for increasing awareness, we all know that. Our sponsorship is a big part of our day to day lives. We keep the photos of the kids up, we pray for them, we follow the change and progress at the school with pride and excitement. Because it’s such a big deal for us, it only makes sense we would want to shout it from the rooftops. It changes our lives for the better, and I would love for more of my friends and family to experience that. There’s something pretty magical about having a little friend in Kenya, and it should be shared. The best thing about Orphan Outreach’s partnership with ACK Madeleine Centre is that you truly get to feel like you’re part of their lives. With the school’s Facebook page you can see when children are sick, injured or suffering hard times with their home lives, but you also get to enjoy their successes too. It’s absolutely spirit-lifting to see the kids giddy with excitement when they get new school supplies, running in races competing against other schools, and helping to plant tomatoes or care for the cows. In most child-sponsorship organizations you never get that kind of involvement. Sharing your sponsorship story on Facebook or social media might give someone else awareness to get involved themselves. It’s a great gift!"

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As Ellen prepares for her 2016 return to Kenya to see her kids and the rest of her new family at Madeleine School, she's more convinced than ever about the power of sponsorship to bring tangible hope to not only a child's life but to that child's community. "Not only do the sponsorships mean the feeding program and school supplies and school projects are secured, it means more people across the world are praying for and caring for those children and they are that much less likely to be victims of their circumstances. A young girl who has her school tuition and food secured is not going to end up in human trafficking. Just imagine how many new people were exposed to Orphan Outreach and ACK Madeleine Centre through all those Facebook posts!! Even if a few of the folks that messaged me that they weren’t able to swing sponsorship financially right now are able to participate in the backpack program or just follow the goings on at the school through Facebook, they are that much more likely to get involved in the future. The new exposure to the school and the program in general is huge. Thanks to the Facebook networking, thousands of new people were introduced to the concept of child sponsorship. Hopefully planting those seeds now will continue to grow sponsors in the future. And the benefits to the community are significant.   Not only is the citizenry getting educated and fed, but the families benefit from all the outreach and support to local businesses. Just imagine the awesome feeling these kids get from knowing that someone across the world cares enough about them to believe in them and invest in them."

Are you ready to join the sponsorship family? There are children waiting to meet you! And if you are a sponsor, we hope you're inspired by Ellen to share your story with others - just think of the lives you could help change.

 


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