“A beautiful, fulfilling and memorable experience”: Jenn’s journey to meet her sponsored child in Thailand
When Jenn Gardner was planning her 5-month solo trip across South and Central Asia, she knew she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to spend time with Thanyarlak, her sponsored child living in Thailand.
Jenn has been sponsoring Thanyarlak for two years, and after previously living in Thailand to teach kindergarten, Jenn thought she had a pretty good idea of what to expect during her visit. But as it turned out, she was in for a whole lot of surprises!
The start of something special
As Jenn and Plan International staff pulled up to Thanyarlak’s home, the entire family was waiting outside, eager to welcome her to the community.
“It felt a little bit surreal,” says Jenn. “It was strange knowing a group of people solely through letters and pictures and then finally meeting them in the flesh!”
After the initial flurry of hugs and hellos, Jenn and her sponsored child sat down to learn more about each other. They shared stories, played games, and got creative by painting each other memoirs of a wonderful afternoon spent together.
“Meeting Thanyarlak for the first time was so very exciting” says Jenn. “My main emotions were simply happiness and gratitude.”
An unexpected bond, and a makeover too!
Next, Jenn and the family shared a few laughs over a delicious lunch prepared by Thanyarlak’s mother, a strong woman whom Jenn admired and formed a deep connection with.
“Despite our differences, we had a lot in common,” says Jenn. “We were both empowered women that strived to do our best with any hurdle life threw at us. After half an hour of chatting over food, it didn’t feel any different from having lunch with friends in Canada.”
“Something that definitely surprised me was that Thanyarlak’s parents ran a hair salon in front of their home!” says Jenn. “Even more unexpected was their offer to cut my hair!”
Coincidentally, Jenn was in dire need of a haircut, so she happily accepted the offer! Even Thanyarlak got in on the excitement, acting as assistant to both her mother and father.
“They did a great job – if do say so myself!” laughs Jenn, adding that the family’s salon was a popular spot in the community.
Seeing Plan International’s work in a new light
Plan International has been working in Thailand since 1981, helping over 36,000 children just like Thanyalak access their rights to education, health, livelihoods, protection and participation through programs like Child Sponsorship.
And for a child sponsor like Jenn, seeing Plan International’s work in action has given her a more tangible understanding of the importance of her support, and the remarkable impact it has on children, families, and communities.
“Being able to spend time with the child I was sponsoring, witness the progress her village had made and actually meet the adults empowered by Plan International has reaffirmed my belief in the work Plan International does every day.”
Child Sponsorship: a gift that keeps giving
So, what does Jenn have to say to anyone considering becoming a child sponsor?
“I would definitely encourage them to go for it!” she says.
“For me personally, sponsorship has been a fabulous reminder to continue thinking globally … Whenever I look at Thanyarlak’s picture, I remember that there’s a whole world out there with many diverse cultures, languages, and religions, but underneath all those differences – we’re really all the same.”