Desy never knew a good man. Her father left when she was 4 and never returned. Enter the stepfather who created a household so toxic it never felt like home.
Then one day, someone else showed up at her door. He was tall, with snowy hair and thick-rimmed glasses. His name was Frederick Startup. And, for the first time, Desy met a man who wasn’t there to let her down. He was there to keep her up.
Frederick’s journey to Desy started during the Korean War. An artist rather than a soldier, Frederick played in an army band that performed for high-ranking officers.
“That’s really all we did,” he says humbly with a laugh.
When instruments weren’t in his hands, cameras took their place. Frederick picked up an interest in photography and saw the lives of Korean children through the camera’s lens. At the surface, the girls and boys seemed to have nothing. But looking more closely, he saw that they were happy. He was fascinated.
“Their gratitude really got me,” Frederick says. “Around the holidays, we gave children in an orphanage presents and food. It was a really heartwarming experience I couldn’t get off my mind.”
Frederick returned home and decided to get his master’s degree in music. He never had kids of his own, but found joy in teaching schoolchildren music for almost 30 years. When he completed another 20 years of substitute teaching, retirement was on the horizon. But the faces of Korea were images that had never and would never leave him.
It was in that spot of time that Frederick got a letter from Plan International USA. He read about children in poverty like Desy who were in desperate need of a sponsor.
“One thing led to another,” he says. “I sponsored a few youngsters, I sent letters and I started reading theirs. And I read how difficult things were.”
So that’s when Frederick decided to do something incredible. He flew to see every one of his sponsored children. He traveled to Guatemala and Ecuador 10 times, once a year for 10 years. Distance meant nothing to the bonds he formed. He met Desy. She confided in him about her challenges and she finally saw a good man’s compassion.
“I just wanted to take it all away for her,” he says.
Frederick spent time with his sponsored children, like Desy, and their families, asking them questions about their lives and listening with genuine care. He gave them a day to forget about their hardships.
His travels made one thing clear to him: Girls in poverty have it the worst. Trafficking was standard. Forced child marriage was tradition. He saw what the victim of a man’s world looks like. Which is why today, he sponsors eight girls.
“I have to use a walker now, so I can’t visit them anymore,” he says. “I can barely write, so I can’t send letters anymore either. But I’ll always sponsor.”
Always. Because even though Desy has since grown up and started her own family, he knows there are too many more girls like her who might never know what it’s like to have someone believe in them.
But it’s not Frederick’s own capacity to make the world a better place that inspires him.
“I’ve been home a lot the last few weeks and have saved more money, so I’ve given it to Gifts of Hope,” he says. “The idea that if enough people contribute to this and eventually something like trafficking might disappear, well, that’s what keeps me going.”