Sponsoring a child through Plan International USA means much more than a simple donation.
At least that is what Judy and Dave Milligan realized the first time they visited Guatemala.
Now long-time sponsors, the husband and wife from Ohio had only been involved with Plan for a few years when, in 2005, they visited a child they had been sponsoring.
Accompanying them was their daughter, Jan, and her two kids – Judy and Dave’s grandchildren – Maxx and Maggie.
“When we got ready to leave, we were just going to take our daughter, but then Jan decided it would be a good experience for her kids as well,” Judy said.
In retrospect, the decision was the right one. The highlight of the trip was a small, but significant, moment.
“Seeing our daughter [Jan], [our sponsored child] Conchita, and Maggie walking down the road to get some pop, and Conchita and Maggie holding hands – it was just touching to see that,” said Judy. “It was really something.”
Conchita and Maggie had developed a connection.
“Conchita really loved Maggie,” Judy said. “Maggie became like a cousin to her.”
Judy, Dave, and the family also met Conchita’s entire community.
“The hugs, they’re very warm in Guatemala,” Judy said. “It was a really great experience for all of us.”
Seeing Plan’s work in action and getting the chance to meet their sponsored child opened the flood gates for the Milligans. If they weren’t already sold on the connections that could be made through Plan’s sponsorship program, they were after meeting Conchita.
Judy decided that it was time to sponsor a boy, and quickly came across Asanka.
“He was from Sri Lanka, and his eyes – the boy’s eyes were just staring at me,” she said. “This was the one I needed to sponsor. I [sponsored] him until he was 18.”
Like the bond they shared with Conchita, the Milligans developed a strong relationship with Asanka through letters and photos. When he aged out of Plan’s sponsorship program, it was difficult for Judy and Dave to let go.
“I remember typing that [last] letter to him and I was crying because I felt like I was losing a member of my family,” Judy said.
The Milligans’ second sponsored child led to an additional six, for a total of eight. The couple has sponsored children in Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso, and Bolivia over the span of 14 years. In addition to their first trip to Guatemala, the family traveled to visit sponsored children on two additional occasions. After the first experience, it was clear that each trip should be a family event.
“Every time we’ve gone, we’ve taken our daughter and grandkids,” said Judy.
Currently, they are sponsors to three children: one in Bolivia; one in Burkina Faso; and one in Guatemala.
Recognizing the importance of building lasting relationships with children they sponsor, Judy and Dave have gotten others involved as well. Their daughter, Jan, has been sponsoring children in Burkina Faso, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
“It’s so rewarding for me because I love getting letters from other countries and learning about their families and culture,” said Judy.
In the end, it is all about giving back for the Milligans – and doing what you can to ensure just one child can realize his or her dreams and lead a better life.
“It makes you feel good to be able to help someone who needs your help,” said Dave. “And it's good to know that your help is appreciated and truly makes a difference in their lives."