Marianna, 10, now has her own bed. Her family also has a blender and furniture to store their clothes. Mayra, 11, and her family now have a repaired roof for their home.
These items and services were made possible in part by BKD Partner Tondeé Lutterman’s contributions through Unbound—an international nonprofit that assists more than 300,000 children, youths and elders overcoming extreme poverty in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Tondeé and her family have two sponsored friends, Marianna and Mayra, and finally had the chance to meet them and their families on an awareness trip in March 2019.
“We live in a society and a world of abundance. We take our lives so seriously and are focused on material possessions,” Tondeé says. “I have a new appreciation of keeping things simple.”
Sponsorships encourage deeper knowledge, connection and growth
Tondeé and her husband Shawn, daughter Olivia and their sponsored friend Mayra with her parents. The visit took place at Unbound’s regional center in San Lucas Tolimán.
Tondeé became interested in Unbound’s services after working with the Kansas City-based organization and BKD client. She’s sponsored Marianna and Mayra for the past three to four years. For those interested in the opportunity, sponsorship is only $36 a month per child.
“Our money goes into a bank account and the family chooses how they use the money,” Tondeé says. “Thirty-six dollars a month goes a long way in Guatemala.”
Unbound has its greatest need in Guatemala, where more than 10,000 individuals await sponsorship.
Financial assistance is only one element of sponsorship. Tondeé has exchanged letters with the girls throughout the years, an activity which often is the best part of sponsorship for children in the program. Sponsors write messages online, which are then translated before delivery at Unbound’s Guatemala office. Relatives may assist children with their responses.
Tondeé, her husband Shawn and daughter Olivia, 7, spent eight days in Guatemala to witness how the organization helps communities. For Tondeé, this firsthand experience brought an even deeper meaning to the letter exchanges.
The Luttermans flew to Guatemala City and traveled by bus to Unbound’s regional center in San Lucas Tolimán. The sponsors roomed at the center, and the sponsored youths journeyed from rural locations to visit them. Marianna traveled six hours to meet Tondeé.
“We spent most of the day with the families,” Tondeé says. “These little girls were so grateful for the sponsorship and so loving.”
With help from Unbound’s translator, Marianna’s Spanish was converted into English, and Mayra’s Mayan language was translated into Spanish and then into English. The girls were curious about Missouri and snow.
Olivia effortlessly joined in on games such as tag and tic-tac-toe. She became something of a celebrity with her blond hair and blue eyes, but she blended right in while playing with the Guatemalan children—no second language skills needed.
“My husband is similar to me in that I think we had an idea of what to expect, but my daughter is only seven and she has no concept of poverty at all,” Tondeé says. “I thought it would be an eye-opening experience for her, but she only saw the good.”
A community worth visiting
Mayra’s father is a fabric weaver and Marianna’s a farm laborer. Both girls live in adobe houses and have mothers who are homemakers.
According to Unbound, very few Guatemalan children stay in school after sixth grade. Children may stay in Unbound through college. Tondeé sponsored Mayra and Marianna with the hope they would pursue higher education. Both are good in math, she says.
“Marianna loves math and wants to study accounting. I was really excited when she told me that.”
The sponsors interacted with Guatemalan communities from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. Among many locations, Tondeé visited the mountainous Quetzaltenango, known as Xela, and the tourist destination of Antigua.
While Guatemala does have problems with crime, Unbound takes precautions to help keep visitors safe. “I never felt unsafe at all. Even when we went back to Antigua and were on our own, I felt safe,” Tondeé says.
Andrew Kling, Unbound community outreach director, says awareness trips allow families to return their sponsors’ generosity by sharing their culture.
A woman weaves a dress in Xela, one of the locations on Tondee’s Unbound itinerary. You can still find weavers in Xela who use the traditional backstrap weaving method.
Olivia spends time with other children in the neighborhood.
“The neighborhoods Unbound families live in are too often overlooked and underserved,” Andrew says. “To have travelers take the time and energy to make the journey not only allows the community to host a great visit, it also sends the message that they are people worth visiting.”
Letter exchanges result in fun and ‘old-school’ patience
Kansas City Partner John Kmetz first learned of Unbound through his church. John has two sons and two daughters of his own, and started sponsoring two children through Unbound five years ago—Dilan, 9, of Ecuador and Marinelle, 12, of the Philippines. He appreciates the opportunity for his children to share experiences with youths of comparable ages.
“The kids enjoy reading the letters and corresponding,” John says. “It’s old-school, patient correspondence instead of getting it right now as a tweet.”
Through their letters, John learned his family and the sponsored children share a bond of faith. Marinelle and the Kmetzs sometimes include Bible verses when writing each other, he says. He’s pleased to see his sponsorship has been beneficial.
“To see this bright, articulate little girl growing up surrounded by abject poverty—but getting educated and having such a positive outlook of her future—that’s the impact we see,” he says. John, who continues to sponsor the children, hasn’t been to Ecuador or the Philippines but would like to eventually take an awareness trip.
While each awareness trip and sponsorship experience is unique to its culture and program participants, sponsors witness strength and resilience as they gain a deeper understanding of others’ challenges—and often find their own unexpected gifts along the way.
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