As a gay man, I made the difficult decision early on in my adulthood that I was not likely to have children of my own.
Being an uncle is an extraordinary role for me, and I have always had fun spoiling my nieces and nephews. While I only have three nephews of my own, I have had numerous nieces and nephews that came into my life due to my relationships and friendships.
During my 30s, I found a new way to support children through a global organization that matches sponsors to children needing additional financial resources for the basics of life like shoes, clothes, and school fees.
After sponsoring more than twenty children in places like Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Brazil for about ten years, I met a woman through my business coaches who had an organization focused on supporting children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Kenya.
I learned that there were children in Kenya who could not go to school because they did not have family members that could pay their compulsory school fees. I knew that I had to make a difference in the lives of some of the children, so I asked my new friend how I could sponsor some of the children. She shared with me the process, and in no time, I was supporting several children to attend school.
My relationship with my friend grew stronger as we connected on updates for the children. In late 2006, she contacted me about making my annual donation for the school fees. During our conversation, she asked me if I was interested in traveling to Kenya and meeting some orphanages? I replied yes!!!
In early 2007, I made the long and arduous trip from my home in Texas to Kenya to meet some of the children and do some service work for the orphanages.
Despite my friend’s advice to limit what I thought about bringing to the children, I filled one of my oversized suitcases with school supplies and hygiene products.
That one suitcase became a challenge when I checked in for my flight from Zurich to Nairobi, first because I was only permitted two checked bags with my business class fare-my allowance to Zurich was three. I learned it was cheaper to ship it as freight versus paying the excess bag fees. The bag arrived on its own about two weeks after I arrived in Kenya.
The next challenge with this massive suitcase filled with gifts for the children came when I spent an entire day getting it cleared with the customs agents. The tax imposed on the contents by the agent made it the most expensive suitcase of gifts for the children.
The contents of the suitcase eventually made their way to the children in the orphanages and schools. They were elated to have so many school supplies and hygiene products, and it all seemed worth the effort of overcoming the challenges when I saw the smiles on their faces.
During my time in Kenya, I met many children in their orphanage homes or schools. They were so resilient and inspiring, given all of the life obstacles they lived within such a short number of years.
As I met with the children, I learned three valuable life lessons that I often reflect on today.
Courage I found the courage to follow my heart and sponsor the orphaned children in Kenya, which led to me visiting them in person!!!
Connection I learned that when I am willing to open myself up to meet people in places that I have never visited, they welcome me with open arms and hearts.
Compassion I experienced compassion from the children who I was there to comfort and support. I did not expect there to be such a loving exchange.
One of the best memories from my visit to Kenya is the trip we took to rest, and recharge-we went on a safari!!!
While on safari, I stayed in a luxury tent lodge that had the most delicious meals. I shared my compliments with our server at dinner on the first night, and to my surprise, the head chef came out to the table and thanked me for my kind comments.
He invited me to join him and his team the following afternoon after finishing my afternoon safari in the kitchen to prepare dinner. I told him how excited I was about the invitation and said I would be there for sure!!!
During my time in the kitchen, I worked with the pastry chef to make a fruit cocktail and cashew tart for dessert. The head chef gave me a chef’s jacket and hat to wear while working in the kitchen, and I felt so professional!!!
I was thrilled when at the table that night, the general manager came to the table and gave me a gift bag thanking me for being so considerate to the chef and his team during my time in the kitchen. In the bag was the framed photo that he took of me while working with the pastry chef.
It is one of my prized possessions; it sits on my desk to see it often. I reflect on the experience and appreciate how kind they were in making me feel welcomed.
I am grateful for the experiences that showed me what it is to be a global citizen who has the Courage to go to unfamiliar places and make Connections with new people. When it is all said and done, we all appreciate the Compassion, we exchange.
We can all make a difference in the lives of others. How might you make that difference in someone’s life today?
With much gratitude.
This post is republished on Medium.
Image courtesy of author