She is seven, will be eight on the 16th. She stands against a stone wall, in a pale pink top, hot pink jeans and matching pink flipflops. Her black hair is pulled back into two pony tails on either side of her head, and a few stray hairs fall over her forehead, wispy dark. She looks directly at the camera, not smiling, a probing, serious look.
I saw her photograph as soon as I walked through the main doors of the cathedral. A priest I didn’t know stood behind a table on which stacks of folders bearing colorful pictures waited. I scanned the pictures, and stopped on Lloyza’s. I reached out my hand, touched the folder, and heard the cantor name the opening hymn. No time. I turned to enter the nave and find my spot in the pew, leaving the folder behind with all the others.
The homily, given by the visiting priest, reminded us of our responsibilities to others less well off. He was speaking on behalf of poor children and aging people worldwide. “Sponsor a child or an aging person,” he encouraged us. “For $1 a day, you can make a huge difference in the life of an individual who is barely surviving. That person will receive health and dental care, food and clothing, an education.” The association he was speaking for, The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, spends more than 94% of the money it raises on the people designated to receive it. Less than 6% goes towards administration and fund raising. I listened harder. For years I had wanted to sponsor a child somewhere in the world, but had always hesitated, afraid that the money would go to some millionaire CEO and to glossy advertisements and solicitations. No. Not according to Father D. The foundation has received an A+ from one charity regulating board, four of four stars from another. He speaks of the seven children he has sponsored and watched grow up. “I can’t have my own children,” he says, “So I made a family for myself.” He names them, their ages, what they are doing. He has visited them. The foundation arranges trips to the countries where they provide sponsorships. I imagine visiting the little girl in pink, wherever she lives. I’ll look at her folder after Mass, I think.
But after Mass, Father D asks the servers to bring in packets to hand out to interested people. I raise my hand. A man walks over and hands me a folder. It’s the girl in pink.
I sponsor her. Her name is Lloyza and she lives outside Manila, in a small village, in a hut with a sheet metal roof. She sleeps on the floor, and cooks on a charcoal fire. She has two little brothers, and she helps clean the house and wash the dishes. She is “diligent in schooling.” Her favorite subject is Filipino. I wonder if she’s like me, an English-speaker whose favorite subject was English. She loves to sing.
Soon I’ll get an address for her and I’ll be able to write to her and send her a photograph or two. I hope she writes back soon.