IT WAS a vision come true for University of the Sunshine Coast student Gillian Gardiner, when she had the opportunity to meet her sponsored child.
The 48-year-old planned a six-week trip to South Africa and was able to meet the seven-year-old girl, Awandilie, she had sponsored through World Vision for three years.
Gillian was born in South Africa and moved to Australia 11 years ago.
"I only moved to Australia because I married an Australian," Gillian said.
"The marriage didn't work and I was struggling for money, so in the end I got a property settlement and saved up enough money to go back to my home."
With enough cash to sustain herself on the trip, she tried to prepare for what she was going to see.
Gillian said she knew about poverty but never expected it to be like it was when she arrived in the small village, KwaZulu-natal Province, the village her family came from.
"I had never been to a rural village before, so I was a bit surprised at how poor it really was," Gillian said.
"When I got there, I was with my niece, who lives in South Africa.
"We filed in to a small cooking hut that had no chimney.
"There was a little girl, her mother, grandmother and a baby sitting on a patch of linoleum and the little girl just came up and hugged me.
"Then her grandmother said, 'this is the child you have been sponsoring' and the little girl just whispered in my ear, 'thank you'."
Gillian said after that, the whole community flooded into the hut to take photos.
"We were in this hut in the middle of nowhere, you know, and out came smart phones!" she said.
"It was just unbelievable."
Gillian said Christianity was the village's religion and she was greeted with songs and prayer, which she said was "very overwhelming".
Gillian said she was surprised to learn how much the community was involved with World Vision.
"Local South Africans were running the administration for World Vision," she said.
"Though I sponsor a child and I only keep in contact with her through letters, I'm actually sponsoring the entire community.
"It's just great to know that all the money I send goes into the whole community."
The project in Awandilie's village is vegetable growing, which Gillian said helped the health of the community by providing nutritious foods and a varied diet.
"This is such a great thing because the community also sells some of their crops to other villages," Gillian said.
After coming back to Australia, Gillian picked up where she left of and continued her Bachelor of English and Arts degree.
"I'm in my final year now, so I guess after that I'll be a teacher," she said. "I don't really know what the future will bring but I know I will never lose my connection with my country."
Gillian said she wanted to go back to South Africa but at the moment she only had a casual job and sent $48 a month to Awandilie.
"This year, I am just saving up money to get through my final year of study," Gillian said.
"After that, I'll be saving as much as I can to go back to South Africa."
Gillian said she recommended World Vision to everyone and asked for more help.
"To all the Australians out there, I know times are tough but $48 a month is not much to help out a child in need," she said.
Sponsor a child by visiting World Vision's website at http://www.worldvision.com.au.
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