Awareness trips offer adventure, connection
July 15, 2013
When their planes leave home and CFCA awareness trip participants are on their way to their overseas destinations, they're probably thinking about meeting their sponsored friends and bringing back great pictures. What they find is that walking in their sponsored friends' world transforms their lives.
"They are crossing the gap between those two worlds and getting them closer … where both parties are respected equally, seen with equal dignity and seen as giving in that relationship," said Henry Flores, director of CFCA's communications center in El Salvador.
A group of sponsors visit a family in the Hope for a Family sponsorship
program in Kenya.
Flores has led CFCA awareness trips in El Salvador and other countries since 1995. He said the trips allow sponsors and other participants to go beyond a tourist experience.
"It allows you to see the beauty of a country that you would not be able to see on your own," Flores said. "It's a tour based on solidarity and the beauty of a country, but also the beauty of people."
One of the most emotional moments on the trips is when sponsors and sponsored friends see each other for the first time. Nervousness and language barriers give way to hugs and feelings of familiarity.
"It's like they've known each other for life," Flores said. "It's something so amazing."
Sponsors are welcomed as friends and honored guests in the homes and communities of CFCA families.
"These are relationships being created in CFCA that go beyond someone traveling and seeing the poverty of someone else," Flores said. "They make a connection that will last. They are making memories that will last."
Maggie, CFCA sponsor, hugging her sponsored
child, Katherine, during an awareness trip to
This year CFCA will host 19 trips to 13 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The trips give participants a chance to meet sponsored friends, see the results of their support up close and have an adventure.
Leslie Naden, who traveled to El Salvador last year with a group from Benedictine College, said she was surprised by the effect the trip had on her.
"Not only was the experience irreplaceable and life-changing, but also the work being done is organized and well-run," Naden said. "As much as the preparation for the trip helped me, I was still blown away by the effect of the firsthand experience."
CFCA President Bob Hentzen, who travels extensively in his role and accompanies most awareness trips, sees changes in both sponsors and sponsored friends after a trip.
"For sponsors, the most visible change I sense is a deepened commitment to live and to proclaim the CFCA ideals," Hentzen said. "I hear expressions like, "I can't wait to tell others about this trip and about CFCA.
"In the sponsored persons, I sense a deeper realization of their worth, more enthusiasm for the many opportunities offered in CFCA, and a real love for their sponsors and for CFCA."
Sponsor visits bring joy to communities
Sponsored children find it hard to sleep the night before their sponsors visit. That's because a CFCA awareness trip creates tremendous excitement in the communities where CFCA works.
Henry Flores, director of CFCA's communications
center in El Salvador, tells of the lifelong impact
that awareness trips have on sponsors and their
"For sponsored children and elderly, getting a visit from sponsors in their homes or villages is like a combination of Christmas, birthday and family reunion packed into one day," said CFCA President Bob Hentzen. Last year, 598 children and elderly friends in 14 countries were visited by their sponsors traveling on CFCA awareness trips. Since 2005, more than 4,300 sponsored friends have been visited.
Families see the visiting sponsors as representing all sponsors in CFCA. The families are key partners in planning community visits and ensuring the well-being of sponsors. They work with the CFCA staff to plan specially prepared meals, home visits and activities showing the Hope for a Family program at work.
The community organizes efforts to prepare for the visits and they plan cultural presentations that are always filled with love.
"They are doing these things from their heart," said Flores.
The CFCA staff members also regard the sponsors as family and care for them as they would for family members, Flores said. The staff greets sponsors the moment they emerge from customs at the airport and serve as their guides throughout the trip experience.
Staff members see to everything from the availability of bottled water to reliable transportation and comfortable, yet modest, lodging.