Ecuadorian elder and American sponsor bond through adversity

At left, Anne displays a recent photo she received of her sponsored friend, Esperanza. At right, holding a letter from Anne, Esperanza relaxes in her home in Ecuador.

Friendship forms across the miles

At a time when many are coping with the challenges of isolation, it’s good to remember that life-giving relationships aren’t always dependent on being physically present. The Unbound community bears witness every day to the power of friendships forged between people who’ve never met face to face.

Esperanza and Anne are two women who’ve become such friends. They speak different languages and live in countries nearly 3,000 miles apart. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be in the same room, especially given the uncertainty of the times. Still, neither is far from the other’s consciousness, or from her heart.

Hope doesn’t disappoint

After hearing an Unbound preacher at her church, Anne Harvey wanted to become a sponsor. When she looked through the profiles on display, she was drawn to Esperanza because of her name.

Sponsors of children and elders through Unbound not only provide financial support to help their friends overcome poverty, they get to know the person they’re sponsoring and can offer encouragement through correspondence.

In her first letter to her new friend, Anne wrote, “For me, the most important thing in life is bringing hope to people. This is why I chose to sponsor you, because, for so long, I have understood that ‘Hope’ is ‘Esperanza’ in Spanish.”

Considering the challenges each woman has faced, one might not expect either to embrace hope. But for Anne and Esperanza, their connection across the miles between the Kansas City area and Guayaquil, Ecuador, has helped both keep hope alive.

“We both are working with things that are beyond our control,” Anne said, “and we’re all just doing the best we can. That’s kind of life, and that’s the hope that I get from her and, in turnabout, I feel like she gets it from me.”

Esperanza saved every letter she’s received since first becoming sponsored by Anne in 2006.

A lifetime of struggle

Now 62, Esperanza’s difficulties began upon entering the world. Born to a single mother in the sprawling city of Guayaquil, she says she was never accepted by her father. Her mother raised her on her own while also working for a shrimping company.

When she was 2 years old, Esperanza was badly burned when a fire swept through the family’s home. It left her with significant scarring on her face and other parts of her body. Already isolated from her father’s family, Esperanza said that some on her mother’s side also rejected her because of the disfigurement.

Esperanza sits outside her home in Ecuador.

Education was Esperanza’s main solace growing up. Encouraged by her mother, she was a bright, industrious student. After high school, she went to university to study medical technology. But during her fourth year, she got pregnant and dropped out of the program.

Like her own mother, Esperanza had to raise her child alone. She hoped to return to the university at some point, but her son, Ronny, had health issues that required continual care.

With her climb through life becoming increasingly steep, Esperanza was enrolled as a candidate for Unbound sponsorship. Elders in the program receive nutritional benefits, medical care and other resources to help make their later years more comfortable. They also participate in recreational and social activities with other seniors.

It took a few years, but in 2006 Esperanza became sponsored by Anne. Her new friend had known challenges of her own.


Burdens shared

Anne’s own ongoing health concerns gave her a sense of solidarity with Esperanza.

“When I started having a lot of trouble with cancer, she was having a lot of trouble with her diabetes,” Anne said. “It’s like, is God up there doing something to put us together like this? … It is comforting to know that someone in [another country] is going through the same kind of stuff that I go through.”

One shared experience was particularly harrowing. Ten years ago, Anne was in a serious car accident, followed by a lengthy recovery. Esperanza’s son, Ronny, had similarly been injured in a bus accident. In his case, the medical expenses were devastating for the family.

“She [Esperanza] had months where she was having to live at the hospital to care for him,” Anne said. … “If she wasn’t there to make sure he had food, he didn’t eat.”

It took a while for the two women to get to know each other, but they now enjoy their correspondence.

“Before, I didn’t know what to write to her,” Esperanza said, “but I tell her about what I do. She sends me photos, and she told me that she was happy because, before, when she received photos of me, I had a sad face. Now she sees me happier [because] I don’t have any worries or sadness.”

A key source of that happiness is the support Esperanza and Ronny receive through her Unbound sponsorship. In addition to help with the family food budget, she can now afford Ronny’s medicine and is slowly paying off the debts she incurred while he recovered from his bus accident.

“We both provide hope to the other,” Anne said, “and maybe that is what’s important about the opportunity to work with somebody through Unbound; to support them in, yes, a physical way, but more in a prayerful way.”

Esperanza echoes the sentiment.

I felt joyful that someone chose me because of my name since it’s said that ‘the last thing one loses is hope.’