Like many sponsors, Melanie Brooks has formed bonds with her sponsored friends through letters. Last January, she took the trip of a lifetime to meet her sponsored friend Nikhil in India. While there she gained a deeper appreciation not just for the boy and his family, but also for what it means to be a sponsor.

Melanie, left, and other sponsors are welcomed to Hyderabad, India, by Unbound staff and sponsored friends.

Savannah sponsor goes extra mile for child in India

Unbound supporters find our community in many ways. Many feel called after hearing a message from an Unbound priest visiting their parish. Some hear about Unbound from a friend posting about their sponsorship. Melanie Brooks from Savannah, Georgia, began her Unbound journey three years ago after reading an article.

Melanie was so impacted by the story that she decided to do more research about Unbound and was impressed by what she found. Today, she sponsors four children, Nikhil in India, Freysel in Nicaragua, Mwatumu in Tanzania and Joseph in Peru. Melanie has gotten to know each of the four children and their families through letters, but she wanted to take her journey further. She wanted to meet them.

So in January of this year, she traveled more than 8,700 miles from Savannah to India to meet 9-year-old Nikhil and his family.

First impressions

"I was nervous but also very excited," Melanie said when asked what she was thinking right before meeting Nikhil. "I was happy for me. But I was also happy for him and for his family. So that kind of doubles it. It's not just something you're feeling, you know, they're feeling it as well."

Melanie (left), Nikhil (center) and his mother, Bhagya (right), sit together before a welcome celebration presentation.

Melanie wasn't the only one nervous about the meeting. Melanie shared that Nikhil was quiet and stayed close to his mom during the presentations, but once he became more comfortable, a new side emerged.

"Then the games started, the food and the games, and he just came alive and was playing and had a wonderful time,” Melanie said. “And then he was laughing and being silly and all the things that you know a young child should do. That was really fun to watch, that kind of blossoming. From where he started, and then he left with a huge smile on his face."

Later in the week, Melanie got to spend more time with Nikhil, this time at his home.

Feeling at home

Nikhil's mother welcomes Melanie into their home by presenting her with bangles. It’s an important tradition to give bangles to a woman visiting a home in the Telangana State region, which is where Nikhil and his family live.

While Melanie had learned a lot about Nikhil and his immediate family in the letters, she was surprised to be greeted by his extended family, from grandparents to uncles, who all lived nearby. One of the things Melanie enjoyed the most was touring the home. Though she said it was smaller and more sparsely furnished than what we might see in the U.S., Melanie found the home to be neat, organized and comfortable. She especially loved the kitchen.

Melanie admires the kitchen utensil rack in Nikhil’s home.
The kitchen was amazing, I loved that rack on the wall that holds the entire kitchen in like one place. We think we have to have lots of cupboards and drawers and whatever, and it was just one, and it's beautiful. ... I loved listening to [Bhagya] go through her spices and how she made them, where they came from.

– Melanie

Deeper insights

In the letters exchanged with Nikhil, Melanie has seen his growth over the years. While others helped him write to her when he was younger, he now writes the letters himself.

"As they get older, you start seeing that personality. And that's what I've seen with Nikhil, like he's emerged. … I think that the letters are critical both ways. That's what makes that connection, and it's just so important.”

After meeting him in person, she managed to learn even more.

"He wanted to be a policeman when he was 6,” she said. “Well, it turns out he doesn't want to be a policeman anymore. He wants to be a doctor. And he decided that last year, but it never made it to a letter.”

Now that they've met in person, Melanie feels like she has a better understanding of Nikhil's day-to-day life. She's also gained a better understanding of what it means to be a sponsor.

“It's a huge responsibility,” she said. “You're privileged that you're going and you're representing all the other sponsors who will never be able to make the trip.

"That kind of put things in different perspective for me. Because I came to see Nikhil, you know? And all of the sudden all of these children want to touch you and to take a picture, bring you a flower and like wow, just amazing."