Short version: I'm looking for someone to take over sponsoring Deborah, a Zambian child with disabilities who is receiving care from Special Hope Network.

Longer version: Most people reading this blog know that I narrowly missed growing up as a disabled child in the developing world. (I am profoundly deaf, and my family is from the Philippines.) Growing up as a disabled kid in the developing world sucks. There aren't resources to support you, so you don't get the therapy you need, and have virtually no chance of being educated. Culturally, you're likely to be seen as not just a burden, but a shame to your family -- your very existence is seen as punishment, clear proof that a close relative has done something horribly wrong. Fathers abandon their families to avoid this shame. Mothers keep disabled children confined inside the house at all times for fear of it. There is no witness to society that your life is worthwhile -- that your life even exists. You get an entire society who does not know how to deal with a person with a disability, because they've never seen a person with a disability, never watched someone else interact with them with graciousness and dignity.

Special Hope is a small organization that works in Zambia with the most marginalized of these kids -- those with severe intellectual disabilities. It started with a family who left their comfortable lives in America and moved to Zambia to work and live as a family -- who happens to have 3 kids with Down's Syndrome. After noticing their kids were the only disabled kids they ever saw outside, they asked around and realized the others were being shut in at home -- and decided to minister to those kids. They placed themselves right in the center of the poorest neighborhoods, so caretakers don't need to spend precious cents on a bus ride. They teach siblings, parents, and grandparents how to do physical therapy with the children at home. They feed them (both the kids and the caretakers). They teach these kids whatever they can learn -- singing, dancing, the alphabet -- kids who would never otherwise set foot inside a school. These families meet other families with special-needs kids for the first time, and learn that they're not alone, and that their child's condition is not divine punishment. Most of all, they witness that these kids and their lives are worthwhile, and that these kids are loved.

I met Deborah during my trip to Zambia with Purdue's audiology program. She was about 3 years old then, sitting on her mother's lap -- a young woman close to my age. They were fairly new to Special Hope, but Deborah's mom was joyful at her child's progress, and determined to learn and do whatever she needed to help her daughter -- now that she knew she could do something, which filled her with hope. As I followed them into the physical therapy portion of their day, I remembered a photo of my mom coaxing 3-year-old me through physical therapy after I came out of a 7.5-week coma. And when I got back to America, I signed up and started to sponsor Deborah out of my tiny grad school stipend.

Two years later, my tiny grad school stipend has gotten (significantly) tinier, and I need to taper off my sponsorship -- but I didn't want to just quietly drop and run. So in my letter to the Special Hope folks, I promised I'd try to spread the word and ask if someone might be interested in picking up on my monthly $35 contribution for Deborah. They're a small organization, and cash flow is crucial -- and these folks make every dollar count. $35 gets Deborah nutrition, medical care and physical therapy, school for her and education for her family on how to love a special-needs child, and sets her up to do the very important work of advocating -- in her own tiny preschool-child, simple-witness way -- for a better world for everyone, including people with disabilities.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in doing, head to the Special Hope Child Sponsorship Page and sign up -- let me know if I can help in any way. And thanks for listening.