St. Norbert College Magazine - More than a photo St. Norbert College
 


Phillip
The face of hope connects a child with those whose sponsorship represents an investment in his future.



More than a photo
By Drew Van Fossen, Director of Communications and Design

Child sponsorship joins those whose realities are worlds apart

Drew in Africa
Drew Van Fossen with Vinnie (top left), Freddie (left) and Phillip (right). Vinnie and Freddie, brothers, are two of the many children from the slum who frequent the center.
In Kenya, men hold hands. I knew that going in, but it still tugged at my heart when it happened the first time. It’s been years since my sons were of an age to tolerate holding hands, and even then, it was more to keep them from wandering off in a crowd than as a gesture of affection or friendship.

Phillip grabbed my hand minutes after we met, and that simple act spoke volumes. Here I was, a grown man from the most affluent society in history, and I found myself desperately seeking acceptance from this small boy who had so deeply touched my family.

Sponsorship of children in the Third World is a pretty common way to share our abundance with those who have little. But, for most of us, the closest we will ever get to our sponsored children is the snapshot on our refrigerator, the representation of a young soul in a faraway land in whose life we hope to make a difference. My family has been fortunate to get to know personally a child we sponsor.

Web extra
See a gallery of more images from Drew Van Fossen's trip. >>MORE
Phillip first appeared on our map in the spring of 2008. My son, Joel ’13, and my wife, Kat, were among a group that traveled to Kawangware, one of Nairobi’s fastest-growing slums, on a mission trip with Vapor Sports Ministries. Vapor uses the universal language of sports to establish centers for humanitarian aid and sustainable life change in Third World environments.

It was Joel who first connected with Phillip. With his bright red hair, Joel stood out as he walked among the hundreds of children who find an urban oasis at the Vapor soccer complex in Kawangware. Joel was regularly mobbed by children who wanted to touch his fair skin and straight, red hair. With the crowd, but hanging back, was a reserved boy with kind eyes and a smile that, according to Joel, “spoke volumes and projected gentleness.”

Over the next several days, Joel found Phillip constantly at his side and discovered that the 8-year-old spoke a good bit of English – impressive, in a boy who had never been to school. We would later discover that Phillip’s mother was struggling in her job as a housekeeper to provide for the two of them. Phillip’s father was dead, murdered in an early morning robbery as he walked to work. For Phillip, who wants to be a pilot, an education was only a dream.

Joel asked the staff at the Vapor center what it would take to get Phillip enrolled in school. Because Phillip was far behind others his age, he would have to receive tutoring first. Joel committed a good portion of his earnings that summer (he was an office assistant at St. Norbert) to pay for the tutor. Phillip, too, did his part. Six months later, he joined his peers in school. A $42-per-month sponsorship, funded by Joel and his aunt in Montana, provides school fees, supplies, uniforms, soccer league fees and a nutritious meal each day.

Soccer
A year later, my wife was able to return to Kawangware. On her first day, among the 900 or so children who make up the soccer league, she spotted a young boy and called his name. He turned and smiled. “Phillip, I’m Joel’s mom!” she shouted above the fray. Instant recognition. Over the next week, Kat was able to spend time with Phillip and to see that he was thriving.
 
Meanwhile, I was doing some volunteer PR and design work and my son Adam ’10 was shooting photos for Vapor. His service took him to Africa last summer, where he documented the work on a new center in Togo. With the aid of a collaborative research grant from St. Norbert, he is currently working with his photography professor, Shane Rocheleau (Art), on preparing for an exhibit of some of his images from that experience.

And then my turn came. In December, I was able to visit all three Vapor centers in Africa. The center in Kawangware is fully operational; another is under construction in the Ngong Hills of Kenya; and another is currently being built in Togo.

Within minutes of our arrival at the soccer complex in Kawangare, dozens of children appeared out of the slum. Before long, I turned and before me was the smiling face in the photos plastered on our refrigerator at home. Phillip. I introduced myself as Joel’s dad, and explained that I had to go photograph the soccer match that was about to start. As I picked up my gear, Phillip grabbed my hand and I just about crumbled.

For the rest of the day, Phillip was at my side. We were apart only for a short time while I met with and had lunch with the center staff. After I emerged, Phillip appeared again within five minutes.
 
As we walked across the soccer field, I turned and asked if he had had anything to eat that day. He hadn’t. I pulled a Clif bar and some beef jerky from my camera bag. As I continued walking, Phillip stopped and turned to three little boys who were shadowing us about 15 feet behind. He carefully split the food into thirds, and handed some to each, taking none for himself.

That simple act was profound. I have thought about it, and Phillip, every day since. Sponsorship of a child seems like a very small gift by comparison.

Spring 2010 magazine

Web extraLook here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).

Text Extra Too 'Old School’ for our own good?
President Tom Kunkel challenges colleges and universities to embrace new ways of delivering higher education.

Text Extra A new face in the cafe
Steve Pyne (Dining Services), who has Down syndrome, was profiled in this recent article in the student newspaper, the St. Norbert Times.

Audio La Perichole
St. Norbert College Magazine dropped in on a rehearsal for this three-act operetta production, to be staged on campus.

Video More than a photo
A gallery of images from a trip that connected a child in Kenya with his sponsors in the United States.

Text Extra A father’s love
Jeff Kratz ’92 offers a unique perspective on a father’s love.

Audio Words from life
The poetry of Ken Zahorski (English, Emeritus) deals with fathers and sons, phases of life and familiar figures remembered across the years.

Video World view
Gratzia Villarroel (Political Science) speaks with Dean Michael Marsden on international issues and educational opportunities.

Audio Man of property
Joe Jones ’12 sits down with Mike Dauplaise ’84 to discuss an education in entrepreneurism and the launch of Jones’ third business. He is 21 years old.

Text Extra Dick Bennett on Gary Grzesk
The basketball legend remembers his years presiding over the storied defensive career of Grzesk, current coach to the Green Knight men.
 


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