Ways of Seeing: Building bridges in a young girl’s life

Village2Village began as an alliance between the village of Bristol, Vt. and a village in Serere, Uganda. Its mission is to provide comprehensive, empowering, respectful and compassionate care for vulnerable children and their families, one life at a time. I became a sponsor in 2009.
My first letter from Bridget arrived. It was handwritten in a tidy yet animated script on a lined sheet of white paper. I searched this brief introductory note for a clue to the person in the photo I received of a sweet-faced girl with sensitive eyes and a reluctant smile.
One sentence stood out: I am fine and my family is fine apart from our grandfather. I knew Bridget had lost her parents to AIDS and that her elderly grandfather was now her guardian. This sentence revealed Bridget’s tenuous support system at home yet also her resilience, her ability to focus on the positive.
Over time Bridget became more sure of herself, and she shared her transformation. Most people never liked me because of my shyness and fear but now though someone is tough I can’t fail to look direct on his/her eyes. And it is a great improvement.
Writing to Bridget, a young person whose background differs dramatically from mine, calls upon me to reflect on my own life. As a middle class American, there are so many luxuries I take for granted. How can I present my experiences and relationships in a way that builds our connection? How do I construct a human bridge between our two lives?
Our bridge has been built in unexpected ways. One June I sent Bridget a birthday check, thinking she would purchase a jacket or school supplies. She had more far-reaching plans that began with the purchase of two goats and led to a small collection of farm animals. I hear about their progress regularly.
I would love to tell you about the goats I have now…I have three big black female goats and one of them produced two twins. I sold one he-goat to buy school requirements when I was joining senior five this year.
Am so happy to achieve another thing and that was a cow…I was able to exchange the goats with a cow. Now I have a medium sized black cow. I left one kid at home which is a female small goat but I have hope that it will grow and produce more goats for me.
I hope you have seen some of the pictures from Sandy of the little cow, pig and the young goat. The pig produced nine piglets last week and they are all alive. They look healthy and fine.
It became clear that Bridget loves animals and looks toward her future, making wise decisions so she will one day arrive at her goal of running a farm and treatinganimals…and along the way she has been able to purchase her own school supplies. 
For years I assumed my financial help was the most significant gift I could offer Bridget. Her village has such limited resources. However, I learned that Bridget’s need for a supportive human relationship is equally great.
Thank you for your encouragement about my dream.…I really like telling you about my achievements and failures because I believe you will give me more advice on how to move on in life.
I have too much feeling about you for such a kind heart to help me.
My friendship with a young woman in Uganda whom I have never met is a precious gift. I feel connected to Bridget. When I receive photos from Village2Village, I quickly scan for her image and rest my eyes there, happy to catch a glimpse of her now-familiar face. Her smile touches me in a personal way.
The Village2Village team is helping repair the world. I did not see the value of my small part as a sponsor until recently, as I looked back and realized that Bridget and I have developed a bond based on heartfelt sharing, listening and responding to each other’s concerns. Together, we have built the bridge on which we meet.
Bridget’s life has not been easy. She will continue to face challenges. Uganda’s poverty and health care crises are far from over and have resulted in so many other issues. Yet Bridget has became a vibrant contributing member of her community with increasingly solid skills and gifts to share. With continued good fortune, she will help her country navigate the rough terrain ahead.
Alice Leeds retired last year from a career as an elementary school teacher in Lincoln.

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