by Kate Lucas
After high school graduation last Saturday, I was talking with several staff and supporters about how moving the ceremony was, witnessing over 100 seniors and five San Rafael six graders stand up to be acknowledged for an achievement few in their families and communities had achieved. It was quite a sight.
Someone said they thought we should urge anyone who was considering a gift to Common Hope to attend the ceremony; if they came, they would be sold on our work. Another supporter disagreed. No, she said. You need to show them the beginning of the process, too. They need to understand where these kids started, she said, or much of the significance will be lost.
I thought back on a difficult sponsorship visit I had tagged along on a couple days before, and I agreed — graduation meant so much more to me after meeting Ronald and his sister. I went on the visit with Sylvia King, who sponsors an incredible eight students through Common Hope. Her sponsored student Ronald, a 13-year-old, studies in 5th grade. This was the first time Sylvia had met him, and she was prepared for what might be a quiet visit. She had discussed with his social worker, Yoli, the fact that Ronald’s single mother had passed away several years ago of cancer. Yoli said that Ronald spent a lot of time alone, and he was obviously depressed.
Ronald’s home was very humble. Behind a corrugated metal gate, a trail wound around to a low-built room tucked against the back stucco wall of a large building that faced the street. The room was dark and damp, stuffed with a bunk bed, two other twin beds, a couch, several dressers with items stacked on top to the ceiling, and a small table and stove with a few foodstuffs on top. The ceiling was made of blue tarpoline.
The conversation was slow and a bit subdued as expected, but Ronald and his sister, Ericka, did politely answer Sylvia’s questions about his favorite subjects (he liked them all but particularly mathematics), his soccer team (he played goalie), and her work (she cleaned, cooked, did laundry, and cared for children until 7pm each evening, then returned home to do the same for her four younger siblings).
There were a few moments in the conversation when Sylvia got Ronald to crack a smile, including when she nudged Ronald to say she would be back to visit when he was graduating from high school. I don’t think I ever saw a smile from his sister, though.
At the end of the visit, Ericka expressed her appreciation for the support of Sylvia and Common Hope. She said that while they may appear sad right now, Ronald had been very excited for the visit of his Sponsor. She said they were sad because they had just lost their grandmother earlier that week — they had just buried her the day before — and their grandmother had been the last family member to really support them. The funeral was out on the coast where their grandmother had lived, a three-hour bus ride away, and Ronald and his sister had returned to the city just for the sponsorship visit. The rest of their siblings had stayed behind to be with their extended family, and the two of them would head back in the morning.
There is so much sorrow and struggle in Ronald’s life, it was really difficult to take it all in. But seeing graduation several days later, I remembered that many, many students have been in situations similar to Ronald’s, and they have persevered because of their Sponsors and Common Hope. It gives me hope that Ronald and his family will see brighter days soon.