I remember so vividly opening the envelope that carried news of your arrival in my life. Your serious little face gazed back at me from the photo within and I exclaimed, "Oh, he's gorgeous!" and then checking the letter again, "I mean she, she's gorgeous!"
You were nine years old. You loved skipping rope. You helped at home by fetching water. Your family earned US$400 a year. In one year.
I felt that nothing I had ever done before could match how good it felt to think that I might be able to impact positively on you and your family.
I learned that in rural Ethiopia where you lived, education was certainly not a given for children, particularly if that child was a girl. I learned that my monthly donation would ensure you went to school and stayed in school.
Like a proud parent, I pored over the report cards ChildFund would send to me. The blue and red airmail envelopes were always a joy in the mailbox because I knew that inside would be word of your progress, the border of the paper decorated with sweet little flowers you had etched with coloured pencil.
I selected photos to send you, careful not to include any obvious signs of Western wealth in the background, as instructed by ChildFund. In the world I lived in, my belongings were modest but viewed through your eyes, I came to see just how rich I was.
Every July, an extra $20 comes out of my account so that you might celebrate your birthday in August. Every year, you write to thank me for this and one particular year sticks in my mind because of the photo you included. I expect it was taken in your home, dirt floor and a small crate holding food for the celebration and a small, glass bottle of Coca-Cola to be shared. You were one of six children.
I don't want to mention the hundreds of litres of that shit I pour mindlessly down my throat.
But I bet it tasted like the sweetest kind of heaven to you.
You turned 21 this year. And I am still your sponsor. Sometimes I have wondered to Bren whether I am putting you through law school. Helping you complete your PhD. Of course, I am joking. I know that the truth is simple and profound. In a place where the median age for a girl to get married is 16.1 and where girls are more than half as likely to be literate as boys, it is with immense pride that I can say that you are unmarried and still completing your schooling.
I don't know how you spent your 21st birthday, one that is typically celebrated extravagantly here in Australia. Whatever you did to mark this coming of age, I hope that you are happy and that the future that stretches out before you is full with promise and fills you with hope.
Dershaye, we have not communicated in a while and that is entirely my fault. I went and had kids and they seem to eat into every spare moment of my day. But blaming motherhood is a little misleading. The simple act of sitting to write a letter falls victim to the myriad bullshit ways that I fill my time – ways that have little to do with caring for my family.
But our connection, yours and mine, is still something I treasure. It has been an honour to be your sponsor, beautiful girl. And I owe you a letter. But it won't be this one.