I come from a family of volunteers. Altruism is in my DNA. My mother worked and always gave her time in a volunteer role and was especially passionate about mental health. I am a serial volunteer and she passed to me that passion for serving and helping others. Some people contribute money, my family contributes time.
I wanted to encourage a giving heart in my own daughter from the start so I contacted Christian Children’s Fund (now Childfund International) when she was a few months old to sponsor a child close to her age. I thought it would be great for her to ‘grow up’ with a child less advantaged, hoping to give her a compassion for those whose lives aren’t as fortunate, and teach her all of us are equal in God’s eyes. The youngest child they could match us with was a little two year old girl in Indonesia. Her name was Yulianti Muti.
I committed to the minimal twenty five dollars a month and sent extra money, twenty five to fifty dollars, at Christmas and birthdays, an amount inconsequential compared to the amount I spent on Starbucks and Chick FilA and gifts for my children and other’s.
We received regular correspondence detailing the games Yanti liked to play, her personality, her aspirations. She wanted to be a nurse. Her mother, Marguerite, told me Yanti’s father had died. We corresponded regularly through a CCF translator. I tried to find someone here to translate a letter into Indonesian so that I could write to her in my own handwriting in her language. Included with the translations were the original letters Marguerite wrote. She always wrote thank you notes telling me how they used the extra money; to buy five pigs, additional chickens, a special dress for Yanti. One year they even put a roof on their small home. We received pictures of their home, of Yanti at school, at play; little drawings and school work.
When Natalie was old enough to write she began corresponding directly with Yanti. She also began to contribute a little of her saved money along with the minimal amount I’d committed to. I imagined a day we could visit Indonesia and that the girls could meet or that she could visit us and maybe even attend school here. I imagined big things for the two of them.
It may seem like a small thing, but one of so many losses that continues to sadden me is remembering the day my husband informed me he had contacted CCF and told them I would no longer be contributing to Yanti’s support. He announced this on one of his two visits to me while I was in the hospital for depression. Very matter of factly he told me I had no business sending money to a child in another country given my financial situation, insisting I could not afford it and as a favor to me he had taken care of it all. There was no discussion.
During that hospitalization my best friend shared she just knew he ‘put me in there’. I didn’t understand my friend was saying the way he treated me put me in the hospital. I took her observation literally, thinking she was saying that he put me in the hospital against my will and assured her I went in voluntarily.
A deeper depression, an abyss of hopelessness, followed the night of my discharge after he followed me into and cornered me in the bathroom, poking at my chest with his index finger, screaming and demanding to know where I thought the money to pay the hospital (co-pay) would be coming from. Of course I had gone in voluntarily, it was then my responsibility to pay up. This, the man everyone remembers as being so friendly and nice. Though he did pay the bill, I was made aware of how grateful I should be to him for doing that ‘for me’.
By then I was too defeated, too weary to attempt contacting CCF. Yanti was then fourteen, Natalie pushing twelve. Twelve years our lives intertwined, dissolved in an instant.
A friend is currently in Indonesia on business, reporting the colorful cultural experiences she observes every day. I want to ask her to look for Yuliyanti Muti and Marguerite for us while she is there. The name Muti is like Smith here, so it would be all but impossible. And if by some miracle they were found, and surely it is only me who is lost, what would I say? I don’t know what words, what translation, what explanation could apologize for severing that relationship so abruptly and heartlessly. Nor do I know if the wound isn’t solely mine to heal, which keeps me from contacting Childfund.
Yanti is eighteen or nineteen. I still have the same hopes for her. I hope she is well and thriving and attending university. I hope her life has improved and whatever challenges have come her way have made her a strong woman like her mother was. A small part of me holds out hope, too, that by serendipity or happenstance, perhaps one day our lives will intersect again.