By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Northborough – Before Deb Bourque of Northborough was married and had two children, she began donating $24 monthly to ChildFund International (formerly known as Christian Children’s Fund) to sponsor then-8-year-old Momodou Bah of the Gambia in West Africa. According to the organization’s website, “ChildFund exists to help deprived, excluded and vulnerable children have the capacity to improve their lives and the opportunity to become young adults, parents and leaders who bring lasting and positive change in their communities.”
Throughout the sponsorship, Bourque and the boy exchanged letters and photos, all of which she saved. Sponsorship ends when the child turns age 18 and communication typically stops, too, Bourque noted.
“Every once in a while I would stumble upon his letters and wondered what he was doing,” she said. “Education was important to him. He always mentioned school and how much he liked it. At the very end of the sponsorship, he had mentioned that he was taking computer classes and got a certificate.”
Now, she knows that he has become a productive community leader in his homeland. Bourque received a call from the ChildFund headquarters in Richmond, Va., and learned that Bah won a Mandela Washington Fellowship Award for Young African Leaders. He was taking a six-week course on political and civic leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Furthermore, she was told that he visited the ChildFund office and requested help connecting with his sponsor.
“I almost couldn’t believe it,” she recalled. “I always had hoped that he would contact me – and in a weird way, I always thought he would.”
They spoke by phone and messaged on Facebook. She learned that his summer studies led him to meetings with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and President Barack Obama. Arrangements were made for Bah and his sister Sunkaru to visit Northborough the Aug. 8 and 9 weekend, and stay with the Bourque family – Deb, her husband Paul, their daughter Natalie, 14, and son Jack, 11.
While corresponding before the visit, Bourque was impressed to hear of Bah’s accomplishments following her 10-year sponsorship. Now age 30, Bah is married with two young sons. He’s also the Gambia’s youngest elected ward councilor, having served since age 22. Bah represents eight villages including where he grew up as one of seven children in a poor household.
Bourque became fascinated with a particular project of his.
“He is heading a large reforestation project in the Gambia,” she explained. “He has planted 65,000 mangrove trees to help restore the ecosystem in the area. His goal is to plant one million trees by December of 2017.”
To help his cause, Bourque established a GoFundMe page online. She’s satisfied that her monthly $24 was a good investment and equally confident Bah will responsibly spend funds raised.
“During the sponsorship, he would tell me how much money I sent him, what it was equivalent to in his currency, and what he spent the money on,” she noted. “He was always so smart.”
Bourque invited family members and friends to her family’s home to meet Bah. They were among the donors toward his reforestation project. He was surprised to receive $1,200 for the cause.
“He kept thanking me,” Bourque relayed. “He said, ‘You’re not only helping me now, you’re helping thousands of people in the whole community for years to come.’”
She believes their relationship will be lifelong
“He calls us his American family,” she said. “Sponsoring him is probably the best thing I’ve ever done – besides giving birth to my two kids; it’s right up there.”
For more information about ChildFund International, visit childfund.org and follow on Facebook at facebook.com/ChildFundInternational. To donate to Momodou Bah’s reforestation project in the Gambia, visit gofundme.com/ye2dph9.