My New Friend, Arouna

Written by Victoria Zegler, Sponsorship Storyteller

It’s been almost two years now that I have been working with Save the Children – traveling to eleven different countries and a multitude of communities to document firsthand, through photo and video, the positive impact being made by sponsors. During my recent trip to Mali, I had the opportunity to visit a very special village, one that is just beginning to see the impact being made by Save the Children. Why was it so special, you ask? Because, in my opinion, the beauty of a community lies within the people.

My first impression upon entering the small village was of a young boy standing across from me. He was wearing an oversized bright orange sweatshirt, and he was smiling at me.

I smiled back, and he giggled.

13-year-old Arouna, left, and his 14-year-old brother Mamarou, center, learn from Sponsorship Storyteller Victoria, how to record a video during a visit to the community.

Naturally, I took an immediate liking to him because, as an outsider visiting remote locations, a child’s initial reaction to my presence is usually to shy away. After exchanging pleasantries with the school headmaster and teachers, which is a common courtesy in Mali, I had time to meet with some of the sponsored children and ask them to share their stories with me.

As I began writing down interview questions in my notebook, I heard voices entering the classroom. As I looked up, there he was! The boy in the orange sweatshirt. I learned his name was Arouna and he was with his mother, Matou. After introducing myself to both, I began the interview with introductory questions, to get to know Arouna and the small village he calls home.

At one point, I asked Arouna, “What is your favorite thing about sponsorship?”

He replied, “Getting my photo taken, because it means I have a chance at making a new friend.”

It was at that moment I knew I wanted to be one of Arouna’s new friends. There was something about him – he seemed so very special.

During our interview, I learned that Arouna is 13 years old and in sixth grade. His father passed away last year leaving the family with very little to survive. Arouna’s sisters went to stay with other family members and his older brother Mamarou, who is only one year older than Arouna, dropped out of school to work in the cotton fields, to provide food for their family.

Now, Arouna is the only child in his family who is attending school.

Following the interview, I was able to capture moments of Arouna learning in the classroom, playing with friends and spending time with his family. Over the course of the two days I spent in his small village, Arouna and I created our own handshake, learned some English words together like ‘book,’ and he even helped me operate my camera! Although we weren’t able to verbally communicate without a translator, we formed a bond. I was so deeply touched by Arouna’s story and his family’s hardship. I felt a strong desire to tell him that I believed in him. I was afraid that if Arouna’s family continued to struggle, that his fate would end up the same as his brothers.

13-year-old Arouna, left, and his 14-year-old brother Mamarou, right, share a laugh inside of the community school which Arouna attends.

Before I left Arouna’s community, I gave him a red leather-bound notebook to take to school. On the inside cover of the book I wrote him a note in his local language, Bambara.

It read:

Arouna, 

Never give up on your dreams.

You can achieve anything you put your mind to.

Best of luck to you in your future. 

Your friend,

Victoria

As a sponsor, it is important for me to let children know that they have someone on the other end of the world who believes in them. As sponsors, we provide hope and inspiration to so many children like Arouna. These words are something they will cherish for a lifetime, allowing them to believe in themselves and succeed.