The Facebook friend I always wanted (but didn’t realise until last night)

Out of the corner of my eye I clocked her profile picture sitting in my ‘follow’ section; a young, dignified face with a gracious smile pushing out from the edges of her lips.

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Curiously she’d signed up for my public posts rather than having sent me a friend request. I was confused. I don’t know anyone in South Africa. Who was she?  Why would she start following me?  It all seemed so random. My mind momentarily U-turned towards other possibilities; Mistake?  Fake?  Scam?

But her face intrigued me.  The smile almost suggested an in-joke, as if she knew something I didn’t.  It was also her name; Andile.  It seemed to mean something but I had no idea what or why.  So I just sat there silently, my eyes see-sawing between her face and her name, back and forth, back and forth.

And then, somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my brain, a neuron sparked and slowly, very slowly I felt a tsunami of incredulity hurtle my way until it broke over me and I bobbed up, gasping with unadulterated joy in the foamy wake.

It was Andile, the little girl from Zimbabwe who I’d sponsored some 17 years prior through World Vision.  Our ties had been severed out of necessity when the sponsorship ran its course after five years and we’d lost all contact.  I was offered another child to sponsor but politely declined. Call me crazy but it felt as if I was trading Andile in for a new model.

Andile was from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, although I had always assumed her to be living in a small village on its outskirts, judging by the pictures of she and her family posing in their vivid Sunday best, in stark contrast to a landscape leached of its colour and looking thoroughly exhausted.

So why Zimbabwe? I have my ex-husband Roger to thank for that.  I was given an alphabetical list of countries I could choose my sponsorship to reside in and he said ‘Choose Z … most people won’t get that far down the list’.

Understandably the agency had strict rules about gifts. Only small tokens were allowed, so I’d send coloured pencils and stickers along with photos of myself and my own family.  In return Andile would send me back drawings of her family and village, the countryside and wildlife. They, along with the quarterly letters, agency updates and photos, were eagerly anticipated and a joy to receive in the letterbox.

And then one day I was told the sponsorship was fulfilled, and that was that … or so I thought.

There she was last night. Andile smiling back at me on Facebook twelve years later. Perhaps she was too shy to contact me directly with a friend request.  Whatever the case, I messaged her immediately to say how wonderful it was to see her profile. She responded quickly with news that she is now a 28 year old married woman happily living and working in South Africa with a four year old child (she also has 328 friends on Facebook).  She asked me to say hi to Roger and still has all the photos I’d sent her.

Last night I shed a little tear of happiness thanks to my new-found friendship, reminded once again that life can be beautiful.  And, if only for a moment or two, that so can Facebook.

Postscript: Thanks also to my friend Julie B for encouraging me 20 years ago to create a bucket list (long before the term existed) of 100 things I wanted to do in my life. That’s where the sponsorship seed was sown and pivotal to this wonderful experience.

Importantly, this blog also has Andile’s blessing.

Needless to say I encourage you to sponsor a child yourself. I could not have wished for a more fulfilling experience, then or now. Sponsor a child at World Vision’s website

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