International Sponsorship Coordinator SOS Children's Villages in Ecuador
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography
A challenging 40-year cycle … and still committed and passionate – History meets the present and will continue into the future
The Story from being a visitor at an SOS Children’s Village in Austria, to being an SOS sponsor of Hermann Gmeiner Fonds Deutschland e.V., and finally the highly committed coordinator of international sponsorship in Ecuador
When I saw the women, the sponsor from Norway, hugging her sponsored girl Rosa* (17 years old), the bright eyes and shining faces of the two, then I think I also showed a beatific smile. I’m sure I felt fulfilment and contentedness, on this hot and sunny November afternoon 2018.
Being a visitor
Allow me to go back to 1972 (one year earlier or later, this is approximate). I remember that it was during the Advent season in December, possibly a cold Sunday afternoon when we, my parents, sisters and I, visited the SOS Children´s Village Seekirchen, close to Salzburg. During those years in the 70s it had been a tradition in my family to share happy moments with the children living there and the people working there, in summer and before Christmas. I always gave two or three of them, boys of my age, some of my toys: plastic soldiers, Lego or cars. At the time I did not really understand why all these children lived there, but my parents mentioned that they needed aid and care, support and affection. We undertook these visits over a few years. Later my dad was an occasional donor of SOS Children´s Villages Germany.
Being a sponsor
I grew up, meanwhile doing different volunteering and social work in the Catholic Church, for the local fire brigade, the Red Cross and the Caritas amongst others, until starting my studies on international economy at a German university of applied science. As a student, I had the chance to visit Guatemala for two months in 1993, to learn Spanish. There I made contact with an SOS Children´s Village in another continent, which impressed me a lot and widened my horizons. After my return to Germany, I decided to start with an international SOS sponsorship – and obviously, I asked for the opportunity to sponsor a girl in Guatemala, living in the village of Santa Cruz. It was so brilliant to support her! …and it didn´t matter that I didn´t have much money as a student. For me it was important to continue what my parents taught me, to be a good, helpful, social and caring human being – especially for those who don´t have the same living conditions as I have. Later, after my studies, working in a bank, I widened and spread my support for SOS, sponsoring a girl in SOS CV Vietnam, amongst other contributions to some other NGOs in the world ☺.
Being the NSPO from MA Ecuador
Advancing along my life’s path, due to different but interesting circumstances, in 2006 I came to Quito, Ecuador (which is another story to tell at another opportunity). Since then, I have been married to an Ecuadorian woman. At this moment there was another change, coming closer to my personal dream, commitment and destiny: along with my wife, we decided that it wouldn´t be a bad decision to change my professional orientation. Rapidly I was able to enter a street children’s foundation, coordinated by the Salesians of Don Bosco, in the capital Quito. The experiences I had there as the coordinator responsible for local and international projects were a real gain for me. To work for the neediest, the children, made me very content.
One day at the end of 2011 my wife found an advertisement in the newspaper from SOS Children´s Villages Ecuador, looking for someone with experience working in a non-governmental organisation in the social sector, requiring knowledge of English, German and obviously Spanish. “This job is really made for you!” she said – and after a process of selection, I finally got it. Thus, a new challenge started as a sponsorship coordinator for the international SOS sponsors. “Wow, back to where I was 40 years ago, when I and my parents visited this village in Salzburg, playing with the boys,” was the first thought that came into my mind. I think, working here, this was really my destiny, wasn´t it? First, I knew the SOS children, I played with them in the village, I have been an SOS sponsor and now I am the connecting point between the two!
The challenging sponsor's visit
Back to this sponsor’s visit to Rosa*, mentioned at the beginning. Like every visit we receive, I accompanied it, but in this case it was something more challenging and special: the same sponsor had visited her sponsored girl six years before, in 2012, in the SOS house inside the village. However, now the living situation had changed: I had to explain why Rosa* is living with her siblings and SOS mother outside the traditional village, in a house in the community. Due to programmatic changes in SOS Children´s Villages Ecuador, most of the children no longer live in the traditional villages. Although I had explained to the sponsor beforehand that Rosa* and her five sisters and brother are now living far away from the former village, I found it challenging and perhaps felt some fear to go to the SOS family´s new home with her, more than 100 km away from the village office.
Obviously, during the trip by car the sponsor asked with curiosity, or perhaps annoyed: “Why does Rosa live so far from the town? Was this really necessary? What is the reason for it?” Due to my experience as a former sponsor, I knew what sponsors want and what I would have expected in this situation: a good explanation and, much more important, making these changes visible. We came to the house, where Rosa was already waiting and immediately hugged her, saying: “I am so happy that you’re here and that I can show you my new home! It is so great to live here with my siblings, close to my daddy’s home!” I could see that she now understood … After the visit she expressed her thanks very enthusiastically: “I am very content and I feel more encouraged and motivated, thank you for making this visit possible!”
My history is present now and will still continue. All that I have experienced during the last 40 years, my visits, my sponsorships and my social work help me to do a good job. I am sure that there are many more interesting and challenging things waiting for me, in the very near future.
As International Sponsorship Coordinator, Michael is convinced that his job is one of the most interesting jobs in SOS Children’s Villages. It allows him to immerse himself in the world and daily life of the children, to know where and how they are living, and then to communicate this to our sponsors all over the world. He likes sharing stories about the children, villages and programmes to make sponsors understand what we are all doing to make life a bit better.
In his leisure time, Michael, together with his Ecuadorean wife, enjoys life in nature whenever possible. Ecuador is the ideal and best location in the world for this, with its volcanoes in the Andes, the Pacific Coast, the Amazonian jungle and the Galapagos Islands. You can find more plants, orchids, insects and birds in this little country than in any other.
As a German living in Quito, he enjoys spending time with his wife in Ecuador, dancing salsa, listening to “pasillo” music and advocating for the environment. However, Michael also misses ski races and all winter sports, especially as a former active biathlon athlete. He also has family back home in Germany, whom he tries to see at least once a year.