Watching Her Grow Up

Linda and Jim Vail have sponsored You Jun since she was 9 years old. Now 18, You Jun wants to say thank you for supporting her all these years.

When Linda and Jim Vail first “met” their sponsored child — when they received her photo in the mail and first read about her life — she was 9, and in crisis.

You Jun’s mother hadn’t been in her life for years, her father struggled with substance abuse and died the year before, and not long after, her uncle passed away too. She and her grandmother were the only ones left.

“The little girl and her granny depend on each other,” her social worker wrote in a sponsor report from 2009. “They lead a hard life.”

You Jun and her grandmother live on less than one acre of land near the Chinese border with Burma. They grow rice to feed themselves — selling any surplus to pay for necessities. But it has never been enough to afford school for You Jun.

When Linda and Jim began sponsoring her — sending monthly support and even giving above and beyond to celebrate Christmas and her birthday — everything changed.

Enrolled in a boarding school not far from her home, You Jun suddenly had a safe place to live, nutritious food to eat, and the opportunity to go to school. And the best part? She still got to see her granny on summer and winter breaks. Starting school was a turning point in her life — made possible because of her sponsors.

Linda and Jim first began sponsoring children in the early 80s, after they adopted their son from Korea.

“We appreciated what [sponsors] had done for our son,” Linda says. “He was in foster care for a while.” During this time, their son had a Holt sponsor who helped cover the cost of his foster care — ensuring he received the loving, one-on-one attention that’s so hard to come by in an orphanage.

“So we appreciated that and wanted to continue the process,” Linda says.

At first, Linda and Jim sponsored children who, like their son, would remain in sponsorship for a little while until they left their care center or foster family to go home to an adoptive family.

But with You Jun, it’s been different.

Because of sponsorship, You Jun has remained a part of her small family. Without the financial burden of school and everyday necessities, You Jun’s grandmother didn’t have to make the heartbreaking decision to relinquish her guardianship of her granddaughter. Instead, they’ve remained together, as family.

“I’ve appreciated her being able to stay with her family,” Linda says. “It seems like from her reports that she likes being able to stay with her family.”

Within just a few years, You Jun and her grandmother’s lives became so much better. Though she lives at a boarding school, You Jun has remained close to her grandmother, always looking forward to summer and winter breaks when they harvest corn together or go to the market to shop — where her grandmother buys her favorite treat of rice cooked in a bamboo stalk.

And because they’ve sponsored her for so many years in a row, Linda and Jim celebrate each passing year by sending You Jun a birthday card for International Day of the Child — a special way to show her they care, and share about their family. They love reading her updates in return.

Over the years, as Jim and Linda have read these updates, they have loved learning about You Jun’s life with her grandmother, her daily activities at the boarding school, and her progress in school — something that, as teachers, Jim and Linda are especially interested in.

In 2011, You Jun had a difficult time staying awake in class. But with the support of her best friend, and a teacher who took her under her wing, You Jun began to enjoy school.

In 2012, Jim and Linda received a sponsorship report that read, “Recently, she is healthy and lives a happy life at school.” She stopped dozing off in class, and began to enjoy and express herself more. When she turned 14, they read that You Jun began to love sports, and became the leader of her school’s dance team. This was also when she started taking a more active interest in school, desiring to do the very best that she could.

Then in 2016, she wrote to Jim and Linda: “I am very grateful to my sponsor.”

In the next two sponsorship reports that Jim and Linda received in the mail, they saw that in her photo, You Jun proudly held up a photo of… them! Two years in a row, she took a photo with her birthday card. Not only did she get a card from Linda and John, but a special party and gift, too!

“What person, especially a child, doesn’t want to be recognized on their birthday?” Linda says. “What person who cares for someone does not want to wish that person a ‘Happy Birthday’? We care about You Jun, so we send her birthday wishes and help Holt to provide a special time for her.”

With such a difficult beginning, You Jun never imagined she would get to celebrate her birthday. And knowing that her sponsors around the world care for her — even enough to give her something extra for her birthday — has made all the difference.

Now 18, You Jun is motivated to continue to do her best in school, and although she’s never met them, she is grateful to her sponsors for believing in her.

And in nine years, Linda and Jim are amazed by her transformation.

“Just looking at her picture,” Linda says, “it seems that she is healthier and more vibrant-looking and more enthusiastic-looking. She’s just a young lady now — very grown up.”

Megan Herriott | Staff Writer

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