The first time Roberta saw her, Luiza looked like an 8-year-old girl, but she was actually 12. She was very tiny with nervous eyes and was in fact, terrified at the thought of having to speak to anyone. She clung desperately to her teachers’ legs. During a special weekend at the shelter where she lived in Porto Alegre, Brazil, they hosted an event to get locals to sponsor at-risk children.
The year before, Roberta had enrolled in a sponsorship program at the Amigos do Lucas Institute. The goal of the program is to ensure children have a reference of family, to provide emotional support and caring. Lots of children were waiting for someone to sponsor them. Many of them were much older than Luiza and carried some heavy emotional baggage. Roberta had to prepare herself before meeting them. “But you're never fully prepared," she reflects.
In our modern world, it’s becoming more common to see families built up with different configurations. The classical set up of a biological father and mother is not the only one configuration that people relate to nowadays. There are children raised by grandparents or solely by their mother or father. There are adoptive siblings, same-sex partners with kids and their pets and many infinite other configurations that would make us impossible to describe all the variations.
That make us re-think the definition of “family” and how it impacts our employees, partners and customers. SAP supports all configurations of families, so that anyone can feel valued and embraced no matter what the set-up is.
It’s the children themselves who decide who will sponsor them. The idea behind this program is for them to chat with the adults and choose the one they feel close to. At first, everyone was a little shy, so they played a quick game to break the ice. The children would walk around and pass a ball to whoever they chose. As Luiza was so shy, Roberta asked the organizers if she could hand over the ball to her instead. That was the start of a relationship that has lasted until today.
She slowly became familiar with Luiza’s background – so troubled for someone that young. She had spent most of her life in shelters and, as is usually the case, as she got older, her chances of being adopted decreased. That’s why these sponsorship programs are so important.
Luiza has evolved so much since I first met her. She had such a strong emotional barrier. Still, I am the one who has learned the most during this period.
She feels the experience got her out of her comfort zone. “It's a reality shock when you realize how silly your problems are compared to someone who has to sleep out in the cold or goes hungry," she reflects.
Now aged 14, Luiza is in the 5th grade and at the top of her class – a truly remarkable evolution. Back when she met her affective sponsor for the first time, she hated studying and had already been held back twice. She didn't even have a birth certificate at the time, as her mother wasn't sure what her date of birth was. Roberta sorted that out, got her an identity card, and thanks to SAP employee benefits, she was able to include her as a dependent on her company health plan.
One would probably think of a mother, a father and their children when describing a family. However, the definition of ‘family’ is so much broader than that. I’m glad SAP recognizes and values diverse family setups.
Affective sponsors gain temporary custody so that they can go out with the kids. They have toured the city, celebrated Christmas together and paid many visits to the home Roberta shares with her parents, who Luiza now calls grandma and grandpa. Roberta feels like any other mother would and is glad to give Luiza all her love and devotion. When Luiza’s a bit older, Roberta would like to make her dream come true and fly on a plane with her. That could be the first of many trips together.
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