“In our case it’s just a way of giving something back.”
Carolyn, Isabel, Camille and John Laker at the 'Deadvlei' inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia.
When we meet the Laker family who have been supporting Plan International for decades, what is striking is their humble generosity. Whether it’s taking care to answer our questions fully or stressing that we don’t build them up too much (a promise we’re happily breaking now) there’s a warm willingness to give what they can, because it’s simply the right thing to do.
Dr. John Laker AO was the first of his family to support Plan International and his support dates back to before he met his wife Carolyn, a former librarian and primary school teacher. After living in Washington and working with the International Monetary Fund in Malawi and other countries in Southern Africa, John came back to Australia in 1981 wanting to continue the connection with Africa. That’s when he joined Plan International as a child sponsor.
John and Carolyn have two daughters, Camille and Isabelle, and Isabelle joins us in Sydney having just returned from Malawi herself as a volunteer primary school teacher. Her family visited her while she was there and the strong connection they have with the area is evident. Their time in Malawi has provided the family with a real understanding of the practical challenges that face the people living there.
“Life’s tough in these villages, it’s really tough. The average annual income for a Malawian family is around US$250, it’s hardly anything.” John tells us.
There are also cultural barriers. Child marriage has been a huge problem in Malawi, and through volunteering there Isabelle saw the deep-seeded issues and attitudes towards girls and women. “It’s a cultural thing. The man will provide and the women will stay home and raise the many, many children.”
For the Lakers, the fact that Plan International has no religious or political affiliations in dealing with such issues is a core reason for their support: “Never have I had a sense that Plan’s got any agenda other than to do good.” John states.
Though the Lakers are upfront about the challenges, you can see they’re equally hopeful about the positive impact we can make for entire communities. “The other thing we’ve learned having gone to Africa now is just how far a little bit of money can go.”
During their trip to visit Isabelle, John and Carolyn were able to bring some football jerseys along for the boys at her school. For the girls in Malawi, netball is huge. “Girls need that outlet and they need that competition and that fun playing. Netball does that in Malawi,” Isabelle explains, and she is now organising to send some netball bibs and have a netball ring constructed at the school. “We have to right that wrong. We should have thought of the girls.”
The family is apologetic that there’s a letter from one of their two sponsored children, a boy in Kenya, that’s gone unanswered. “He’ll get a thrill if we get a letter back to him, but we just have to sit down and do it.” They started sponsoring a second child so their own two girls would have that connection with someone overseas, but they admit it’s been hard keeping up with correspondence. “It’s something we’ve had very good intentions about.” Carolyn laughs.
Isabelle remembers the photos and letters they received from their sponsored children when she and Camille were growing up. “I do remember that being in the back of my mind a lot of the time, having this connection to someone on the other side of the world. I was quite proud of mum and dad for doing it.”
John tells us how he admires sponsors who have gone on to visit their child. “I always thought that would be a wonderful thing to do.” As we talk, the family considers the idea of visiting their sponsored child in Kenya. John seems hopeful, “one of these days we could turn up there. We would love to go to Kenya.”
“One of the things about visiting a child, is that it’s not just an enjoyable experience, it’s the fact that the child knows a family outside in the big world cares about them. They’ve gone to the trouble to visit them,” he adds.
The family stresses that it’s not about a connection with a single child. They know that through their sponsorship with Plan International, that child is never singled out and the entire community benefits, so that even when the child becomes an adult and no longer needs that sponsorship, the lasting difference in that community remains. “I’ve always liked the sense that there is something tangible that I could contribute to in some of the poorest parts of the world.” John tells us.
For the Laker family, it’s a way of giving something back. Their quiet generosity is best captured by Carolyn when she says at the end of our visit, “I think we’re very lucky in this country, and so many people are very unlucky. It’s nothing to do with how hard they work it’s just a very unfair world. We just like to make a contribution.”
Thank you to all our supporters for being such an important part of our work this year. We’re thrilled to have your continued support as we fight for a just world for all children.
Whether you’ve been supporting for decades or days, we’d love to hear why you chose to support the rights of children through Plan International. Share your story with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.