This year is a very special one for Plan International. It’s our 80th birthday, one we’re thrilled to share with a number of supporters, including Dr. David Booth who has been sponsoring with us since 1971.
Dr. Booth is a maxillofacial surgeon and oral pathologist. Widowed in 1991, he is father to three sons and a daughter. When David’s wife was advised not to have any more children they decided the need for child sponsorship was greater than adoption. They chose to sponsor a child with Plan International, and David has continued to support us ever since.
“The option of visiting the children was most welcome,” David tells us, when asked why he’s kept supporting the organisation, decades later. The first child the Booths visited was a boy living in the jungle near Jogjakarta, Indonesia.
David visits his sponsored children in Vietnam regularly. He is often in the country as part of his work for a charity he co-founded, the Christian Health Aid Team (CHAT). “I usually take my own children and/or grandchildren. So they become involved, finding things the children need when we go. I usually visit [the sponsored children] several times, so I see them grow up and learn first-hand of the challenges they and their family face.”
By visiting his sponsored children, David has been able to see tangible change in the community. Simple things like the introduction of girls and boys toilets have had a significant impact. “Before that, when they only had children’s toilets, the girls stayed at home while they were having their periods. So their education has improved.” Another substantial change has come through the building of a medical clinic in the village. “They now get medical treatment instead of having to travel long distances. The mothers now have their babies in the clinic, with a nurse to help them, instead of at home with only grandma or a neighbor to help them.”
“Plan usually pays for the materials to build the clinic and pays the cost of materials needed by the nurse or doctor. The community builds their own clinic, so they feel a sense of ownership which they would not have if Plan had paid for a builder. Most of the nurses come from a big city, so they have their eyes opened to the needs of village life.”
David’s work for CHAT was brought on when he realised that while it is compulsory now for Vietnamese children to go to school and they are better fed than they once were, they are often now fed with sugary foods that severely decay their teeth. He works to provide free dental care to Vietnamese children living in poverty.
The Booths sponsored a child from Vietnam until the Vietnam War forced Plan International (then, ‘Foster Parents Plan’) to withdraw from the country (you can read about this and more of our history here). It was only after David started working with CHAT that they asked to start sponsoring in the country again. “I asked Plan for Vietnamese girls to support. I choose girls because they need help more than boys.”
Gaining trust in countries like Vietnam is a challenge David recognises that Plan International has been able to tackle well. “Plan Vietnam now works closely with the local people’s committees, even though the committees are communist. The people’s committees now trust Plan. Plan Vietnam may provide money for say a medical clinic and checks that the money is used for its stated purpose. Plan works with the committee, not telling them what to do. I have met people’s committee leaders and they confirm their appreciation of Plan’s help.”
The wonderful thing about interviewing supporters like Dr. Booth, who have seen the same changing world over 80 years that Plan International has worked to make safer for children is the understanding of the context and complexity that comes with the work.
We are often guilty of over-simplifying complicated issues, and it’s been refreshing not only to interview our long-standing supporters who have been a part of the journey, but to read some of the materials they were once sent. These were often quite in-depth analyses and discussions of the issues facing the organisation in different countries. We’ve compiled some of them for you to explore, and for us, it’s a lesson to never underestimate our supporters. After all supporters like Dr. Booth who have seen us grow and learn and change throughout their time supporting us and have stood firmly with by us for decades. Our work is only possibly thanks to that incredible support.