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How long does a sponsorship at Dr Graham’s Homes last? It’s a question people often ask us. And the answer is: for as long as you feel able to.

Some of our charity’s funding comes from one-off donations and legacies. Other supporters sponsor a child from nursery all the way up to sixth form – and now, thanks to the Extended Sponsorship scheme, often into tertiary education too. Others are only able to sponsor for a short period of time but, of course, every little helps.

When it comes to long-term sponsorships, though, not many people can match Maida Gibson’s record. Maida (who is married to DGHUK Chair Jim Gibson) started her first sponsorship in 1976 – and is only now bowing out, after an unbroken run of 47 years. We asked her to reflect back on her time as a sponsor with DGH.

How did you first hear about Dr Graham’s Homes, Maida?

It’s so long ago now, I can hardly remember! Essentially it was because, many years ago, I worked for a children’s charity here in the UK. I liked their approach: that you were given a named family to support. One year, though, they decided to change the scheme and make it more generalised. I happened to hear about Dr Graham’s Homes – I think it was through my church. So I got in touch and the rest is history, as they say.

What did you like about the DGH approach to sponsorship?

I loved the fact that they connect you with a specific child. So you know exactly who you’re sponsoring. You know a little bit about that child’s life and background. And you can correspond with them and stay in touch with their news as you provide support. DGH was also taking on children who were genuinely destitute – looking after them and giving them the chance of a decent life. That was really important to me.

What do you remember about that first sponsorship?

She was a very young girl, only three or four at the time. She came from Kolkata. And she had been very badly treated by her family. At the time she came into the care of the Homes, she was literally covered in cigarette burns. It was awful. So the Homes took her in and looked after her all year round. She started in the Lucia King nursery and we supported her all the way up through school.

Did your family get involved in the sponsorships too?

Yes, and in fact they were one of the reasons I started sponsoring in the first place. In 1975, I had a new baby to contend with - the youngest of three little girls. But I was very mindful of the fact that while we could afford to clothe them, feed them, look after them, other children weren’t so fortunate. That was the catalyst for my sponsorships, really.

Have they continued to follow DGH’s work themselves?

In various ways, yes. Our youngest daughter actually volunteered at the Homes as a teenager. She spent six months at the Lucia King nursery, preparing meals, playing with the children, washing and cleaning – whatever was required to look after the little people there. It was an amazing opportunity for her. And in fact she now sponsors a child at the Homes herself.

Have you ever visited the Homes yourself?

No, but Jim has. In fact, he’s been out to Kalimpong three times altogether. He’s been able to meet some of our sponsored children face to face. We currently sponsor two children: Cynderella, who’s just finishing her schooling this month, and her little brother Leonard. Jim was happy to report back that they were full of beans and very much enjoying themselves!

You’re planning to step back from sponsorship, is that right?

I think so, yes. I say that with some sadness, because it has been a big part of my life for so many years. It’s been really worthwhile, but I think this is the right time to take a step back. Having said that, I’m not bowing out completely. I’ll continue to support Leonard as he moves up the school. And of course I’ll be supporting Jim in his work as DGHUK Chair.

What would you say to people who are considering sponsorship?

I think it’s a really valuable way to give an education to children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access one. You’ll give vulnerable children the opportunity to live and study in a place that’s warm and friendly and will look after them through their school years. You get to stay in touch with them and have that personal connection to their life. That’s quite a legacy, when you think about it.

Interested in sponsoring a child at Dr Graham’s Homes?

We would love to tell you more about the programme and how you can get involved. You’ll find lots more detail in the Sponsor A Child section of our website. Or reach out to the DGHUK Sponsorship Secretaries direct – they’ll be delighted to help you get started.