While most Kiwis spent their summer chilling out at the beach, an Auckland family embarked on an eye-opening holiday to Uganda where they met the two children they have sponsored for years, and who are the same ages as two of their kids.

On December 29, Kristin Ward, her husband, Jono, and their children Eden, 9, Hamish, 7, and Nathan, 4, visited Patience, 9, and Peter, 7 - who the Ward children call their African siblings - at their homes near the town of Mbarara.

"It was really thrilling and humbling," Ward said.

Her family have supported Patience through Tearfund since the Christmas after Eden's 5th birthday. Two years later, after Hamish turned 5, they started sponsoring Peter with the charity.

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Ward's brother lives in Uganda's capital Kampala and she and her family travelled there at Christmas to visit him for two weeks and met Patience and Peter during their trip.

This holiday was very different to how the family usually spent their summer, Ward told the Herald on Sunday.

"The kids had never really been on a plane before. We normally go to a bach or go camping. We're normally a very local summering family so this has been a trip of a lifetime for them."

The Ward family in Uganda. Kristin (left), Hamish, 7, Eden, 9, Nathan, 4 (front) and Jono. Photo / Supplied by Kristin Ward
The Ward family in Uganda. Kristin (left), Hamish, 7, Eden, 9, Nathan, 4 (front) and Jono. Photo / Supplied by Kristin Ward

Spending a day together was a special experience for the children, despite not speaking the same language.

They were shy and awkward at first, Ward said, but the boys relaxed once they started playing soccer with the ball Hamish bought Peter.

The Wards had given Patience the same dress as Eden and the pair were "just delighted" with their matching outfits.

"It was cute ... They had no language in common so they were just doing big smiles at each other and that sort of thing. I think they just felt a lot of warmth."

Ward said the family sponsored Patience and Peter because they wanted their kids to realise how different life could be in a different part of the world.

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"It's always been a goal of mine that my kids wouldn't grow up in a New Zealand bubble and think all our wealth and privilege is completely normal, that they'll realise we're really well off compared to the rest of the world."

Patience (right) and Eden, both aged 9, loved their matching dresses. Photo / Supplied by Kristin Ward
Patience (right) and Eden, both aged 9, loved their matching dresses. Photo / Supplied by Kristin Ward

The poverty they saw left a lasting impression.

"They were poorer than I expected and I've travelled. I've seen Africa before but I was still a little bit startled by the poverty," Ward said.

"Since coming back to New Zealand the kids keep saying things like, 'We're so lucky we can just turn the tap on and out comes water that we're allowed to drink.' Their perspective about the world has definitely grown."

Peter's family were living in a room in their neighbour's house when the Wards visited him because termites had eaten their wooden house, causing mud bricks to tumble to the floor.

"It's just totally inadequate shelter now. In the last rains more of the walls crumbled off and so they can't live there any more."

Tearfund was going to rebuild the house in about a month, Ward said.

Peter's mother worked in their neighbour's garden "for a pittance" to try to scrape together enough money for her and her four children she was raising on her own.

His two teenage brothers also did digging for the neighbour and had no education.

"That's the trajectory [Peter] would've been on without sponsorship whereas now he could go to uni. It's just really thrilling and exciting to think we're actually making a difference."

Patience and Peter were both excellent students at school and Ward said she would encourage them to further their education.

Every year about 12 Kiwi families signed up to Tearfund's sponsorship programme meet the child or children they sponsor.

Tearfund supporter relations co-ordinator Victoria Hanna said sponsors pay for the trip overseas themselves and often visit their sponsor child while on a pre-planned holiday.