Sponsoring a child isn't just life changing for the child, their family and the community – it can be transformative for the sponsor too.

Libby McCarthy first became interested in Myanmar when she was a high school student at Wellington Girls High. She was given Myanmar to represent at a mock United Nations conference at her school.

Initially she thought she was going to struggle when it came to representing the country but as she learned more about the place, she became fascinated by its culture, its politics and its people.

"I guess it was around 2004, which was a really interesting time in the country's history. I just got sucked in," Libby explains. "After the model UN conference, I kept thinking, OK, where do I go from here? I was looking for more of a personal connection and so I ended up finding World Vision and found out I could sponsor a child from Myanmar."


Libby started walking to school and saving her bus money so she could sponsor her child.

"She was 6 years old and lived in the south of the country, and we started writing letters to each other. I'd tell her how many sheep there were in New Zealand – you know, all those kind of generic Kiwi things – and she'd tell me about her life in Myanmar and then I was lucky enough to visit her in 2007. I was 17 and it was absolutely life changing."

Up until that time, Libby wasn't sure if her sponsored child was even real. Like many people, she wondered if the child was more of a figure head for a community than a real person.

"Actually, I wasn't sure [she'd be real] until I met her. But then, when I did, we could talk about the things that we'd been writing to each other about, and when I met her in Yangon I took her to the zoo and she saw a sheep for the first time. To start with internet research, then to a letter-writing relationship, then to make it real was super special."

That trip cemented Libby's love affair with Myanmar. After graduating from the United World College in Hong Kong, she returned to New Zealand for a gap year.

"The only place I wanted to be was Myanmar. I worked two jobs, saving money to pay my way, then went to the Thai Myanmar border and volunteered. I was mostly working with the Karin group, teaching English, teaching grant writing skills and advocacy -things like that. It was amazing.

"I lived with my students, who were just an amazing crew, I'm still really good friends with them all. And then I ended up coming back the next year and living in a refugee camp on the border with that community again as well. So yeah, the Myanmar people have just kind of captured me."

A couple of years working in New York with the Clinton Foundation didn't distract Libby from her goal of returning to Myanmar.


She is now working for a social enterprise that designs and sells products and services specifically to the agricultural community. So far, the firm has reached more than half a million farmers.

"I'm from Wellington," laughs Libby. "I wouldn't say I'm an expert on farming. But it's hard not to be passionate about what we're doing when you see the life changing impact that it's having. It's really cool.

"They're an amazing group – super tenacious and entrepreneurial and they know that they've been isolated but they want knowledge, they want tools. Their eyes light up when we introduce them to this new technology," says Libby, her own eyes alight with enthusiasm, "they're really quick to adopt and fast to learn so I think there's a lot of hope in the smallholder farmer community."

Libby says she believes her entire career will be one of service, but she says her vision of what that means has changed over the years.

"I've become really passionate about businesses as a form of service, social businesses. It just really resonates with me," she explains.

"I like the dignity that it affords, and the relationship that it forms. Instead of seeing someone as beneficiary, you're seeing them as a customer.

"So let's say you give someone a product, as charity, they never see you again, it breaks, what do they do?

"Whereas if someone has put their hard-earned dollars into your product, you can be sure you're going to hear from them if something happens to that product. And so it holds us accountable. And it puts the power back in their hand. It's a really empowering way of supporting people."

Libby has managed to lure her Kiwi partner over to Myanmar and he's been able to find a job in his chosen field, so she expects Myanmar to be home to the couple for the foreseeable future.

A fascination for the country that inspired Libby to become a World Vision sponsor has informed her choices in both her career and personal life and set her on a life changing path.

To donate to the Not for Sale campaign go to World Vision