PICTURE a small Mongolian boy holding a blue scarf and a cup of milk as a welcome gesture.
That was the scene which greeted Bonny Hills resident Lesley O'Mara when she met her World Vision sponsor child Munkherdene in Mongolia after years of corresponding through letters.
Munkherdene's brother, grandmother and World Vision staff were also there to greet Mrs O'Mara and her friend Janice Ogilvie.
It was an unforgettable moment.
"Apart from having each of my children, it was the most wonderful experience," Mrs O'Mara said.
The Mongolian visit came six years after Mrs O'Mara and her husband Peter started sponsoring Munkherdene.
It was a long journey for Mrs O'Mara and Mrs Ogilvie to reach Munkherdene's home town.
They travelled via Kong Kong, Beijing, and Mongolia's capital Ulan Bator, before an eight hour drive took them to the Selenge province.
On the drive, they visited a traditional Mongolian ger, met a young family and Mrs O'Mara sampled mare's milk which she likened to sour milk.
They met Munkherdene on his 13th birthday.
The friends spoke with Munkherdene through an interpreter, celebrated the birthday milestone and travelled to the countryside near the Russian border.
"We found Munkherdene was 13 but he was only the size of a young boy about 10," Mrs O'Mara said.
"That was one thing that surprised us."
The two friends spent about six hours with Munkherdene which included a celebratory birthday lunch.
An English language version of happy birthday played three times.
"His little face lit up," Mrs O'Mara said.
"It was worth a million dollars just to see that."
Mrs O'Mara and Mrs Ogilvie saw World Vision's economic projects in action, visiting a beehive generating income for Munkherdene's family.
Munkherdene's grandmother gave Mrs O'Mara a traditional Mongolian costume and Mrs Ogilvie received a blouse.
The Australian duo came bearing presents too, including some bought with donations from Bonny Hills Uniting Church parishioners.
The friends agreed the visit was rewarding.
"It was the most wonderful thing," Mrs O'Mara said.
"It was my first trip overseas and it was the most enjoyable and rewarding experience, and having Janice to share it with made it so much better."
Mrs Ogilvie said the shared experience made her feel like sponsoring a child as well.
World Vision child sponsorship helps meet long-term needs in communities including education, clean water and sanitation, health care, improved agriculture and income generation.
Working with community members and leaders, World Vision tailors programs to address varying causes of poverty and build a community's capacity to care for themselves.
World Vision works with a community for about 15 years to create sustainable, long-term change.
Mrs O'Mara encouraged people to sponsor a child.
"It is so worthwhile and rewarding to see the benefits for the child, and not only the child, but the community," she said.
For more information and to sponsor a child through World Vision visit worldvision.com.au or call 13 32 40.