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Bury nan taking her nine grandchildren to poor communities across the world

PUBLISHED: 09:21 27 September 2017

Michelle Thissen (second left) and her grandson Oliver (far right) with Juan (second right) and his family during the visit to the Dominican Republic. Picture: PLAN INTERNATIONAL

Michelle Thissen (second left) and her grandson Oliver (far right) with Juan (second right) and his family during the visit to the Dominican Republic. Picture: PLAN INTERNATIONAL


A Bury St Edmunds grandmother who sponsors children in developing countries is taking each of her nine grandchildren to visit youngsters she sponsors – with the latest trip to the Dominican Republic.

Michelle Thissen, 72, takes her grandchildren through a sponsorship visit by global charity Plan International UK – an organisation which supports children in poorer communities globally by helping them to remain in schools.

The Belgian-born grandma’s journey began in 2008 when she took grandson Loic to visit a girl in Benin, before taking grandson Milo to Cambodia to meet their sponsored child there last year.

On the latest trek, grandson Oliver joined Mrs Thissen and her husband David to meet 11-year-old Juan and his family in San Juan, Dominican Republic.

Mrs Thissen said: “I decided a few years ago that every time one of my grandchildren turned 12 I would take them on a visit to meet a child who we sponsor.

“I have nine grandchildren, with the youngest being two years old – so there are a few more trips to go yet!”

She added: “Every grandchild I’ve taken on a visit has been given a unique look into how children in other countries live.

“Sometimes it’s been a shock, to witness the poverty that these children face, but it’s good for them to see what it’s like in other parts of the world.”

During the Dominican Republic visit, Oliver was able to meet Juan’s school class and find out about education in San Juan, as well as see work Plan International UK carries out, which includes developing skills for children in a safe learning environment and providing teacher training in areas such as human rights and gender politics.

Oliver and Juan now plan to write to each other regularly.

Mrs Thissen said: “Travelling to these places with Plan International UK means that we get an insight into how people in developing countries live.

“In Cambodia, the father of my sponsored child had to travel for an hour by bike to fish from a dried up lake so that his family could eat; it’s moments like this when you realise how much these people need our support.”

Mrs Thissen’s story comes ahead of National Grandparents Day on October 1.

If you have a grandparent with an interesting tale, email us here.

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