US & Canada

George HW Bush's sponsorship made me successful, says Filipino man

Letters with a picture of Timothy Image copyright Compassion International
Image caption George HW Bush exchanged letters with Timothy Villalba for 10 years

A Filipino man sponsored by George HW Bush as a boy has described how letters from the former US president helped him to become "successful and happy".

"Out of so many kids... I was the one picked," Timothy Villalba told the TV network ABS-CBN, adding that Mr Bush had supplied him with gifts - such as a drawing set - that fed his creativity.

Mr Bush, under the name George Walker, also helped with education and meals.

Mr Villalba, now aged 25, was just seven when the sponsorship started.

He learned his Compassion International sponsor's true identity when he left the scheme at 17 and was stunned.

In an interview with ABS-CBN, Mr Villalba said he found it "shocking that he was indeed a president", adding: "I can't explain how I'm feeling".

Image copyright Timothy Villalba / Compassion
Image caption Mr Villalba said he would "forever be grateful" for the sponsorship

Mr Villalba, who is now married with a young daughter, said he remembers receiving a set of pens and watercolour paints from Mr Bush after mentioning his love of drawing and sketching.

"I loved the set because it was big. I showed it off at school," he said.

He added that he was aware he was "really lucky", and that he hoped the charity would continue to help others.

Image copyright Compassion International
Image caption Mr Villalba had no idea about Mr Bush's real identity until he graduated from the scheme

What was in Bush's letters?

The former president wrote a number of letters that included occasional hints as to his true identity.

Image copyright Compassion International
Image caption The former US president helped to fund education and meals

"Dear Timothy, I want to be your new pen pal," Mr Bush said in his first letter in 2002, using the pseudonym, a combination of his first and third names.

"I am an old man, 77 years old, but I love kids; and though we have not met I love you already," he wrote.

"I live in Texas - I will write you from time to time - good luck."

Later, Mr Bush wrote: "Timothy, have you ever heard of the White House?

"That's where the president of the USA lives. I got to go to the White House at Christmas time. Here is a little booklet that I got at the White House in Washington."

Mr Bush, the 41st US president, died in November at the age of 94.

What is the charity?

Compassion International is a Christian, humanitarian charity that helps children living in poverty.

Sponsoring a child through the organisation helps to fund medical care, education and mentoring sessions and also offers a personal connection through correspondence.

The former president first learned about its child sponsorship scheme in 2001 during a Christmas concert in Washington.

It is thought his identity was kept secret because of concerns that Mr Villalba - as a boy - could be targeted if people learned he was corresponding with a former US president.

The charity revealed some of the letters to the Colorado Springs Gazette and later in an interview with CNN.

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