During this week's Academy Award ceremony, Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates may win honors for their work in About Schmidt. But the character that has left the deepest impression with moviegoers is known only by his first name: Ndugu.

Although he appears in the film only through still photos, the Tanzanian boy plays a big part in the film's plot. Nicholson's character, Warren Schmidt, is a retiree searching for meaning and purpose as he looks back at his life. His choice to sponsor Ndugu through real-life child sponsorship group Childreach is what ultimately gives him hope. "We're all pretty small in the grand scheme of things," Schmidt says at the end of the film. "The most we can hope for is to make a difference."

From early in the critically acclaimed film, when Schmidt sees a commercial to help Third World children, to the end, when Schmidt hears back from his "foster son," child sponsorship plays a major role.

More than two years ago, About Schmidt's producers contacted Childreach to be the child sponsorship organization in the movie. Childreach has 100,000 U.S. sponsors while its parent organization, Plan International, has a total of one million child sponsors throughout the world. Not only are the company and the commercial shown in the movie real, but Ndugu is as well. Actually named Abdala, the 6-year-old boy is now sponsored by the cast and crew of About Schmidt.

Because it is such a pervasive theme, child sponsorship has received widespread press attention since the movie debuted in February. An article in Australia's The Age earlier this month said that Plan International's sponsorships have quadrupled since the movie debuted. The company expects ...

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