When I was 16, medications God really put the nation of Kenya on my heart. I did a huge project on Kenya, focusing on the kids who live in the slums of Nairobi. After completing my project, I felt like God was calling me to do something about everything I had learned. I decided to effect change in the nation of Kenya by making a difference in the life of one girl through child sponsorship. Compassion International is a world-wide non-profit organization that believes that we can transform nations by making a difference in the life of individual children, releasing them from poverty in the name of Jesus. Compassion is a highly respected organization that consistently gets high ratings for its financial responsibility, transparency, and effectiveness. Compassion is not just about donating monthly to help meet financial needs of a child living in poverty, but also about building a relationship with your Compassion child, writing letters to encourage them and let them know that there’s someone who believes in them and their dreams.
For the past 5 years I have sponsored Fresiah, a girl my age who lives in Kenya. I am ridiculously proud of her and thankful for our relationship. In Kenya, most girls don’t finish school, especially those who are living in poverty. Fresiah is 20 years old and has graduated from school and is making plans for college. It has been amazing to be a small part of her life and see how child sponsorship really does make a difference. Fresiah is now equipped with an education and dreams and a desire to give back to her community by becoming a policewoman. Empowering children, especially girls, has the ability to absolutely change our world for the better. And showing children that they are valuable and loved by their sponsor and by God brings the Kingdom of God to earth.
One of the sad parts about sponsoring Fresiah is that I most likely will never meet her in person. But before coming to Ecuador, I realized that I could make the difference in another child’s life not only through another sponsorship, but through meeting them. God really laid it on my heart to sponsor a girl in Ecuador, and so that’s what I did.
I chose to sponsor Emily because of her proximity to Quito, where I am living, and because she had been waiting a long time (I want to say over 200 days) for a sponsor. I received her first letter a few weeks after choosing to sponsor her. She told me about herself. She asked me to pray for her family. She thanked me for choosing her. And she asked me if I love her like she loves me.
Living in a country with widespread poverty, where Compassion sponsored children live, can be incredibly heart-breaking. Quito is filled with street children who work shining shoes or selling gum, who ask for money so they can eat and go to school. It feels really overwhelming to constantly see these kids and know that I can’t help them all. I can give them a smile and a small amount of money, but I can’t change their lives. But I can help Emily. I can make a difference in her life.
I started planning my visit with Emily last semester and earlier this week it finally happened! Oh my goodness this girl is a sweetheart and so full of life! I spent the day with Emily, her mom, and her two younger brothers (who are 7 years old and 8 months). Compassion picked me up in a van at my apartment in Quito. I got in the car and saw Emily and her family. She immediately gave me a huge hug. It was the best. On the car ride she asked me about all my favorite things–color, shape, school subject, animal, game, candy, food, you name it! I learned that she wants to be a math teacher when she grows up–she really loves school and math is her favorite. We also both love chocolate candy and chocolate ice cream.
We first went to the mall where we mostly just ran around and went up and down the escalators, a HUGE source of entertainment! Then we went to Emily’s town where there was a carnival going on. We played foosball and did the bumper cars and went on a small roller coaster. It was so awesome to see Emily and her brother just get to play and have fun. We had lunch and then went to Emily’s home. I realize as I’m writing this post that I didn’t take any pictures of Emily’s town or her neighborhood. I think part of it was that I was busy focusing on her, but the other aspect is that I’ve traveled around Ecuador a lot and have seen dozens of these towns that look the same and struggle with serious poverty, and so I didn’t even think to photograph it.
Both of Emily’s parents are unemployed right now and are living in a floor of a house owned by a family member. The house is located in a more dilapidated area but inside it is very clean and nice. I got to see Emily’s room and all her school work (she gets excellent grades) and toys.
Emily’s mom told us about how Emily had waited so long for a sponsor (or godmother, as they say in their Compassion project) and how when they had heard that Emily had been chosen they had been SO EXCITED! And then they couldn’t believe it when they heard that her godmother would be visiting. Emily opened the backpack of presents I had brought for her, including things like notebooks, The Jesus Storybook Bible in Spanish, a stuffed animal, markers, clothes, and candy. She was so sweet in that she opened a package of candy and immediately gave each of us a piece of chocolate. And then she went to try on a bunch of her clothes! She was so cute.
Saying goodbye was hard. And it was hard, too, to explain why I can’t visit every week, even though I live so close. Every child visit is organized through Compassion and takes a lot of planning and does require that you pay some fees, meaning I will probably only see Emily one more time before I leave Ecuador.
Some Reflections on my Visit:
- Your sponsored child absolutely loves you. I have only been sponsoring Emily for a few months but she already loves me with all her heart. Children tend to have such an openness and vulnerability about them. They give love so easily. Sponsorship is a way you can show a child how much you love them and care about them, and visiting your sponsored child or writing them a lot of letters is a way you can teach them to continue to love exuberantly, instead of teaching them to grow cynical and distrustful.
- One of the hard things about the trip is that Compassion couldn’t tell me how old Emily’s siblings were (or how many she had) and so I had no idea how to bring presents for her siblings. During my visit, I learned that there are not enough spots in the Compassion program for her younger brother to be sponsored. Both of Emily’s younger siblings spent the whole day with us and her younger brother got to do all the things Emily did, but it was clearly still very hard for him to not have a sponsor and not get the gifts that Emily got. If I see Emily again, I will know about her brothers and be able to get them gifts, but it was a hard thing to see her brother feel left out and not as special as his older sister.
- While we were at the carnival in Emily’s town, a rural, poor city south of Quito, we saw a father come to the fair, find his daughter, grab her, call her a bitch, hit her in the face, and drag her to their car. From what I gathered, she hadn’t asked for permission to come to the carnival after school. I was stunned and horrified. Everyone saw a father abuse his daughter in public and no one did anything. I desperately wish I had known what to do, or that I had done something. If I were in the U.S., I would have stopped that man, called the police, gotten the license number of the car, gotten child services involved, etc. But I was in a different country, different culture, with a language barrier, and was with Emily and her family. In Ecuador, the majority of children are abused. 41% of Ecuadorian children report being hit at home. 21% of Ecuadorian children have experienced sexual abuse. 70% of Ecuadorian children have been victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or negligence. Many people view this abuse as normal. And a completely inadequate and inattentive police force does very little to protect children or women. I think the only mildly encouraging thing about witnessing this abuse is that Emily asked questions about it and did not act as though this was something normal for her life.
- Emily and her family live about a 30 minute walk from school, crossing some major roads on the way. Therefore, Emily and her brother take the school bus. However, the school bus is not free. Her parents pay $30 a month for the school bus service. Can you imagine being a family living in poverty, most likely making less than $2/day (or nothing if you’re currently unemployed) and having to find the money to pay just for your kids to get to school? For as many problems as the U.S. school system has, we at least offer free education and transportation to and from school. That is just not the case for much of the world.
- After I had said goodbyes, I rode with the translator from Compassion back to Quito. She said that she was surprised that Emily had a house, because most of the children don’t have a place to live, and that Emily was very lucky. It should break our hearts that for many children around the world, the very real reality is that if they have a roof over their heads, no matter how small, they are luckier than many of the children around them.
I am so thankful that I got to do this visit and meet and connect with Emily. This girl really is amazing, and we have quite a bit in common. We’re both driven, lively, and a little bossy with our younger siblings ;) My sponsorship of Emily will most likely continue for the next 10 years or so, and getting the chance to actually meet her was an amazing experience for both of us. I know it will make it easier for us to connect through letters and pray for each other as we continue our relationship.
But, as I’ve tried to convey in this post, there were parts of my visit that were really disturbing, unsettling, and sad. I think that’s probably how it should be. We shouldn’t be able to see poverty and not get unsettled by it. I am thankful that I still get heartbroken when I see street kids, that I didn’t come away from my Compassion visit with just happy feelings. Living in Ecuador I’ve seen middle and upper class Ecuadorians treat the poverty and abuse prevalent in their country as very normal. I think it sometimes takes an outside perspective to see the extent of the problem in another country, I know this is true for me when it comes to witnessing the prevalent issues in the U.S. We have to fight to not become complacent just because something is prevalent in our communities or because we don’t feel like we can do anything to help. We can’t help all the children of the world, but we can help one. And I’ve seen in the lives of two girls from across the world that it truly makes a difference.
I would love to answer any questions you may have about child sponsorship and very much encourage you to consider sponsoring a child through Compassion.