A woman with a face weathered beyond her years sat on the dusty floor of her dark home, her blind eyes staring at nothing. Her hair was brittle and matted, her clothes hanging off her thin frame. Her four children played in the dirt, their bodies ravaged by malnutrition. Everything in the home was covered in grime. The latrine next to the house was collapsing in on itself.
As a child who had grown up in poverty, Karim Sensalire was not often surprised by the despair he saw in his home country of Uganda. But the hopelessness of this blind woman, Mariam, and her family was more profound than he was used to. In her children he saw the devastation that could have been his own life. This realization made the hope he found through Compassion all the more powerful.
As a student in Compassion’s Leadership Development Program (LDP), Karim understood the weight of poverty and the release of hope. He and a group of students had found themselves in this tiny village in Uganda as part of a service project. While the Leadership Development Program affords students a chance to attend university, it also focuses on developing students into leaders who can change their communities, their countries, and the world.
Karim and his friends had spent the day searching for a service project when they were told about Mariam, a widow in the community who had lost her sight several years earlier.
“We told Mariam that we didn’t have money to give her but we would clean her home and bathe the children,” Karim says. “We would also fix her latrine wall and roof. She was really desperate!”
The group spent the day ministering to Mariam and learning her story. She had been abandoned as a child and raised by a “good Samaritan” who had literally picked her up from the side of the road. When her caregiver died, Mariam quickly married and had four children in rapid succession. When her husband died and she lost her sight from cataracts, Mariam gave up. When Karim and his friends found her, Mariam had gone two months with little food.
At the end of the day Karim and his friends prayed with Mariam. But after they left, Karim was haunted by the woman’s story. He knew so many people who could have ended up just like the widow were it not for the support of Compassion.
Karim shared Mariam’s story with the rest of the LDP students, and a few days later 65 students traveled to Mariam’s home with food and supplies. They cleaned her home, rebuilt the broken latrine, and cooked a meal for the family. The girls in the group gave Mariam’s children baths and pulled painful thorns from their feet.
“Mariam was so happy,” says Karim. “I remember she said, ‘God has remembered me. How can it be that someone poor like me can host people at my place?’”
Over the next several months, Karim helped organize more support for Mariam, raising money to buy her family mattresses, blankets and food. He also helped her find a doctor who could do surgery on her cataracts and restore her sight.
Today, because of the work of Karim and the Ugandan LDP students, Mariam has found renewed joy. One of her children is now registered with Compassion, and her family’s future is filled with hope — all because the next generation of student leaders understood the importance of literally answering Christ’s call to defend the fatherless and widows.