Fidel, 20, stands in front of the sugarcane fields where he worked as a child. While many teens in the Dominican Republic succumb to the brutal work of harvesting sugarcane, Fidel's sponsor saved him from that future.
As Fidel rides the bus into the city, the sight of the sugarcane fields that pass triggers a flood of memories. He smiles as he remembers walking home from the fields with his five younger siblings, each one nibbling on a piece of sugarcane, the sticky liquid dribbling down their chins. But when Fidel remembers the harvest, his smile fades.
Not long ago, Fidel worked most afternoons in the fields. While planting was grueling, he dreaded harvesting the most. During harvest, the fields were set on fire to burn off weeds and snakes and expose the naked, green sugarcane stalks. Children were then sent into the ashes to collect the crops. Their lungs filled with ashes and smoke and coughs racked their bodies.
"Sometimes the kids would lie and say they had a headache so they wouldn't be sent to work," says Fidel. "We were so tired, we didn't want to get up." But Fidel had little choice. His ailing father's medical needs were expensive, so Fidel, then 10, stepped in as the oldest child to help his family.
Filling a Need
Fidel clung to the hope that the harvest work would be temporary for him. While nearly half of his peers drop out of school to spend the rest of their lives in the fields, Fidel was able to continue his education. As a registered child at the Compassion-assisted Oasis Student Center (DR-290), Fidel's sponsor ensured that his education costs were covered. His parents used the money they would have spent on Fidel's school supplies to buy food and clothes for the entire family.
"When my parents had to buy things for school, they could only afford one notebook, so I had to cut it in half and share it with my brother," Fidel recalls. "But at the center, they would take us all shopping for school supplies & I remember running home from the center, so excited to show my mother what I had received."
A Tragic Turn
Fidel's sponsor, along with workers at the center, encouraged him to stay in school. Although Fidel often still worked the sugarcane fields after school, he was determined to make his family and his sponsor proud by continuing his education. When he wasn't in the fields, he was at the center, getting extra tutoring and working on his homework.
As Fidel entered high school, he began helping at the center, tutoring the younger children and teaching physical education. The staff members encouraged him to apply for Compassion's Leadership Development Program, which offers Child Sponsorship Program graduates who show exceptional leadership skills Christian leadership training and a college education. Fidel was planning for a brighter future when tragedy struck.
On Nov. 11, 2005, Fidel's father, Róµ¬o, complained of a severe headache. Fidel took him to the hospital, but Róµ¬o soon lost consciousness. On Nov. 12, Róµ¬o died of a stroke, leaving Fidel to care for his mother and five siblings.
Helping the Next Generation
"My father died just a few weeks after I enrolled in college," says Fidel. "Of course, it was something awful, for my father to die at at time when I needed him." But Fidel knew giving up wasn't an option. For 10 years, Compassion workers had taught him that he could choose a different future.
"They told me that with college, I would be able to provide a better future for my family," says Fidel, who enrolled in a college close to home so he could continue to help his family. "Now I am getting an education that will give me a chance to provide a new life for them."
Now each week, Fidel rides the bus past the sugarcane fields on his way to college. As he sees workers toiling in the fields, he is reminded of what life could have held. And he is determined to rescue others from that future.
"Sometimes you have ups and downs, but I give thanks to God for watching over me," says Fidel. "I hope to help the children from my home know God. I pray they will serve God and be released from poverty like I was."
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