One of Julio Cardenas' many dreams is to be an artist when he grows up. Here he displays one of his original pieces of art.
BOGOTA, Colombia - Julio Cardenas swoops across the playground of CDI Restaurant, his arms outstretched as he makes airplane noises. An hour later he sits in front of an easel, his paintbrush poised to create a masterpiece. When art class is over, he joins his friend on an empty field where he dribbles a soccer ball towards the goal, an imaginary crowd cheering him on.
So Many Dreams, So Little Time
Airplane pilot. Artist. Soccer player. These dreams may sound typical of a 9-year-old boy, but as a child in Colombia, Julio faces a desperate reality. More than 60 percent of the children in Julio's community will not finish elementary school. Many of his friends have already joined the 1 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 who hold jobs in Colombia, working in factories and fields to add to their family's meager income of less than $4 a day.
So what makes the difference with Julio? How has he escaped the lies of poverty that have robbed the dreams of the other children in his neighborhood and stolen their childish innocence? The answer is simple Julio is surrounded by project workers who tell him each day, "You can be anything you want to be."
A Future for Her Son
Otilia, Julio's mother, first learned about Compassion from a neighbor whose son was enrolled in CDI Restaurant. Julio's father, a flower harvester, earned meager wages, and he was barely able to provide food for his wife and three children. Education expenses were far too much for the family to afford.
Otilia knew that if Julio didn't go to school, he would end up like so many men in their community, tired and broken from working long hours in fields of beautiful carnations and roses flowers that belied the poison that covered them. Otilia saw workers shuffle past her house each day, some blinded by pesticides, others covered in rashes and sores.
"As a mother, as every mother, I want Julio to study and to be a professional because in that way he can live an easier life," says Otilia. "I want him to study and to get ahead."
"When you have the Lord, you have everything."
Now in fourth grade, Julio enjoys math and science. While he once sat alone in an empty house while his parents worked, Julio now stays at the Compassion project for the after-school program, and he is excelling in his classes. Project workers demonstrate God's love to Julio as they nurture his dreams, teaching him that he is precious to God, as all children are.
"They teach us good things at the project," says Julio. "I learn how to be good there, and sometimes I tell my friends that they should pray to God and love Him and respect Him."
Julio's mother is thrilled at the faith she sees in her little boy. "Julio has the Lord in his heart, and he believes in the Lord and follows the Lord," she says proudly. "When you have the Lord you have everything. The rest just comes."
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