Elaine da Silva reads a letter from her sponsor in the doorway of her home while her brothers look on. Elaine loves to hear from her sponsor, Sharon, from Canada, and considers Sharon's love and concern influential in her life.
Elaine da Silva's favorite subject is English. And that's notable since she lives in an impoverished community in Fortaleza, Brazil. Elaine, a fifth grader, also has the highest academic standing of any girl in her school.
When Compassion first spoke with Elaine (pronounced e-LINE-ee) in 1999, she had just turned nine and was recently registered into Compassion's sponsorship program. Her favorite subject was English then too, but when asked if she might say something in English, she became shy and shook her head no.
Elaine's family's situation in 1999 was representative of many families ministered to by Compassion. Her father, Vanderlei, was a bricklayer who made the U.S. equivalent of $70 to $80 per month. Her mother, Maria Christina, stayed home to care for her three children.
This family of five lived in a tiny home that required a rent payment of more than a third of Vanderlei's monthly income. When asked how they responded to needs they were not able to meet, Elaine's mother showed remarkable faith, "We just have to go without and know that God may provide it tomorrow. We always try to look up. Tomorrow may be better than today and God will help."
The family was thankful for Elaine's Compassion sponsorship because it ensured that even when the family had other needs they were struggling to meet, she was able to attend school and have many basic needs cared for.
There have been changes in the family's circumstances during the last three years. Her father was laid off from his full-time work and now only works as a "casual labor" bricklayer for the company. Often, he works just one day per week, receiving 10 rei (about $3) for his work.
When Elaine's father was let go, he was given severance pay. Hoping to find a new full-time job quickly, Vanderlei used those funds to put a down payment on a small house. However, he is still only working part-time. Since mortgage loans are not common in Brazil, the family must work hard to pay off the house. Although the amount is minimal by United States standards, this process is quite challenging for them.
In spite of their struggles, there have been positive changes in Elaine in the last three years. There is no sign of her former shyness. Actually, it might be hard to find a more outgoing, friendly child than 12-year-old Elaine. During the Brazil Sponsor Tour in August 2002, photographer Chuck Bigger had the opportunity to spend the day with Elaine. When Chuck asked her to say something in English this time, she looked at him with a smile, and said in perfect English, "I love you."
When Elaine talks about her Compassion sponsor -- a woman named Sharon who lives in Canada -- she gets excited as she mentions how much she appreciates the letters she receives. She explains that in the past she did not really want to go to Sunday school, but since Sharon's letters encouraged her to go, she has been faithful to attend. Now she enjoys the classes.
Three years ago, Elaine planned to be a teacher. Currently she has changed her mind and prefers the idea of becoming a veterinarian. It is likely that her mind will change several more times before she finishes secondary school, but even that is encouraging -- she is planning for the future. So is her mother. "I hope that through her studies she will have a future that is better than mine," Maria Christina says.
There are many unanswered questions for Elaine's family about how they will meet their needs in the near future. But they still live "trying to look up." Elaine still dreams of what she will be when she grows up. And in Elaine's mischievous eyes and instant smile you can see endless possibilities of who she might become.