Sharmila is a student at the Bethel Child Development Center in Kerala, India. Even though Sharmila and her family live in abject poverty, she now hopes to one day finish school and go to college all because of Compassion's support.
KERALA, India Imagine never knowing the taste of a fresh, sweet banana or the sensation of biting into a ripe orange and feeling the sticky juice drip down your chin. Imagine never tasting fresh-baked bread, still warm from the oven with creamy butter and sweet jam.
When Sharmila first came to the Bethel Child Development Center near her home in Kerala, the 9-year-old watched with wide eyes as the project workers handed her plates filled with fresh fruit and vegetables foods she had never tasted. Her family was desperately poor and could afford only rice and fish curry; they rarely had enough for three meals a day.
Sharmila's older sister had been forced to drop out of high school to help support the family, and Sharmila prayed she wouldn't have to follow the same path. When she was accepted into the Compassion-assisted program, Sharmila finally dared to dream of a different future.
Poverty in Kerala lies just under the surface. Here, in the most literate state in India, children are clean and neatly dressed, and most women wear beautiful gold jewelry, a status symbol in India. However, upon closer inspection you will find the clothes are threadbare and patched, and many families are deeply in debt, as they purchase gold they cannot afford.
A family's true poverty is revealed when you enter the family home. The local government provides homes of crumbling brick for the poor, but inside, the homes are stark and bare, often with no furniture, appliances or food supplies. Families like Sharmila's crowd into one room and sleep on the cold, bare floor.
For those in poverty, running water and electricity, although available, are an expense they simply can't afford.
Confidence Replaces Need
Sharmila has been a student at the Bethel Child Development Center for five years, but she and her family are still amazed and grateful for the provisions she has found there.
"Apart from good food, I get footwear, clothes and a schoolbag from Compassion," says Sharmila excitedly. "My parents think Compassion is good they see it as God's gift of love to poor people like us."
Besides meeting her basic needs, the center also provides Sharmila with extracurricular activities and opportunities that help her grow in confidence. Sharmila's eyes light up as she talks about her passion for music and singing. Before coming to the center, she had never had the opportunity to learn music or sing as part of a choir. Now, she is able to train with a music teacher once a week.
A New Future
Sharmila has learned thankfulness that far exceeds her 14 years. When she sees her sister, exhausted from a day at the rubber company, she knows that could have been her future. She can only offer thanks that it is not.
"Without Compassion, my life would've been difficult," says Sharmila softly. "I may not have been able to study. I may have had to go to work young." It's that reality that keeps prayers of gratitude on the lips of a very thankful girl.
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