Sponsors, children, and Compassion staff gather together for a group picture. Participants in the sponsor tour were able to visit eight Compassion projects, where they met hundreds of children in the program.
Colombia is a country of beauty. Crumbling stone walls around ancient castle ruins attract tourists interested in history, while the beaches draw those ready for relaxation. Colorful market vendors offer visitors hand-made items to take home as souvenirs and gifts.
A Country of Contrasts
But as the humid Colombian day cools into evening and tourists retreat to their hotels, thousands of residents return to their homes deep in the city, far from the sparkling Caribbean. Here, white sand is replaced by streets filled with raw sewage, and expensive hotels are exchanged for tiny homes with dirt floors and tin roofs. The only tourists who venture here are the ones who take a wrong turn - those seeking the ocean and shopping malls, but finding only muddy marshes and desperate poverty.
On June 3, 35 Compassion sponsors journeyed to Colombia to see firsthand the lives of Compassion-sponsored children. After an exhausting week of visiting eight Compassion-assisted projects, sponsors had a true picture of hope in the midst of despair.
Hope in Every Corner
The contrast in Colombian cities is sharp yet subtle. Walking down a muddy street in Cartagena, a city of nearly 1 million people, it is difficult to tell the home of a Compassion-assisted child from the dwelling of any other. All are cramped, tiny shacks with thin wooden walls and metal roofs. But look further, and you will see it - the hope. Hope in a stack of letters from a sponsor that remind a precious little one that he is loved. Hope in a worn Bible he uses to learn his verses for Sunday school. Hope in school books and a worn slate for homework. Hope around every corner.
Sponsors visited projects that summer and saw Compassion at work. At the Siloe Integral Development Center (CO-529), where most families live on about $31 a month, sponsors helped serve lunch to little ones, realizing this may be their only hot meal of the day. At the El Shaddai Student Center (CO-535) sponsors watched tutors help teens with their lessons in a region where 35 percent of children never enter school. In a country where hundreds of thousands of children under age 18 enter the labor force each year, the visitors saw children being children - jumping rope, giggling on the playground, blowing bubbles.
A Changed Life
Karen Loss, a sponsor from McLean, Virginia, vividly remembers the moment she first met her sponsored child, Monica. She says she immediately spotted the 14-year-old she had seen only in pictures because "she was the most beautiful girl there."
"I found her in a nanosecond, and the first thing we did was hug," remembers Karen. "Before I knew it, my child, who lives in a degree of poverty I've never known, was giving me a gift she had made. Later she gave me a beautiful book that spanned her entire time in the Compassion program with photos and letters. Meeting Monica is a time that will stay in my heart forever."
Though many children were timid at first around their visitors, shyness was quickly replaced by glee. Small hands fit easily into adult ones as little ones dragged their sponsors around the project, showing off drawings and toys. Excited Spanish chatter filled homes as parents met those who made it possible for their children to attend school, and all nervousness disappeared in hugs of appreciation.
By the end of the tour, good-byes were difficult. Little ones leaned through the windows of the project, a mass of waving arms and shouts of "Adios!" Their smiles were contagious, and sponsors waved back, smiling through the tears. As they began the long journey home, memories of hugs and laughter amidst poverty and hopelessness filled their minds. For these sponsors, life would never be the same.
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