Children gather to watch as sponsors arrive at a student center in their neighborhood. For every child registered in Compassion's program in a given community, there are many others who have not yet been reached.
Within minutes of walking through the gates of Gaba Early Childhood Development Center (UG-M03) -- just hours after we arrived in the country -- it was obvious that Compassion Uganda and its partner churches are doing a powerful work. Toddlers and preschoolers swarmed to the sponsors, smiling, laughing, hugging and holding up their arms to be picked up.
The teachers began to beat drums and these tiny children demonstrated traditional Ugandan dances for the sponsors. Some children wore grass skirts over their clothes. Others wore expressions of deep concentration, trying to get their feet and hips moving in rhythm together.
Gaba was the first of eight student centers that Compassion sponsors visited during a seven day period. We met toddlers, university students in Compassion's Leadership Development Program and all the ages in between. Each visit included hugs and dances and smiles. And each one went a little further in confirming the importance of ministering to Uganda's impoverished children.
Life outside the student center
But in every community we visited, there was a stark contrast that offered an equally compelling affirmation of the need for Compassion's work. Since our bus was too large to make it through the entrance of many of the projects, we often parked nearby, piled out of the bus and walked. Sometimes it was just a few feet; other times it was several yards. Always we drew a crowd.
Most of those watching us were children, drawn first by the sight of the big green bus and then by the sight of 43 bazungu (white people) climbing out of it. Most of the children were dressed in ragged clothing. Some wore shoes several sizes too big. Many did not wear shoes at all.
We were met by a variety of facial expressions and body languages. Some children waved and smiled and even came up and held our hands. Others turned away, shy and embarrassed. Still others stared at us with looks of skepticism or distrust or perhaps even anger. The majority followed us all the way to the gate of the project and often stood there throughout our visit.
The human need for love
Behavior varied, but there seemed to be a common thread running through all their expressions, actions, emotions. Written on their faces was the desire to belong, to be loved and to have the hope that was so evident in the festivities they were watching.
The children we met in the student centers were happy confirmations of the profound impact sponsorship can have on a child. And the children looking in at the gates, asking to have their pictures taken -- and sometimes taking our hands as we walked through their communities -- were powerful reminders of how many more children are in need of this life-altering impact.