Through the support of her special-education teacher, Erika has traveled as far away as China to compete in the Special Olympics.
If Erika had grown up in a middle-class American neighborhood her pediatrician would have noticed her developmental delays early on and sent her to a specialist.
Erika probably would have been enrolled in a program to help her catch up with her peers.
A therapist would have shown her flash cards and spent extra time helping her remember her numbers and colors.
Her mother would have learned exercises to do with her at home to fine-tune her motor skills.
By the time Erika started school, there would have been little difference between her and her peers.
A WIDENING GAP
But Erika grew up in Danli, an urban slum in Honduras. Her mother, Melania, earned less than U.S.$4 a day doing laundry for neighbors.
She couldn't afford to take off hours from work to walk several miles to the closest clinic.
What good would a trip to the doctor do if it meant she couldn't buy food for her children that night?
So Melania watched the gap between her daughter and the other children in the neighborhood grow.
Erika was always a few steps behind her peers. She crawled later, walked later, talked later. Melania became more frustrated.
Life was hard enough for strong, intelligent children in their neighborhood. What would her only daughter's future look like?
Melania had learned that poverty compounds every issue.
A child with minor delays becomes a child forever handicapped. All because the help she needs is out of reach.
When Erika was 6, her mother sought help for her at the Reverendo Eduardo King Student Center (HO-504).
Once she was enrolled, workers at the center evaluated Erika's situation. Erika struggled to concentrate. She was behind her classmates in writing, reading and math skills.
"Most of Erika's problems resulted from the fact that she wasn't helped when she was an infant or a toddler," says Sonia, Erika's special-education teacher at her school.
"Her mental deficiency is mild, but it would have continued to get worse if she had not received the appropriate support."
Through the support of her sponsor and Compassion's Medical Assistance Fund (compassion.com/medicalfund), Erika was enrolled in the Gabriela Alvarado Rehabilitation School. There, teachers gave Erika one-on-one attention. Gradually her reading and writing skills improved.
But after years of being teased by her peers
and feeling like a failure, Erika still lacked confidence.
GROWING IN MIND AND BODY
Erika's teacher, Sonia, also had a relationship with the Honduras Special Olympics. She believed that if Erika could compete in the games, she would gain much-needed confidence.
Erika was an enthusiastic athlete. She competed in track and field in the national Special Olympics, where she won three medals.
"My mother was with me the whole time, and I was very happy for it," Erika says proudly. "My mother told me that I was very brave."
In the five years Erika has been enrolled in the Compassion program, she has excelled both physically and academically.
She traveled to China with the Special Olympics, where she won two gold medals.
Equally important, Erika has improved her reading, writing, concentration and memory skills.
"Erika is a different child," says Sonia. "I have seen a significant progress in her life as she is a more active girl and about to start very soon in a regular school."
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