Outgoing 5-year-old Gracia is registered in Compassion Togo's new child development center and hopes to be a seamstress when she grows up.
Driving through the streets of Lomé¬ Togo, scenes unfold that are far too common in sub-Saharan Africa. People ranging from very young to very old sit and stand at the side of the road, hoping to sell baked goods, sweets, small kitchen items or other trinkets to passers-by. An entire day in the blistering sun may earn them a few dollars.
In a place where even those with "stable" jobs have no guarantee of being paid, the overarching atmosphere is one of apathy. Yet in the midst of this despair are people who refuse to accept the circumstances, who reject the idea that there is nothing to be done.
There are people with hope.
Hope is a rare commodity in poverty-stricken countries like Togo. But it is essential to breaking the bonds of poverty. And when Compassion International representatives began to explore opening an office in Togo, they found hope amid the poverty among pastors, parents and children clinging to the belief that there was something better.
Located in West Africa, Togo borders Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso and the Bight of Benin. It is home to 5.7 million people 2.4 million of whom are younger than 15. These children are among the most vulnerable victims of poverty.
Most are malnourished, and few have access to running water. HIV and AIDS are prevalent, and many families who have migrated to the cities for work aren't prepared to protect their children from rampant gangs and drug abuse.
These very people compelled Compassion to partner with churches in Togo and open child development centers that offer physical help, spiritual nourishment and hope.
One such church is led by Pastor Happy Aziadekey, whose Pentecostal congregation is located in the heart of Lomé® Pastor Happy possesses a smile and exudes an optimism that matches his name. Though the congregation is large, it is also poor. The sanctuary is a work in progress, complete with rustic wooden scaffolding and tarps over areas that don't yet have a roof.
The Face of the Church
Pastor Happy explains that his church recognized a few years ago that they must "have a vision for helping those in need and addressing more than just their spiritual needs." Increasingly, churches in poor areas (which are by far the majority of churches in Togo) are recognizing that if they are to be relevant within their communities, they must also address the physical and emotional needs of the people.
Some churches simply take up offerings and use the funds to try to meet the various needs that come to their attention. Others are more structured, asking people to bring extra clothing, shoes, food and school supplies they might have so that they can be redistributed to those with the most severe need.
In addition to the Bible classes Pastor Happy offers, the church now houses a medical clinic, provides food, clothing, school supplies and more to those with the greatest need in the community, and shows films with a positive message after school so children have a safe place to go.
All this is accomplished largely through the donation of goods, time and services of church members with a vision. The church would like to do more, but in the meantime has decided to be faithful with the opportunities that present themselves.
The Face of the Children
Mesa and Ana and their six children are among those who have benefited from the church's ministry. In a country where pastor after pastor estimates that up to 90 percent of the families in their communities are headed by single mothers, it's notable that Mesa has stayed faithful to his wife and family.
Mesa and Ama face the difficult task of raising their children in extreme poverty. The children of Togo are especially affected by the country's economic and social issues. The under-5 mortality rate is 100 deaths out of 1,000 births 12 times higher than the U.S. rate.
Those who survive the first years of life still face numerous difficulties. Parents often trade their children for small amounts of money or products such as radios, bicycles or clothing. Parents are promised better living conditions for their children, but in reality most children serve as domestic workers or even prostitutes.
Children forced to work as domestic, factory and agricultural laborers often receive no wage at all, and those who do might earn between U.S.$4 and $10 per month. Those who run away usually end up on the streets, a path that often leads to prostitution for girls and theft or drug addiction for boys.
But Mesa and Ama have persevered. Their children are in school, despite the low wages Mesa makes as a carpenter. Though they struggle to meet all their needs, they have not lost their belief in a better future.
The possibility of a brighter future through the church and Compassion's child development program is reflected in the hope expressed by their two youngest children, David, 9, and his sister, Gracia, 5.
David is quiet and contemplative, and Gracia is his exact opposite. When asked what he hopes to be when he grows up, he whispers, "a carpenter." Gracia does not wait to be asked, but announces loudly, "I will be a seamstress."
By starting work in Togo, Compassion has the opportunity to minister to the Davids and Gracias, along with the tens of thousands of children whose lives are even more unstable and uncertain because they have only one parent or have no one to advocate on their behalf.
The ministry provides an opportunity to support and encourage parents like Mesa and Ama, who have not lost their hope and vision for the future, and to bring back hope to those who have begun to despair.
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