Claudia’s one-room home is tidy. Her cooking pans neatly hang on nails, and diapers, ointment and medicines for her 5-month-old are carefully lined up on a wooden plank near her bed. Her home smells like powdered laundry detergent. Her five children’s clothes are neatly folded in a hamper. This is a big change for a mother who, before entering Compassion’s Child Survival Program, did not often wash her children or their clothes.
Just months ago this 25-year-old mother was in crisis. Her two youngest children needed critical hospital care that she couldn’t afford.
The bridge of wood scraps to Claudia’s home is shaky. She wraps her arm around her 5-month-old, Dallana, and carefully steps over the loose boards. This walkway is a fragile barrier against the sewage and trash slopped below her home. It is also a picture of Claudia’s life before Compassion — a time when she did not take such tender care of her children. Her husband, a fisherman, was gone for long stretches of time and there was nobody to help her. Claudia was depressed — and began to drink.
As Claudia drank, Steevan, her 2-year-old, withered. He was malnourished, anemic and dehydrated. And Dallana, just 2 months old at the time, spit up all the milk she drank, creating a serious health crisis for the fragile infant. Just as Claudia sank deeper into despair, she heard about the Child Survival Program from her neighbors, who urged her to register the children. She did, and Yina, Compassion’s health specialist in the community, helped her take the children to a hospital. Steevan underwent oral rehydration therapy and other medical interventions. He quickly recovered, but Dallana’s situation was more complicated.
After several hospital visits, X-rays and tests, doctors learned that Dallana’s stomach and small intestine were joined together. She needed surgery immediately, hundreds of miles away in the capital city of Quito. So Claudia left her other children with her husband and anxiously boarded a plane to Quito with her sick baby. “I cried. I cried so much during that time,” Claudia says. Yina traveled with Claudia and stayed with her during every tense moment. Claudia says Yina’s support gave her strength.
Today, after a successful surgery, Dallana is healthy and nursing well. Yina comes every Monday to support Claudia. She shows Claudia exercises for her baby, checks Dallana’s and Steevan’s health, and shows Claudia how to prepare healthful meals for her children. Each month Yina distributes food bags to Claudia and others in the program. Yina has also started a campaign to clean up garbage around homes every other week — an important step in helping keep away disease-carrying mosquitoes. Claudia, who quit drinking, goes to church to meet with other women for Bible studies and fellowship.
Yina’s support has also inspired Claudia to dream about her future. Because she only finished second grade, Claudia has started taking evening classes offered by the Ecuadorian government and hopes to be able to read and write within a year. “I’m not going to worry in the future,” Claudia says, “because I know the church will be by my side.”
Six-year-old Elsa has already weathered several storms. Recently, a serious skin infection from insects and filthy water made her sick, and her father abandoned her and her mother and sister.
Teresa, Elsa’s 25-year-old mom, quit her job collecting clams to take care of Elsa and often didn’t have enough food for her family. Many nights they went to bed hungry. Teresa didn’t have additional resources to pay for Elsa’s medical care — until she enrolled Elsa in Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program.
Once Elsa joined the program, Teresa took her to a dermatologist who diagnosed her with two difficult-to-heal skin infections that require an expensive medicine and lengthy treatments. Before the sickness, she used to be very active, she used to play a lot, says Teresa. But then when she was sick, she would just lie in bed, sleeping, so the energy was changing. Now she’s recovering an appetite. To make sure she progresses in her treatments and doesn’t contract another skin infection, Elsa’s dermatologist recommended rubber boots. But at only $10, they were too expensive for Teresa to afford. It would take special help through Compassion.
Elsa’s sparkly pink boots are a shining reminder of what can happen when a group of caring Christians rally around a child to protect her. They are a testament to the powerful presence of her sponsor, Amy Dierker — even though she is thousands of miles away in Ohio. Amy’s family sent a monetary gift — even without knowing what Elsa might need — that allowed Teresa to purchase the boots for Elsa. This physical protection from her harsh elements is just one aspect of her care — Pastor Jorge, his staff and Elsa’s sponsor also help nourish her spirit. Teresa says she’s thankful for Elsa’s sponsor. Smiling, Teresa says, “She’s really taking care of her.”
Elsa’s barrier against the grit and grime is also a testament to the months of committed care that pastor Jorge, his wife, Liz, and Jorge’s church staff have invested in Elsa and other children in her community. They know each child by name and invest their time in the community to see and address the children’s needs.
The home Elsa lives in, her grandmother’s, is crammed with nine people. Wooden stilts raise the home just enough to keep out the tide that fills the area under the house with about 5 feet of water each afternoon. Elsa’s mother and sister, Melanie, pictured here, share this bed with her.
Elsa’s healing and encouragement are possible because her sponsor has committed to pray for her and to send sponsorship support for her each month. But perhaps the most powerful encouragement is Elsa’s letters and photos from her sponsor. Elsa keeps them carefully folded on a shelf in her home where they won’t get wet or dirty. Each letter and photo is a lifeline for a girl who could easily feel bogged down by the difficult circumstances that have marooned her and her family on the island.
After fishing on his small boat, Jesus hoists his boat motor onto his back and makes his way to his house with his son Carlos, trudging past mudslicks and seashells. His motor, a $2,500 investment, is too valuable to leave on the boat. Ivon, Jesus’ wife, will fry the smallest fish to sell on the island and will sell the larger fish in San Lorenzo.
On this patch of the Pacific, just minutes from the Colombian border, drug smugglers and guerrillas pass Jesus’ boat on their way to hide out in the border town of San Lorenzo. Children in the area can end up in gangs or involved with drugs. But 9-year-old Carlos is sponsored through Compassion and is learning to think beyond his limited circumstances. When Carlos first started going to Compassion’s center, he didn’t participate in the activities. Now, after the encouragement and care of Pastor Jorge and his staff, Carlos studies his Bible and leads other children in prayer. Jesus is happy for this change in his son and prays that he and his siblings will continue to go to the church. “I think it is a good place for my children,” he says.
Jesus’ concrete home is bigger than most homes in Pampanal. He has four rooms — two bedrooms, one washroom, and a large room for cooking and sitting. He has worked hard to build a life for his family around his fishing. A 25 percent-interest loan he secured with a local bank allowed him to buy refrigerators, a boat, fishing nets and a boat motor — all vital to his livelihood. Still, Jesus does not make enough to provide for all his family’s needs. After paying an assistant fisherman and on his loan, he brings home about $10 per day for his family of eight.
Most days Jesus spends 11 hours on his boat, casting nets and hauling fish into his brightly painted skiff. The work takes a considerable amount of hand, arm and shoulder strength, and Jesus finds it difficult — his right hand was broken when he was a boy. The injury forced him to drop out of school when he was in eighth grade. Jesus hopes that Carlos and his other children will have more educational opportunities than he did.