By: Raenu Charles   |   Posted: December 29, 2022

As a child, my mother was sponsored in Compassion’s program in India. As an adult, she helped give our family the opportunity to sponsor a child too — and to travel across the world to meet her. Here’s our story.

How a Legacy of Sponsorship Led My Mom and I to Kenya

As a child, my mother was sponsored in Compassion’s program in India. As an adult, she helped give our family the opportunity to sponsor a child too — and to travel across the world to meet her. Here’s our story.

Written by Raenu Charles
Photography by Chuck Bigger, Raenu Charles and Arima
Arima smiles at the camera
Arima, the young woman in Kenya who the Charles family sponsored.

“You have no idea how long I’ve prayed for this,” said my mom, Anita Charles, as she lay on her twin-sized mattress beneath a bright blue mosquito net.

We were in Wamba, Kenya to visit Arima, a girl we had sponsored through Compassion for over a decade. When we’d first picked up her child packet at a Compassion Sunday event at our church, we’d chosen her because she was the same age as me. Now, we’re both 22. I was headed to Kenya on a study abroad, and my mom planned to join me once it was finished. It was the perfect opportunity for us to finally meet Arima.

“Prayed for what?” I asked absently, absorbed in unpacking.

“Look at that green folder,” she said.

I opened up the green plastic folder strewn amidst our belongings, thick with papers. Inside was every picture, every drawing and every letter that Arima had ever sent us, including her original sponsor packet. My mom had kept it all.

For anyone, meeting their sponsored child is an anticipated, emotional moment. For my mom, there’s an added layer of meaning. Forty years ago, a sponsorship packet from Oregon held a picture of her, a smiling young girl from Chennai, India. She knew how important every one of Arima’s letters were because she used to write them too.

Chennai, 1980s

My mom grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in one of India’s largest cities, Chennai. She and her brother were raised by a single mother on a teacher’s salary. Though my mom had a supportive network of cousins, aunts and grandmothers to help her grow emotionally and spiritually, the family struggled. She and my uncle took turns sleeping on the ground as there was only room for one bed. There were often cockroaches in their sugar.

In India, as in Kenya, the public education system is often underfunded and overcrowded. An education at public school often doesn’t set students up to go to college or find a career, pressuring parents who want a better future for their children to pay for private school. These fees are a huge barrier to quality education, and my Pati (grandmother) was struggling to pay them.

One of my mom’s teachers noticed the family’s struggles and helped register my mom in Compassion’s program at a local church.

Because of the sponsorship through Compassion, I was able to go to a school that taught me to love Jesus and that gave me a good education,” my mom says. “Having the love of Jesus and having education — both bring lifelong fulfillment.

My mom was able to go to college and received a degree in mechanical engineering. She met my dad in welding class, and in 1995, they got married. My dad decided to pursue a graduate degree in Toledo, Ohio, and almost 30 years ago, they moved to the United States and started a family. And eventually, her new life in Toledo led her to the Compassion Sunday, where we chose to sponsor Arima.

Wamba, Kenya, 2022

After a nauseating flight, my mom and I arrived in Wamba. Kenya has a diverse terrain with cooler mountain areas and lush lake habitats, but Wamba was dry, hot and grassy. The sun was relentless, and I was thirsty minutes after landing. On the ride to our guesthouse, children ran after our tourist van, asking not for money but for a bottle of water. Samburu women walked down the street, regal in beaded collars and brightly colored capes, while kids trotted around with makeshift toys.

We met up with Miriam, the director of Arima’s former Compassion center, and her friend Victoria, a local teacher. The two walked us down the dusty streets of Wamba, introducing us to the town. They explained the culture to us, the beauties of it and the challenges that it brought to their work at the Compassion center.

Miriam outside Arima’s Compassion center

Miriam outside Arima’s Compassion center


Miriam explained that due to the extreme need in Wamba, there are dozens of nonprofits in the town in addition to the four Compassion projects in the area. While many people are able to make a livelihood through business or raising livestock, it’s a harsh area to live. Arima walks 3 miles to get water for her family, which she must carry back in heavy jugs. The region is experiencing a historically long drought, which has devalued livestock, intensified malnutrition and increased ethnic tensions.

Many families are forced to choose between sending their kids to school and feeding them. Even with sponsorship, with seven siblings, Arima’s family often goes to bed hungry. Her brother Topias was chosen to shepherd the family’s livestock and stay home from school. He’s 15 and has the education level of a third grader.

Because of the sponsorship, Arima was able to eat at the Compassion center, receive an education rather than work and learn from members of her own culture, who are involved in Compassion, about which practices are best left behind. For example, in Samburu culture, Female Genital Mutliation (FGM) is still practiced as a traditional rite of passage. Miriam works tirelessly to educate families about the way it harms girls, fighting a battle against a centuries-old tradition.

Meeting Arima

Anita and Arima

My mom and I woke up early in anticipation of Arima’s arrival.

When she arrived at the center midmorning, she and my mother saw each other for the first time: They and both burst into tears, clutching each other.

With big smiles, we all boarded our tour van and headed to Arima’s school. Though both of us are 22, Arima is a junior in high school. She wasn’t able to start her education until she was sponsored at around 6 years old, so she was already behind. The pandemic also shut down almost two years of school for all of Wamba, leaving the entire community of children without education.

Anita and Arima

On the ride there, my mom pulled out the green folder, showing Arima all of the letters and drawings she’d saved over the years. Arima giggled shyly. In one of the letters, Arima had listed out all of her family members, and my mom asked for an update on each one. Arima told us that during the pandemic, she’d gained a new sibling, bringing her brothers and sisters to a total of seven!

After seeing Arima’s school, we drove to her house. It was made of sticks and a tarp, a small cement structure and a pen for the goats. In Samburu, these huts, known as Manyattas, make warm, safe homes for many Kenyans.

Arima looks out of her front door

Arima’s mother rushed to greet us. She and my mom embraced each other for a long moment.

“My Pati probably felt like this too,” my mom said later, speaking of the gratitude and affection Arima’s mother honored us with.

Arima’s father came out too and announced that he’d be killing a goat for all of us to enjoy together for lunch. My mom and I looked at each other with large eyes. We knew this was enormously generous and culturally significant, but it was also an experience we weren’t prepared for!

As we entered the family’s complex, Arima’s siblings and friends greeted us shyly and happily, and my mom passed around the folder of Arima’s childhood drawings of the family. As they laughed at pictures of little Arima, Arima’s brother Topias selected a goat for us to eat. Arima’s father insisted we watch the slaughter, and while the goat was killed, we gathered desert scrub to cook it on.

Arima’s family looks back on her child packet

Arima’s family looks back on her child packet from when she was first sponsored in Compassion’s program.


While a plethora of friends and family cooked our lunch, we chatted with Arima and her friends over tea. We learned so much more about the girl we had only known through letters: Arima hopes to go to college to study business after she graduates from high school. She had never left Wamba before. Her favorite food was the goat stew that was being made. She spoke and understood much better English than we had previously believed, and she didn’t have a cellphone.

That weekend, we took Arima and her younger siblings, along with Miriam, to a resort a few hours away. We splashed around in a pool, went on safari and ate buffet food together. Arima fell in love with the camera and became a bit of a photographer herself!

Arima's brother, Topias

Arima, who had never used a camera before, took a lot of photos — including this one of her brother Topias.


It was all new for all of us, and we were able to spend quality time getting to know each other. Arima is smart, savvy, sociable and funny. She’ll make a great businesswoman one day, and we plan to support her in the rest of her academic endeavors. I believe she’ll give back to her community the way thousands of Compassion children do and will continue to be a blessing to those around her.

Going Forward

the author's family

My family, from left: My father, Jey, my sister Nithya, me, my mom and sister Rupa.


Forty years ago, a couple from Oregon sponsored a girl from India* who grew up to sponsor a girl from Kenya. One couple made the decision to sacrifice monthly, and it has changed the lives of two generations of women.

Upon returning from Kenya, we hosted a Compassion Sunday event at our church, where six children from Wamba were sponsored. My two sisters and I took home a child packet as well for a little boy from Arima’s Compassion center named Alvine.

Compassion changed my mom’s life, Arima’s life and mine. Sometimes when your donation is coming out of your account through auto pay and you haven’t had the chance to write your child a letter, it can be hard to imagine the difference that you’re making. But trust my mom and I when we say: It means everything.

*Compassion ended operations in India in 2017 but continues to honor and praise God for a half a century of lifesaving work in the country.

the author

About the author: Raenu Charles is a graduate student at Michigan State University studying international journalism.

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