|   Posted: December 09, 2016

My life has changed only because someone believed that they could make a difference. That they could release a child from poverty.

Olive Aneno

My life has changed only because someone believed that they could make a difference. That they could release a child from poverty.

Home Country: Uganda

Occupation: Olive currently lives with her family in Georgia and is a mental health social worker with the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.

Life Goal: "One of the proudest moments of my life is when I was able to pick a child packet off of a table. I sponsor two Compassion children. Because Christ extended grace to us. Why then should we keep it to ourselves?

When you were 5 years old, what were you afraid of? Monsters? The dark? For most of us, those fears can be calmed easily. A flip of a light switch. The reassuring words of our parents that monsters aren’t real.

But for Olive Aneno, the dark held real fears. Real monsters.

It was the first day of school in Olive’s village in Kitgum, Uganda. She remembers watching her friends walk down the path, begging her grandfather to let her go, too.

"You’re not ready," he said simply. So all day long she worked with her grandparents in the fields, lonely, wishing she had someone to play with. The sun rose high in the sky, and as it began to lower, she ran to the edge of the village to watch for her friends to come home.

It was dark before word finally got to the village. The school had been attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army. The older boys had been kidnapped and recruited. The younger children had been killed.

There were no survivors

That day changed Olive’s life. For the next several years, her grandmother would hand Olive and her cousins a blanket each night and tell them to go hide in the forests. The army was burning villages, so the only safe place was hiding deep in the woods.

"We had to hide alone," says Olive. "If you hid in groups, they would find you."

Alone in the dark, sometimes Olive would hear the monsters – soldiers prowling through the woods. She heard the muffled cries of her cousins. And sometimes, she heard their screams.

Olive as a child
Man sitting playing guitar with children standing and signing

Olive says that on the worst nights, when she wasn’t sure if she would survive until the morning, she would recite the 23rd Psalm. Her grandfather used to teach Olive and the other village children Bible verses. He gave out treats to those who memorized verses. And Olive loved treats.

But now, the verses were more than a way to earn a piece of candy. They helped calm her breathing. Settle her rapidly beating heart. Even close her eyes and rest as she repeated the words over and over in her head.

"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."

The promises in those verses are what Olive clung to for the next decade. Olive and her family traveled from village to village until Olive finally went to live with her mother in Kampala. Olive’s mother enrolled her at a local Compassion center that helped provide food, clothing and education fees for Olive. She began getting letters from Maria and Hans, her sponsors, in which they wrote Bible verses. They brought Olive back to her grandfather, to the comforting words he spoke. They were the words 11-year-old Olive clung to when her mother tragically died. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

A refugee fleeing war. A daughter orphaned and alone. Olive refused to be defined by those labels. With the help of Compassion and the support of Maria and Hans, Olive began attending a boarding school. She was a star volleyball player, and she was hopeful that she would be recruited by a university.

But then, another tragedy. When Olive was a junior in high school, she began to feel ill. Compassion arranged for her to visit a doctor, who diagnosed the girl with tuberculosis.

At the time, 90 percent of people who came down with TB in Uganda died. For the next year, Olive remained in the hospital, fighting for her life. The Compassion staff visited her, brought her food and made sure she was getting the medical care she needed.

Current image of Olive against brick wall

Next to her bed, Olive kept a stack of letters from Maria and Hans. She read their words when she couldn’t sleep. When she felt scared.

"God has a plan for you," they wrote. "We love you. We hope you’re doing well. We will do everything in our power to release you from poverty in Jesus’ name."

Olive says she remembers the day she heard her doctor speaking with the Compassion staff, explaining what kind of diet she would need to follow when she came home.

"It was then that I knew I would be OK," says Olive. "Because, finally, they were talking about me coming home."

Olive recovered slowly and was finally able to return to school. She was in fact recruited for volleyball – but by a university in the United States! Olive went to South Carolina State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. She then went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of Georgia in 2007. Today, Olive works with the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.

"I am a social worker right now in Georgia," says Olive. "I work with a lot of children that have severe and emotional behaviors. It’s a challenge, but looking back at experiences that I’ve gone through, I look back and say, this is what I was meant to do!

"My life has changed only because someone believed that they could make a difference. That they could release a child from poverty. And I’m here only because Christ lives in me, and Christ worked through my sponsors to transform me and to heal me. Compassion made it possible for me to be where I am today by giving me hope."