I still remember the days when we had nothing to eat at home. Even so, my parents used to make my siblings and I sit at the table together. My sister, upset, used to say, “Dad, why are we here? Where is the food?”
My dad would reply, “Can you not see the food? Can you not see these beautiful cakes and sandwiches? Try to smell the food, my dear!”
Then we would imagine delicious meals, our favorite ones, wishing they would become a reality.
“There’s a lot of food on the table by the power of faith, right, Dad?” my sister concluded.
That’s all we knew: We lived by faith. And then, as if by magic — or better, a miracle — people knocked on our door, bringing us the night’s meal.
Probably because of that time, I was always a big dreamer.
Love Against All Odds
Since I was little, I remember my parents doing all they could to provide for us. We lived in a two-room house in Brazil without a bathroom or toilet. My parents slept in one room, and my four siblings and I shared the other. We’d bathe in the backyard with a bucket and relieve ourselves in a hole in the corner of the yard.
My father worked in a cafeteria, and my mother was a maid. She sold fruit at the fair for extra cash when she had time. Sometimes my father would cycle more than 4 miles just to get a few liters of milk from relatives’ houses.
I still remember that when my parents were invited to dinner or a party in the community, we had to decide which child would go with them because we had just one pair of shoes to share.
Despite our challenges, my parents were — and still are — the most generous people I have ever met. I recall many times when they shared things with people even while we had almost nothing at home. If my mother received, for example, a donation of two milk cans, she gave one to a neighbor who was also in need. “We have almost nothing; why are you still sharing our stuff, Mom?” I used to think.
Against all these odds, she spread only love, doing everything she could to give her family a better future. I didn’t understand my parents then, but now I look back and see what they were teaching me about loving people.
Even at a young age, though, I was inspired by my mother’s words and continued dreaming big for the future. I was always among adults, trying to understand what they were talking about. My mother says that I was quite annoying because I was constantly asking “why?” about everything. My mind was always working on big plans, imagining big things and accomplishments. People used to say I should “get my feet on the ground” and be more realistic.
But I knew I wanted to have a meaningful life. I wanted to give my parents a better life, buy them a suitable home and, most importantly, change the world for the better.
When a loving sponsor paved the way for me to start attending Compassion’s child development center, a new world opened up for me.
Before that, while I was lost in my ambitious dreams, everything seemed so far away from me. I knew I wanted a different life from the one we had, but I had no idea how to get there.
The Compassion center helped me set realistic expectations and take it one step at a time. Instead of having thousands of goals, I learned to create focus amid all the opportunities the center offered us. There, I learned to discover and develop different skills — including my leadership abilities.
Even more possibilities unlocked as my family met the Compassion center. I still remember our first family Christmas with a real Christmas dinner. The center director presented us with a basket of food for supper and even sent gifts to me and my brothers. It was an unforgettable night.
My mother was so engaged with the center’s activities that she was invited to work there as a volunteer. Over time, she became a teacher, then a coordinator, and 15 years ago she became the center director. I am so proud of my mother; today, she is dedicated to the education of hundreds of children.