By: Willow Welter with Bernard Gbagba   |   Posted: January 11, 2018

The Church steps up to help a girl missing her father.

How Sponsors Helped Reunite a Family in Africa

The Church steps up to help a girl missing her father.

Written by Willow Welter with Bernard Gbagba
Photography by Bernard Gbagba, Sean Sheridan and Daron Short
Ablavi embraces her mother

Ablavi, a 13-year-old sponsored girl, embraces her mother, Ama.

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Each night Ablavi crowded onto a mat on the dirt floor with her five siblings, parents and two grandparents to sleep. The mat took up most of the 6-foot-by-6-foot home. Those who couldn’t fit on the mat slept on pieces of fabric spread out next to it.

Discomfort wasn’t the only drawback of packing together night after night in the humid heat of Togo. The children developed scabies and ringworm, and treatment was out of reach. Their parents, Ama and Amevi, couldn’t afford enough food for the family, let alone skin medicines.

Amevi spent much of 2011 worrying about his family’s problems. Poor sleep, nutrition and health made it nearly impossible for his kids to perform well in school. His daughter Ablavi had speech problems and didn’t speak as often or as articulately as her 7-year-old peers. She’d failed her most recent year of primary school. Her father needed more work, but bricklaying jobs were scarce in the village. He began considering a solution he knew would break his daughter’s heart.

LONG-DISTANCE DAD

As Amevi searched in vain for sufficient work, he heard of a village with a higher demand for bricklaying. If he went there to work, he thought, he could send back money to his family. It was too far away to commute without the luxury of transportation, so he’d have to move there to work.

Ablavi with her parents and some of her siblings

Ablavi, front right, with her parents and some of her siblings in 2013.

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Ama wanted her husband to stay with the family even though it meant their children wore rags and often went hungry. But Amevi had made up his mind. He moved away and began sending home the equivalent of $30 a month.

“Since he left us, it’s hard to take care of the children,” said Ama, who was raising six kids in a village without electricity. “I have always believed that we have to stick together to educate them.”

Ablavi outside her home with her mom and two of her five siblings

Ablavi, left, outside her home with her mom and two of her five siblings.

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Although the $30 a month that Amevi sent home was more than the family had before, it was gone by midmonth to rent and food. “Often, I have to go and sell coconuts and do other housework in town to feed my children,” Ama said. Her kids helped their mom as best they could. Ablavi collected the family’s water. Each morning, she walked 2 miles to the nearest well to fill a container before walking home. Then she turned around and made the trip a second time.

Hope came in 2012 when Ablavi was 8 years old. Ama heard that a church in their village was starting a program to help children. Working with Compassion, the church would match each child with a sponsor, who would send monthly support and letters of encouragement. The sponsor would help pay for the child’s school fees, tutoring, Bible lessons, meals and recreational activities. But perhaps the most important benefit to Ama was the health care. The only “medicine” she could afford when her kids got sick was her homemade soup — and that was just on days when she had enough money for the ingredients. Ama agreed with the church workers that the program would be perfect for Ablavi, and she registered her daughter immediately.

Ablavi outside the church that runs her Compassion program

Ablavi outside the church that runs her Compassion program.

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ONE FAMILY TO ANOTHER

When Ablavi began going to a child development center at the church for Compassion activities, her tutors recognized that she had a speech impediment. They gave her one-on-one attention each week, working with her until she was speaking at the level of her peers. She was eating better thanks to the nutritious meals served at the center. The extra tutoring in academics helped her perform better at public school.

Ablavi holds a photo of her sponsors

Ablavi holds up a photo of her sponsors, Doug and Linda Pfaff. They sent a gift of $1,000 that greatly improved life for Ablavi and her family.

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Sponsors holding a picture of Ablavi

Linda and Doug Pfaff of Colorado hold a picture of Ablavi, whom they’ve sponsored since 2012.

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Ablavi writing a letter to her sponsors

Ablavi sits down at a desk in her home to write a letter to her sponsors.

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But Ablavi’s dad still lived far away, and she missed him. She wrote about it in her letters to her sponsors, Linda and Doug Pfaff in Colorado. “We are very much family oriented,” says Linda, who had been enjoying letter exchanges with Ablavi. “And when we found out that her father wasn’t even with them, that made us think: Oh, my goodness. Kids need their parents.”

About a year after they started sponsoring, the Pfaffs found out they could send a family gift — money that would help Ablavi’s family with expenses not covered by sponsorship. Doug and Linda say they wanted to send a family gift because they wanted to pass on the blessings in their own lives — two sons, daughters-in-law, six grandchildren and a successful family business. So they sent $1,000.

“But we had no idea the magnitude of [how] the gift would help,” Doug says.

How could he have known that $1,000 would solve two of the family’s biggest problems?

‘FUTURE WITH GREAT HOPE’

Ablavi, now 13, no longer crowds together with nine family members to sleep. There is more room to sleep, study and play, now that she lives in a newly built two-bedroom home.

The church workers who run Ablavi’s Compassion program worked with her mother to decide how the family gift should be spent. They arranged for the construction of a new home, which cost about $650, and the purchase of livestock for the family. The home is much larger and belongs to Ablavi’s parents, who no longer have to worry about rent payments. Ablavi’s grandparents stayed in the other home, which is better suited for two people than 10.

Ablavi standing outside her family’s new home

Ablavi, 9 at the time, stood outside her family’s new home when it was still under construction in 2013. It is made of clay bricks with a tin roof — standard home materials in this Togolese village.

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Ablavi holds one of her family’s goats

Ablavi, now 13, holds one of her family’s goats outside her new home. A chalkboard on the wall outside helps Ablavi and her siblings study and learn when they aren’t at school.

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But even better than living in a new home is living together again. When Amevi learned how his daughter’s sponsors had alleviated the family’s burdens, he was finally able to return home. This created more stability for Ablavi’s siblings, who started performing better in school — just like their sister had when she joined Compassion’s program. Her brother David is among the top five students in his class.

“I want to thank the sponsors of my daughter,” Ama says. “With this gift, we see the future with great hope. We have a house that belongs to us and our family is now united. I am filled with great joy for what God has done for us.”

God Answers a Girl’s Prayers: How child sponsorship through Compassion International helped a girl in Togo overcome the many challenges of poverty.