|   Posted: May 01, 2024

These recent or soon-to-be graduates in Compassion’s program live in poverty, but they’re achieving their goals as their biggest supporters cheer them on.

Meet the Compassion Class of 2024

These recent or soon-to-be graduates in Compassion’s program live in poverty, but they’re achieving their goals as their biggest supporters cheer them on.

Story and photos by Juana Ordonez Martinez, Lina Marcela Alarcón Melina, Caroline A. Mwinemwesigwa, Zoe Noakes, Kevin Ouma, Piyamary Shinoda and Willow Welter
David Graduating

These promising young graduates are setting out to change the world. Whether completing university, Compassion’s program or high school, they’ve all withstood the challenges of poverty to grow into admirable young adults with their local churches, families and sponsors cheering them on.

Francisco from Colombia

Francisco from Colombia

Graduating from: university

Biggest supporters: great-grandfather Mateo, Compassion center director Enith


As a child in an impoverished Colombian community, Francisco didn’t have a home. He slept in the dusty parking lot of his great-grandfather’s workplace. His clothes were kept inside a broken refrigerator. A battered metal cabinet stored his most precious possessions — his Bible and the hammock he folded himself into each night under the stars.

As the parking attendant, his 87-year-old caregiver, Mateo, watched over cars in the mechanic’s lot for the night, on the lookout for thieves and vandals. He sacrificed sleep for the few precious pesos he used to support Francisco.

Life wasn’t always this way. But when Francisco was 4 years old, his father was jailed on drug charges. His mother took his two younger siblings and moved away. She couldn’t afford to raise Francisco too. The decision left wounds that the 22-year-old still feels today.

"I was still a child and needed the warmth of my mother," Francisco says, brushing away tears with his shirt collar.

At 5 years old, though, Francisco knew nothing of God. One day, Mateo took him to the local church. His mother had registered Francisco into Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program there before she left.

Back then, the child development center at the church held little appeal for Francisco. He preferred the freedom of playing on the streets. One day, when he was older, his tutor came looking for him. "Francisco!" she called. “We miss you. Come and write a letter to your sponsor.”

Francisco swore at her. "Leave me alone," he replied.

His older cousin was by his side. "Francisco, do me a favor. Respect her and go to the center to write the letter."

His quiet words cut through to Francisco’s heart. Head down, he followed his tutor to the center. "I wanted to be a better person," he remembers thinking. "I did not want to follow on the paths my relatives were following."

In the dim light of the church, he resolved that his life would be different — and he encountered the Lord. "It was the moment I met God. He spoke to me and told me that he was going to transform me, that he was going to change me," Francisco says. "And I realized I needed to find a new path, different from the one my family was on." He pauses. "If I hadn’t met Jesus, if my great-grandfather had not taken me to church, I don’t think I’d be here today."

Compassion’s program surrounded Francisco and his great-grandfather with a team of people, including center director Enith — who became like a mother to him — his tutors, and his sponsor, who all helped him keep moving forward.

This year, Francisco will graduate from university as a technologist — the first member of his family to have a white-collar job.

"Having the emotional support of the whole project helped me to begin thinking differently about my life. Now I have to be the person who will make that difference in my family, to move us forward. And help my dad see that he has a son who wants to help him."

Harriet from Uganada

Harriet from Uganda

Graduating from: Compassion’s program

Biggest supporters: grandfather, center staff member Lillian


Lillian, child development officer for health at Harriet’s center, says jobs are scarce in the community. So the center staff provide vocational training to youths in Compassion’s program.

"Every child is equipped with at least three skills by the time they exit from the center," Lillian says. "The goal is that they will have mastered at least one that they can pursue."

One skill the Compassion center staff taught the youths was how to make liquid soap. Harriet had been trained in baking and hairdressing, but the day she learned about soap-making, something felt different.

"The first day they brought a teacher to teach us at the center, I was very interested. I asked for the remaining chemicals to try out at home. The soap I made was good. I had mastered the skill. It was easy!"

To get capital for more soap-making ingredients, Harriet baked and sold tiny doughnuts locally known as “daddies.” Harriet’s center also helped her buy a table, a big bucket for mixing the liquid and jerrycans to store the soap.

She used the profits from baking and a contribution from her grandfather, who raised her, to buy more soap supplies. Initially, she sold to her neighbors and the shops near her home. To her surprise, the nearest hotel started buying her soap. So did her grandfather’s friends and shops and clinics in her community.

Now 22, Harriet is about to graduate from the Compassion program.

"I want to become the biggest businesswoman in this town selling liquid soap," says Harriet.

Her next goal is to officially register her business and label her products, which will allow her to sell in local supermarkets. From there, she hopes to scale up production and sell her liquid soap beyond her town.

Lillian and the center staff are excited to see where Harriet will go in life — and they are always willing to support and guide her in her dreams for her business. They have tasked Harriet with writing a vision and a five-year plan for her business.

"Harriet will be very successful," Lillian declares.

David from Honduras

David from Honduras

Graduating from: Compassion’s program and high school

Biggest supporters: sponsor Oliver, parents (pictured with David above)


When David was 7, he was registered in Compassion’s program at his local church. He says he’ll never forget the first impression it made on him.

"The classroom I walked in was a colorful and fun place where I instantly felt happy, welcomed and safe. When singing worship songs with [physical movements], I started breaking the shell of shyness that I had on me."

He remembers learning about Bible heroes through illustrated stories, role-playing and puppet shows the center staff put on.

"A few months after registering, I received some good news — I had a sponsor named Oliver from Australia. I was thrilled to write to him my introduction letter with the help of my mom."

It wasn’t long before Oliver wrote him back, telling him about his hobbies and family.

"Our exchange of letters became so frequent that we soon went from pen pals to becoming family," David says. "As an only child, Oliver became like a big brother to me, and I started calling him that in my letters."

For more than 12 years, David and Oliver sent letters to each other detailing their adventures and big life moments, such as Oliver’s wedding and the birth of his children. “Every month I looked forward to receiving his letters, family photos, words of encouragement and Bible verses.”

David, now 18, is about to graduate from Compassion’s program. He’s begun writing his final letter to “big brother Oliver.”

"I have mixed feelings about finishing this incredible journey that changed my life in every possible way," he says. "I’m grateful to the center staff for their dedication, love and support. I’m grateful for my mom and dad, who have been there every step of the way."

David plans to apply to Honduras’ air force academy to become a pilot. "If I make it through and finish my training and flying hours, I’ll try to pursue a scholarship to get a university degree to become a doctor."

David requests prayers that his application will be accepted!

Anurak from Thailand

Anurak from Thailand

Graduating from: university

Biggest supporters: art teacher, sponsor Scott


Anurak was a young boy when his father died. But despite his loss, he says the people in his life when he was a child in Compassion’s program — his tutors, friends and sponsor — helped give him a good childhood and fond memories.

Anurak says he began dreaming about his future in art class. He had an especially inspirational art teacher who helped him think about who he wanted to be when he grew up. The teacher was one of many caring adults in Anurak’s life. Another was his sponsor.

"My most precious memory is of my sponsor and how he made me feel that I had a complete family," Anurak says. "His name was Scott."

After Anurak graduated from Compassion’s program in 2012, he wasn’t exactly sure what career to pursue. He changed jobs many times, unable to find fulfilling work. But then he decided to enroll in higher education.

"Today, I am graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political science," says Anurak, who works as an assistant to the area chief, where he has a voice in politics and local decision-making. Because of his good character, he received a scholarship from the Thailand government to complete his degree in politics.

Janet from Kenya

Janet from Kenya

Graduating from: Compassion’s program

Biggest supporters: sister, church staff


When Janet was 9, her adult sister came to collect her from their family home. Their father had two other wives and many children, and he couldn’t afford to pay for Janet’s education.

“I brought my sister to live with me, since I knew our parents did not have the resources needed to provide for her,” says Charity, Janet’s sister. “At least with me, she had a chance at something.”

While living with her sister, Janet helped with the house chores as the family sought ways to take her to school. One Sunday at church, Charity heard about a program for children from low-income families. Janet was registered and began receiving immediate support, including the ability to pay for school.

Church staff were also available for the children, encouraging them, educating them, loving them. They helped shift Janet’s worldview.

“I stopped seeing myself as a victim,” Janet says. “The encouragement and lessons I got from the church staff changed my worldview and how I perceived myself.”

As she neared the end of her time in Compassion’s program, Janet approached the church and asked them to help her begin earning an income. The church asked her to put together a proposal. Janet planned to begin growing bean crops if the center could help her with the right supplies and equipment. The staff agreed and provided her with all that she needed to begin her own farm, including seeds and a tractor to till the land.

Janet continued to cultivate her bean crops. When she’s not in the fields, she’s often volunteering at the Compassion center. With her graduation from the program soon coming up, she is grateful for all the lessons she has learned and is determined to help the younger children who face many of the same struggles she endured.

“I realize that nothing in my life has been a mistake, and I am grateful for everything Compassion has done for me,” she says.

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