Monday, 21 January 2013

Faith and Silas

Before heading home for the holidays we had the opportunity to visit two children we are currently sponsoring in Kenya through Compassion Canada. Our plan, from the moment we decided to go to Africa, was to visit our sponsor children during the Christmas break and then to do some traveling around East Africa afterwards. We have been sponsoring our children, Faith and Silas, for a little under 3 years and were so stoked to meet them. As you can imagine, our relationship with our children before meeting them was quite limited and confined to a few letters and picture exchanges each year. Because of this, we felt a deep longing to meet Faith and Silas in person, to show them how much we cared for them and to see, firsthand, how our sponsorship was affecting their lives.

Both of our children live in the surrounding area of Mombasa, Kenya. We intentionally chose children living in the same country, but we didn’t expect for them to live as close to each other as they did (approximately 2 hours apart). This was a huge relief for us while planning our visit because it meant one less flight or bus ride to worry about! We stayed in Mombasa for 5 days in total – 3 for sightseeing and 2 to visit our kids. (Highlights from our sightseeing days in Mombasa will be posted in a separate post!)

Day 1
On the first day, we visited Faith, our sponsor daughter who is 9 years old. For both visits, we had a Compassion Kenya guide with us the entire time, which allowed us to enjoy the day and not worry about anything other than connecting with our children.

Faith, our sponsor daughter
We first met Faith at her community project, where we were introduced to the project committee and inundated with A LOT of information about Compassion as an organization, how it operates in Kenya, and how it cares for the children in its program. It was interesting for us to be on the other side of things – to be the ones receiving, not giving, information about an organization! We don’t want to bore you with all the details but do think it’s important to briefly explain how the organization runs:
  • Compassion sets up projects in some of the poorest rural communities within each of the countries they operate in.
  • Each project is managed by a committee of volunteer representatives from the community and parents, together with paid Compassion employees (teachers, a treasurer, a project director, etc.).
  • Hundreds of children are selected from the community to be a part of the project. Each child is selected based on set criteria. Some of these include: being between the age of 3 and 8, the child’s family and home situation, proximity to the project, etc.
  • Only one child is selected per family, unless there are extenuating circumstances. The reason for this is because, in Compassion’s view, benefits that the child receives through the sponsorship program flow through to the rest of his/her family.
  • Sponsorship funds are used to assist the child in purchasing school uniforms, paying the salaries of the project committee members, assisting with clinic and medical fees, paying for the food at the project, assisting with living conditions, etc.
  • Children typically attend government schools from Monday to Friday and then attend programs as the project every Saturday. At the project, children receive one meal, attend remedial classes to assist them with their schoolwork and are educated on Compassion’s four areas of child development – spiritual, physical, economic and social.
  • Ideally, the sponsorship program continues with the child until the age of 22. At this point, the hope is that the child will have completed post-secondary education and will be in a position to give back to his/her community.
As expected, Faith was very shy at first but, thankfully, our time in community with Hands has really prepared us to deal with shy children and awkward silences, and not to take it personally if children don’t open up to us right away! After the introductions, the information session and a tour of the project and classroom, we finally got the chance to interact with Faith and her friends at the project and to have some fun. We visited the children in their classrooms and played games and sang songs with them, which we’ve learnt is the most effective way to break the ice! At the end, we handed out candy to all of the children (which they loved!) and then prayed with them.

Us and the Compassion kids outside the project
Dance-off! Team Canada versus Team Kenya

Planting our very own tree at the project

After playing with the kids, we went to Faith’s home and visited her family. She lives with her mom, dad and little sister in an extremely small, one-room house. Faith’s parents share a bed while Faith and her sister sleep on a small mattress on the floor. The house is divided by a flimsy piece of fabric, separating the bedroom from the living area. The kitchen and bathroom are located outside of the house. The entire house was probably just a little larger than the kitchen in our condo back home! It actually reminded us a lot of the homes we’ve visited in the community with Hands.

In preparation for our child visits, we purchased gifts for our children (clothes, toys, school supplies, etc.) and their families (groceries and household items). After presenting Faith’s family with their gifts, we were so touched when Faith’s mom brought out gifts that she had purchased just for us. It was a really special moment to be able to connect with not only Faith but her entire family. After a delicious, traditional Kenyan lunch back at the project, we said goodbye to Faith, so thankful and honored that we got to spend an entire day getting to know her and connecting with her and her family!

Faith's family gave us matching shitenges (African wrap skirts)
The whole family together with the Compassion workers outside Faith's home

Day 2
We visited Silas the next day. Silas, an 8-year old boy living with his single mom and 5 brothers and sisters, lives in a mud hut in a rural area along the coast. After arriving at the project, we were again presented with a ton of information about Compassion (most of which was the same as what we heard the day before!). After about 15 minutes, Silas finally arrived with his mother following a few minutes behind him. Although Silas is only 8 years old, he was just about as tall as his mom. We later found out that Silas’ mom had Polio when she was a child. Her illness went untreated and has left her with a crippled foot and leg. Needless to say, because of her disability, earning income to support her and her 6 children is a huge struggle for her. This is one of the factors that contributed to Silas being selected as part of the project.

The moment we first met Silas. Look at how shy he is!
Best friends
Silas appeared even shyer than Faith. He was so timid that he could barely even make eye contact with us! After introductions, Silas took a seat between us as the project director continued his remarks about the project. As the director was speaking, I (Diane) could hear poor Silas’ stomach growling. I thought maybe he just had cramps or gas (which would be fitting, given who his sponsor dad is!). The growling continued and I soon realized that they were hunger pains. This nearly broke my heart. I reached into my purse and pulled out two apples, one for Silas and one for his mom. Silas was so shy that he was hesitant to even eat the fruit we had given him. I had to interrupt the director and ask him to say to Silas in Swahili, “It’s okay to eat the apple now.”

Going through Silas' Compassion file
Somebody's back got very sweaty ...
Our day with Silas was structured similarly to our day with Faith, except that there were no other children at the project to sing songs and play games with. The one thing that we did mention to our guide was that we wanted more one-on-one time with Silas, which was incorporated into the schedule after we exchanged gifts with Silas’ family. This time was extremely valuable to us. While we appreciated the fact that Compassion went out of their way to provide us with a plethora of information about the organization, the main purpose of our visits was to connect with our children. Even though communication with Silas (and Faith) was limited, due to their lack of English, we enjoyed being able to spend time and sit with him, away from our guide and the project committee members. One of the gifts we gave Silas was a brand new soccer ball, which he LOVED! The majority of our one-on-one time with Silas was spent kicking around the ball with his brother as his mom and younger sisters looked on. It was one of the only times during the day we saw Silas out of his shell and laughing. It was a truly memorable moment!
New soccer ball!
Family photo time
We can now add another matching skirt set to our collection
One part of the visit that made us quite sad was to see the living conditions of Silas and his family. Apparently, their house had recently collapsed and, as a result, Silas, along with his mother and two younger siblings, moved into one of his older brothers’ house. Silas slept on one bed with his younger sister while his mother shared a bed with the youngest sibling. Half of the house’s straw roof was exposed, leaving the family vulnerable to rain. In the meantime, Silas’ older brothers are working on building a new house for the family but it is still in its early stages. A huge obstacle for the family is that they do not have the resources to buy the necessary housing materials. This is where our sponsorship can make a big difference, having been told that some of our donated funds have already greatly assisted the family with their housing needs.

Silas' bed, made out of wooden sticks and a very thin foam mattress
The beginnings of Silas' new home
Meeting and spending time with our two sponsor children has definitely been one of the most special times for us since being in Africa. Our hope is that our visit was an encouragement and a blessing to not only our children but also the staff at the projects and the other children. For us, to be able to meet Faith and Silas deepened our commitment to support them and encourage them through letters and pictures. We hope to have the opportunity to visit them again in the future!

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