Compassion Experience offers a walk through extreme poverty.
What was most upsetting was the display of photographs at the end of the exhibit — the pictures of small children with smiling faces and a sense of longing in their eyes. These were the children who lacked a sponsor, someone to share comforting words, send daily necessities and give them hope.
I was one of thousands of people who experienced Compassion International’s immersive exhibit that was set up at West Orlando Christian Center, Church of God in Christ on a recent weekend.
After receiving a set of headphones and an iPod, I parted the printed bed sheet that acted as a doorway and my journey into the poverty-stricken lives of Jey and Yannely began. Replicas of their home life stared back at me: an aged mattress where siblings fought for space to sleep, interior walls stained with rainwater, “dolls” made of hardened mud, makeshift cooking spaces and meager meals, a small window with a glimpse of the destitute neighborhood outside.
Jey’s story was first. A young boy’s voice told me the story of growing up in one of the poorest Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya. His family made and sold moonshine to bring in a few extra dollars. As a child, he and his family moved into his grandmother’s small house, forcing 15 people to live and sleep together. He was sent to jail when he was 9 after getting caught stealing; conditions weren't much better there.
In Yannely’s story, food is scarce. She talks about looking out her window in her Dominican Republic town and wondering if any of the men walking by could be her father. He rejected her so she has her mother’s last name, but without her father’s name, she can’t finish school.
When she finally learns his identity, she passes his house frequently and eventually gets enough nerve to knock on his door. He again rejects his daughter.
Yannely says she has frequent stomachaches, but her town lacks doctors. She thinks she might want to be a doctor someday.
In following the heartbreaking stories of these two young people, I
Their stories had happy endings, though I’m sure those of many of the children in their towns do not. For Jey and Yannely, hope came in the way of Compassion International sponsorships. During my short journey with the children, the walls became brighter as their lives took a positive turn. Leaking walls turned into colorful classrooms, and by the end of the tour, I was glad to see Jey has become a successful disc jockey and youth minister and Yannely did, indeed, become a doctor.
As I finished their stories, I entered a room where dozens of children were waiting for someone to brighten their future.
SPONSOR A CHILD
The disturbing reality is that more than 2,400 children on the Compassion International website lack a sponsor. Glancing through the pages and pages of photos of little children, I was stung by the reality that most of the faces were older boys.
As Jey said in his journey, “I know who gets a sponsor; the youngest, cutest get sponsored first.”
Many people are drawn to the images of pigtails and pillowcase dresses. If I were in a position to sponsor someone, I would search for the oldest boy and include him in my family circle.
ANOTHER CHANCE TO EXPERIENCE
The Compassion Experience is returning to Winter Garden April 1-5 when Compassion International sets up the free exhibit at Church of the Messiah, 241 N. Main St. The exhibit is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 1 and 2, and Monday and Tuesday, April 4 and 5; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, April 3. Walk-ins are welcome; reservations can be made at compassionexperience.com and click on the church name.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].