Joy in the Face of Poverty Part 2: Visiting our Compassion Sponsor Children

  • by Shala Graham
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As the mission trip caught their flights back to the States on July 10th, my mother and I began a day-long journey to visit the three children that SW Creatives sponsors through Compassion International. Compassion partners with local churches to meet the needs of the poor in their communities. Each full-time team member at SW Creatives has a sponsored child that they write to. We first sponsored Adrian in October 2011, then sponsored Adrian Paul and Rhoann in January 2012, and have spent time writing and sharing our hearts with each other. In preparation for the trip, we each filled backpacks full of gifts for our child and their families, from toys and colored pencils to toothbrushes and laundry lines. Many sponsors are not able to actually visit the children they sponsor on the other side of the world, so this was not only a treat for me but for the children as well. Here is my day with the children.

As my driver picked us up and took us to our first stop in metro Manila, we drove through some of the poorest areas that I had ever seen. I quickly learned that urban poverty is very different from rural poverty. The large shanty towns filled with makeshift squatter homes were shocking. It made the “projects” that we have here in the States look like dream homes, and for these people, it probably is a dream for them. It was a sea of tin scrap metal and boards that housed hundreds of people. Trash was everywhere and naked children played in filthy water. I had to start preparing my heart for what I would see.

Adriane Paul

After being lost for about an hour, we arrived at the Malabon Development Center where Ryan’s child, Adriane Paul, attends. I met the program director, Jonathan, who was in fact a Compassion child himself, along with his case worker, Sharon, and another case worker, Flor. They were all very kind and deeply committed to the community they served.

From the center we walked to Adriane Paul’s home in a squatter community, which was right on a river that had recently flooded. This is where it began to get very real. I could smell the sewage in the water. I saw naked children playing in black flood water. Homes were built over the river on stilts and people worked along the narrow sidewalk, sun-drying small fish or even assembling retail shopping bags. Soon we arrived at Adriane Paul’s home, also built over the river, and seeing his face made it all worth it.

I entered the home of our child and noticed the floors made of bamboo wood sticks nailed together, then covered in something like wallpaper. It was mainly one open room that held the kitchen, living room and sleeping that was probably about 12x12, with a small room off to the side. There were about 7 people who lived here. And as squatters, their home could be torn down by the government at any time. Nonetheless, there was so much joy, contentment and hospitality. Adriane Paul was quite shy, much like his sponsor Ryan. We spent time opening his backpack of gifts Ryan prepared for him and his family and we were able to do a short Skype call so that Ryan and Adriane Paul could talk to one another!

After the home visit we went to see the old church building in which they used to have meetings and is still where they havetheir office. I reviewed his profile binder which contains all of his education and health records while my mom shared her heart with the case worker and his mother. We then went to a local shopping center for lunch, where Adriane Paul had a big combo meal with spaghetti, a chicken leg, a slice of pizza and some rice. The kid was in heaven!


The next stop was with sweet Rhoann. She attends Compassion programs through the Sampaloc Bible Church Student Center, which is a part of a university. They had a really nice facility that seemed well staffed. As I came up the stairs, I didn’t even recognize Rhoann…she looked so different in person. She had cut her hair and had it twisted up and back. She was probably the shiest of all the kids. We reviewed her profile then got in the van to make our way to her home. We drove down what felt like an alley to get to the entrance of their home, which was in a concrete building that was a couple of stories high. We walked down a hallway where I met her father and all of her brother’s and sisters! Apparently, since we started sponsoring Rhoann, her mother had given birth to another child, which I think was the sixth. Rhoann came alive around her siblings who were so excited to have me in their humble home. The children seemed to share a small room that was maybe 5x5 feet with a built-in “bunk bed” of sorts. There was only some wallpaper on the otherwise concrete floor and a light. I imagine there are some mats that they may bring in to sleep on, but I doubt it is much more comfortable.

Her siblings left the room so that Rhoann and I could go in and open up her backpack of gifts from her sponsor, Christy. This was definitely a highlight. Christy paid very careful attention to what Rhoann said she liked…art! So her backpack was filled with colored pencils, a Dora pencil case, drawing pads, note pads, activity books and general school and home supplies. Rhoann tore through that backpack eagerly discovering all of the hidden gems for her and her family. When it was time to leave to get something to eat, she struggled to leave because she was afraid her siblings were going to take all of her stuff!

We arrived at a local mall and hit up the popular fast food location, Jollibee! Like Adriane Paul, she ordered spaghetti and a fried chicken leg! While I get tired of spaghetti, apparently it’s a special treat for them often reserved for birthdays! Who knew?!? I asked her mother how Rhoann’s life had changed since we began to sponsor her and she said that she’s healthy now, getting the medical and dental checkups that she needs. And she was so grateful for the money we sent at Christmas time for the family, which they were able to use for groceries. When we were almost done, I noticed that Rhoann ate everything but her chicken leg. Me, being the American that I am, was wondering why she was wasting food, something my parents didn’t look fondly on. Well, imagine my surprise when the program manager tells me that she was saving her chicken leg to share with all of her siblings! Clearly one chicken leg was not going to feed all of her brothers and sisters, so we solved that problem by buying a bucket of chicken and four servings of spaghetti and Cokes. It really was more of a gift to me to see them encouraged and provided for than it was a gift to them. Afterward, we dropped them off near their home and made our way to the final visit of the evening.


The child I write to is Adrian who lives about a 12 hour drive away from Manila in a rural community. He likely had the most incredible experience of them all. He and his mother, along with his case worker, flew to Manila for the first time and stayed in a 3 star hotel for two nights! Then to top it all off, our visit took place at Manila Ocean Park, which is like getting to go to Disneyland! When Adrian and the team arrived, I scooped his little body up and spun him around! To him, I’m known at “Mama Shala!” His case worker shared how his mother, Maribel, just cried the day before meeting me, so excited and grateful for the opportunity to meet this person whom she had been writing to for almost two years. She knew far better than I how our sponsorship of her son was changing his life. He has been a small, sickly child, sometimes missing school because of illness and being a bit underweight. But on that day, he was full of energy and joy.

He chose to eat at a Filipino restaurant, but like the other children we sponsored, he ordered spaghetti and a chicken leg! He was so thrilled! The restaurant was right over the water with a beautiful view of the sea. He ran outside to take a closer look. He’s probably never seen anything like it before…an expansive waterline that faded into the sunset and massive shipping vessels. When we went back in, I asked him if wanted dessert, then pointed to a decadent picture of a brownie a la mode! His eyes practically jumped out of their socket! When his brownie arrived, he proceeded to eat it very methodically. I couldn’t help but watch with a smile as he ate his first brownie a la mode (we won’t say how many I’ve had)!

We walked through the park hand-in-hand, like mother and son, while our mothers walked arm-in-arm! It was such a treat to watch him run from exhibit to exhibit, enamored by the schools of fish, alligators, stingrays and sharks! There was a cool, clear tunnel that you walked through as fish swam beside you and over you! We were all so tickled! We got to ride a short inner tube on ice and visit an arctic zone…aka a large freezer room with fake snow, snowmen and a sleigh. While I was quite comfortable in the cold temperature, these tropical weather Filipinos were freezing!

As we left the park, we all piled in our van to be driven back to our hotel. During the drive, Adrian opened his backpack of gifts and just couldn’t contain himself. He even put the backpack on while seated in the van. For all of the kids, these backpacks were quite large for their little frames, but they didn’t seem to mind. It was theirs…a special gift from their sponsors, packed with love for them and their entire family.

As we got dropped off and received our final hugs from the day, mom and I were exhausted by this 12 hour adventure, but so thrilled to have spent the day with three amazing families and the Compassion team.

Sponsor a Child

While you may not be able to visit a child halfway around the world, you can still change their life and the lives of their family members by sponsoring a child through Compassion International. For just $38 a month, you could support a child’s mental, physical and spiritual growth, building a special bond that is all your own. Search for a child now! There are children waiting for you from all over the world.

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