little toes pouring out of fancy shoes

As we walked into the Compassion Child Survival Program center, we were greeted by mothers and children with huge smiles and kind eyes. Compassion is often known for its child sponsorship program, but I am learning there is much more to this organization. In the past, child sponsorship began with children 5 years old and older. About a decade ago, Compassion saw the enormous need for intervention earlier.  The Child Survival Program was born out of this need. Instead of children registered for this program, it is moms. Local members of the community volunteer their time to assist the moms in learning how to care for their babies. They are taught everything from the very basics of newborn health, to how to hold a baby, to how to recognize and treat minor illness. For all the practical tools they are given, I can’t help but think the greatest gift is not feeling alone.

The 3 year olds in the program were ‘graduating’ out of the program today and they were having a special ceremony. The moms and children were dressed in their very best to celebrate.  I sat down and thought about what milestone was being reached by these moms and little ones. They were celebrating that they made it – they survived. It was not in the sense that I often causally say, “Oh I survived,” in regards to doing something. They were celebrating true survival. So humbling.

I uttered a prayer for help to see beyond the surface and to really see them. Then, I attempted to sit a few rows back, but was moved up front. I took my seat and looked up – little toes pouring out of fancy shoes unable to buckle and a few sizes too small.

2.1.16stories-01I often remind myself of how the beauty of my days is in the details. It is the little things that I can easily overlook that often end up being the most memorable. There was something so captivating about her feet in those shoes. Someone somewhere stepped up to help her family. Her mom bravely allowed others to come alongside her and give her the tools and help she needed to watch her baby girl grow into a thriving toddler. And today. Today, she was graduating from a program that made sure she survived. She would not be a statistic. She would be a beautiful little girl in a soft pink dress and fancy shoes surrounded by people telling her that she mattered and her life is of great value.

The most beautiful toes hanging over the edge of little white sandals.

Her mom and the others in that room were in need of help to insure their pregnancies, deliveries and the early years of their children’s lives were healthy and safe. Obviously, this is a need not limited to Ecuador. The need for early intervention in the life of a child is something we recognize in every state in the US. It is a reality my husband comes face to face with everyday as he works with the foster care system and DHS.

Helping safe, loving parents have the tools they need to be able to raise their children is a fierce passion for me. It is something Chris has poured his heart and soul into in our own state. I will always be an adoption advocate when it is the best interest of the child. However, family preservation – helping safe, loving families stay together – it is an ache deep in my heart.

I knew going to the center that the Child Survival Program does just that – it helps families stay together. It makes sure parents are able to raise their kids. Children are surviving WITH their parents.

After the ceremony, we joined the moms and children for lunch. I wanted so badly to hear their stories. I’ve found the best way to start a conversation is often finding something you have in common. Easy to do in a room full of moms and babies! I noticed one mom holding her baby girl. When I saw her plate untouched, I knew it was not because she wasn’t hungry. Eating with an awake baby on your lap can feel like more work than it is worth! I offered to hold her baby, so she could eat (explaining through a translator that I was a mom of 5, so I totally get it!). She smiled and took me up on my offer.

2.1.16CSP-02Every mom understands how hard it is to eat with a baby on your lap! That mutual ground was all it took to begin hearing the stories of the moms in the room. Andrea, Compassion’s in-country trip specialist, walked with me to each table as the women shared with me their stories. I also shared with them a photo of my family and bits and pieces of my story.

2.1.16CSP-082.1.16CSP-072.1.16CSP-042.1.16CSP-062.1.16CSP-052.1.16CSP-032.1.16CSP-01(paraphrase of their stories, not direct quotes)

  • I work as a street vendor for 8 hours each day. I take my 2 month old with me.
  • Compassion volunteers taught me to make handicrafts. I make those from home and then sell them on the streets.
  • I came to Quito because I was told there were jobs. There are no jobs. We don’t have money to travel home. So, we are here.
  • My husband was abusive and kicked me out of our home with our kids. Compassion volunteers found us on the streets.
  • I have four children. There are 7 people living in our one room home. We have one bed.
  • I am a single mom with four kids. I cannot find a job.

So many stories, children and sincere smiles in that little room. As the women shared with me, I asked about what is next for their children (those that just graduated out of the program). The public school in the area is free, but requires uniforms. For most of the children, unless they receive a sponsor from Compassion, they will not be able to purchase a uniform. Without a uniform, they will not be able to go to school.

These moms, whose faces were marked by suffering and joy, were surviving each day. They were truly surviving and holding onto dreams and hopes for their children’s future. As I snuggled that sweet baby girl, I prayed she would one day be sitting in a little chair, feet dangling over and graduating a survivor…with a sponsor waiting to continue to watch her grow and thrive.

2.1.16CSP-09If you have ever considered sponsoring, please make that jump today. I can tell you firsthand there are so many children waiting for you to say, “yes!” When you put your “yes” on the table, you are helping children survive. You are helping them thrive. You are preserving families.

A Compassion employee (that was once a sponsored child) shared with us today about what it was like having a sponsor and being a part of the Compassion project.

“I learned through the project why it was important to plant a dream in your heart.”

When you sponsor a child, you get to play a pivotal role in casting a vision in the life of that child that he or she can dream beyond what their physical eyes can see. Not only do you get to play that role, if you have children, your children get to be a part of that journey too. And it is one beautiful adventure.

CompassionSponsor* The majority of these photos were taken by @mikevarel

Be sure to check out Shannan & Ruth’s posts from yesterday too!

Stay – Ecuador Day 2 ~ Flower Patch Farmgirl

A Step Towards Hope ~ Gracelaced

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  • Candice Forte - Ashley, you are an amazing woman of God! I admire you so! I am so glad Compassion and you have teamed up! Your writing and photography are so very special it will certainly touch many to sponsor! I am sharing this on my facebook page.:) Praying you make so many connections and also you reach so many who are teetering on the decision to sponsor! I know I never will regret it. WE never will regret it. My husband and our children talk about our sponsored child like she is a daughter/sister. I hope we get the chance to meet her in the flesh someday….

  • Shannan Martin - Love the way our two posts weave together and overlap a bit. As with the llama, we’re on the same page. XO

  • meg duerksen - LOVE ALL OF THIS ASHLEY!

  • Mary Lynn - Thank you for these amazing posts!!! Do you have any posts about how you interact with your sponsor child/family from home? How you communicate with them or how you bring them into your children’s lives? I’d love tips & ideas

  • AshleyAnn - Mary Lynn – that is a great question! If I am not able to share some of that while here in Ecuador, I will when I get back! Thank you for asking.

  • AshleyAnn - Thank you Candice! I hope you get to make the trip to meet your sponsored daughter one day…it is an incredible experience!

  • Julie - I don’t have words for how grateful I am for your words, for sharing your experience. Your words are from the heart, not scripted, and paints a true picture of the lives of these families across the globe. So thank you, thank you for sharing the details and the emotions and more importantly your reaction to your experiences. Praying for safe travels for you, your son and the group you are with and praying that this trip will touch the lives of many who will hear about your journey.

  • Byron - God bless! These blog posts are wonderful, beyond words.

  • Tanya - Thanks for posting this and sharing your journey and experience.

  • Krista - Ashley, thank you for sharing your experiences. I’ve been contemplating sponsoring a child for years. Today, just now, I finally did it. I’m now the proud sponsor of an artistic little 5-year-old girl in Ecuador. I’m thrilled. Again, thank you for your example and light. Much love from CO. -Krista

  • AshleyAnn - Krista – Thank you!!! I wish I could adequately convey to you what your sponsorship will mean in her life. The letters sponsors send – they have a profound and life changing impact. It is incredible to see the kids treasure each one and hold on to the words written. Thank you!

  • Jodi - Just amazing! We just had our 3 children each pick a child to sponsor. They will help us sponsor their own child. Thank you for inspiring us!

  • Julie P. - Your words and stories are truly a blessing for so many. Thank you for the encouragement to move forward with sponsoring a child. We have signed up to sponsor an 8 year old little girl who shares the same birthday as my daughter. We look forward to reading more posts about your interactions with your sponsor child and family.

  • AshleyAnn - Julie – Thank you for sponsoring. I will post more later this week with pictures of kids and their letters from sponsors. It is truly incredible what a difference the letters make. My mind has been blown this week. Thank you!

  • AshleyAnn - Jodi – That is so exciting! I’ll be posting more about letters from sponsors later this week. I am so, so excited your family is sponsoring 3 children. Amazing. Thank you!!

  • Emily - As always, you are inspiring me (and so many others) to be better people. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I had a thought, though – would it be possible to have a fundraiser solely to help purchase uniforms (and shoes, etc) for the children who do not have sponsors? Maybe in a manner similarly to how you raised funds for an incubator in China? That way more children will have one small step towards a life in which they are able to thrive.

    Thank you so much. I am so grateful to have your blog in my life.

  • Sarah - Yes to Mary Lynn’s post! I also would like to know more details about communication and how you overcome the language barrier when you write letters. Also, do the children age out of sponsorship at some point? Is there a way to still stay in touch with them? My husband and I talked about sponsoring tonight. It’s hard choosing a country!

  • debbie - Ashley,

    I was just thinking how I wanted to post about this. Over the years my husband and I have sponsored several Compassion and World Vision children.

    Years ago my husband got to visit our compassion sponsored child on a mission trip. It had such an impact on our lives. She had crafted some gifts for us that we keep displayed even though she is grown and out of the program now.

    But what I love most about your post is how you focus on the letters.

    At the moment we have a girl and a boy in different countries. It is easy to have your donation taken out without a though each month. But writing a letter takes thought and time and I was struck this week as I heard how important the letters were to the children through the Compassion note that accompanied our child’s letter to us. For the first time in a year I stopped everything I was doing and wrote back instead of setting it aside for a better time that often did not come.

    What little effort on our part makes a child feel so special and loved. It is a gift beyond anything we could every buy.

    Thank you so much for your post.

  • Amy Cyphers - Ashley,
    Thank you for sharing your journey! My daughter and I sat down and found a little girl about her age to start sponsoring. This is something We’ve been meaning to do, but kept putting off… Not another minute. It’s done, and we are so excited to pray for her starting now.
    God bless you on your journey. I hope to do the same with my kids.

  • Molly - I began my sponsorship journey after reading some of your posts. I hope in a few years I’m able to take my daughter with me to visit our sponsored child in person. We chose Ecuador because the Galápagos Islands has always been the first choice to take my daughter out of the country when she is old enough. (She is almost 2). So planning a custom visit will fit in perfectly!

    I’m going back reading some posts I’ve missed, and now you have me very interested in the Child Survival Program. Is this similar to regular sponsorship, as far as $38/month, write lots of love letters, sponsor a specific person? Is it a different link to sponsor a mother? I haven’t noticed it in my wandering so around the Compassion website.

    Thank you for everything you do. You’re changing the lives of hundreds, in Ecuador, the United States, and all around the world!