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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