Thursday, June 6, 2013
Organizations that are doing a good job helping people are very, very important to me, but sometimes I just don't know who I can trust. I go to a concert and the artist talks about some little kids at intermission and encourages everyone to pick-out a card with a child staring out from a photo and send money every month to support him. My heart is pulled at and my pocket book opens up. But sometimes I get a bit jaded and wonder “is my money really helping this person out?”.
One Sunday my pastor went around the room and picked on people to share what they were doing to be missionaries in their world. One woman talked about how she worked for Compassion International helping children in Bogota and throughout Colombia. I cornered her after church and peppered her with questions. I wanted to write an article for The City Paper about Compassion International because they are doing something that I am passionate about and I want more people to hear about the good being done in the city.
On Fri. I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with the people at Compassion. As I learned about this organization, all doubts quickly flew from my mind. I feel I was given a unique opportunity to talk with a woman who went through the program and now works with Compassion. I sat in the country director's office and asked questions that many people struggle with concerning charity work and talked heart to heart. I went to a project site and danced with the girls, laughing and sharing in joy together.
Compassion International was started by Rev. Everett Swanson from Chicago in 1952. While visiting Korea during the war he stumbled upon piles of rags with orphaned children sleeping under them. His heart broke with compassion as he gazed at this tragic situation. Upon returning home he started Compassion International to help meet the desperate need. Today Compassion works in 26 countries with 1.2 million children.
During a difficult time in Colombia's history with drugs being trafficked at the expense of human life, when government corruption was at a high and in general it was just dangerous to be here, Compassion began working with the most forgotten and the most vulnerable – the children.
Today Compassion works with 49,300 children in 180 project centers.
I sat down with Carlos Escobar, the country director to ask him some difficult questions that seem to surface within the skeptic. Colombia is a country that had great need in the past. Compassion came to Bogota to help address that need. But President Santos has been working to improve the situation for the poor. He has built apartment buildings and worked on education. Things are changing so the question arrises “Do we need NGO organizations when the government is providing houses and food?”.
The GINI Project gathers data on economics, education and social factors to rank countries in the disparity of wealth distribution. Colombia received a 0.539 ranking it the 4th lowest country in Latin America. Across the board, Latin America is improving, but Colombia is still staggering along.
Another statistical measure is the HDI, Human Development Index. Within Colombia the HDI shows that major cities are improving, but the rural areas are struggling. Government programs have not reached these areas because there is still a struggle with the FARC, para-military groups and illegal miners. Money is not distributed to the poor and opportunities for educational improvement are not looked upon as positive. It is a life of living day by day under the tyranny of illegal rich rulers.
So Compassion looks at these two indexes and tries to target working in the neediest areas. Currently Bogota, where much time and attention had been focused, is no longer considered a high need area, whereas the coastal areas have great need. Because Compassion is first dedicated to the children, they take a long-term approach to moving out of an area. The transition process takes 11 years as they stop accepting new children into the program and focus on completing a good work with children in the program until they graduate at age 17.
Luz Anibal took me to a project site in the Simon Bolivar neighborhood. This area of Bogota is known for it’s poverty and cramped living situations. It was the first time I have been there. We entered a non-descript building to be greeted by happy children enjoying one another. A group of early teenage girls shyly came up to me wanting to share their dance class with me. It only took a small amount of encouragement before they had the music playing and other kids were crowding into the room to get in on the action. I soon recognized the song as one I had sung in church. The motions soon began to make sense and after a while of watching I joined in. Each room I visited was filled with children attentive to their lesson - music, art and dance.
T.V. has made me believe that poverty is sad and leaves a soul empty. Compassion has worked hard to fill that soul with the truth of Jesus. With focus on four areas of development and need - spiritual, physical, social and economic - they look at the child with a holistic approach. Time is spent on each area of development. Such love is put into these children that as Ana Ibanez, the facility director, notices a concern in a child she visits the home. When she has found home situations that she believes she can help to improve she requests funds for repairs, or even a new home. She offers classes for the parents as well to help them improve life and work skills hoping to help their economic situation.
As children get older, Compassion strives to provide them with life skills that will help them succeed in this world. Hair dressing and mechanic classes are offered to give kids a skill that will be useful. Children that have shown outstanding leadership, academic and spiritual skills are given the opportunity to apply for a “Leadership Scholarship” upon completing high school. Luz was one child who was given this opportunity. She was placed with a sponsor who funded her university education. In addition to the financial help, Luz developed a relationship with her sponsor as she went through the university years. The love for her sponsors over the many years in elementary school through university could not be missed. She spoke passionately about the letters she received as a child. She still has them today, tucked away in a special box. The letters provided her with “love and motivation”. She had the opportunity to meet her university sponsor on a lay-over in America. Although it was only a short meeting, Luz claims “It was the most important day in my life.”. Luz has deep desires that run through her blood that are being made possible because Compassion and some sponsors have given her an opportunity. She hopes to become the mayor of the town she grew up in. She has finished university and is now working at the Compassion Colombia headquarters to gain more experience. Carlos, the director, told me that “Compassion is raising potential leaders for this nation.” I saw this coming true in Luz as she told me her story.
Compassion partners with the local church to provide these programs to the children. The site I visited was located in a local church. This church has such a desire to help the neighborhood that they had even funded building a new home for one of the student’s family. I began to see how unique and beneficial this partnership is. Two groups that have the same passion are able to combine their different resources and expertise to better help the children.
If you are intrested in supporting a child from Colombia, please visit: www.compassion.org.co