Back to school. In any year, those words can evoke excitement, anxiety, relief, dread and a myriad of other feelings. But this isn’t just any year. It’s 2020. The emotions are heightened and the uncertainty abounds.

Yet while this year’s back-to-school experience feels wholly unfamiliar, it’s ironically also a near-universal experience. Students, families and teachers around the world are all navigating similar challenges. More than 190 countries have implemented school closures this year, affecting nearly 1.6 billion students (United Nations).

It’s a major setback in the quest for quality education for all, the fourth of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. But we know this isn’t just about a development goal. As a child-focused organization, we feel the weight of the real stories and experiences of children, students, families, parents, teachers and neighbours, both here in Canada and around the world.

Here are some stories and smiles of Compassion children and youth who are navigating new school experiences during the pandemic, along with eight scriptures of courage and comfort for those navigating this uncertain back-to-school season.

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

Psalm 91:11-12

Natali stands against a brick wall with her pink backpack next to her and a chalkboard that says "Natali KINDER" on her other side.

Natali, 5, Bolivia

In Bolivia, students’ first day of school was in February. For five-year-old Natali, it was her first day of school ever, as she headed off to kindergarten. But just weeks later, the pandemic forced schools to close. Now, Natali’s teachers are her older brothers. Their mother, Amalia, worries, since she herself only attended school until grade one. “It’s challenging to help [them] because I can’t read and write very well,” Amalia says. With school in Bolivia officially cancelled for the rest of 2020, Amalia and her kids will be experiencing life at home for a little while longer.

“For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Matthew 6:8

Hamisi stands against a blue wall holding a chalkboard that says "1st day of grade 1, 2020".

Hamisi, 7, Tanzania

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Eleazar sits at a table in his home doing schoolwork. His dad sits at a table in the background.

Eleazar, 11, El Salvador, completing some schoolwork at home with his father, David, in the background.

Eleazar is a bright 11-year-old in El Salvador, who is used to being at the top of his class. He expected no different this year as he started grade five, but then COVID-19 changed everything. Though the majority of countries have implemented remote learning options, the United Nations estimates that at least 500 million children and youth are excluded from these options. Eleazar was one of them, but thanks to the help of generous neighbours and his Compassion centre, he’s now able to learn from home. His father, David, is incredibly proud. “I know he is intelligent. I want to see him graduate from school,” he says.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

Anushka stands on a hill wearing a pink dress, red coat and her school backpack.

Anushka, 12, Bangladesh

“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.”

2 Samuel 22:3

Libradge and Divine sit in their home doing schoolwork.

Libradge, 5, Rwanda, studying at home with her mother, Divine.

Libradge from Rwanda was so excited to attend school for the first time back in January. She had just recently been registered into the Compassion program, which enabled her mother, Divine, to enroll her in school for the first time. But unfortunately, Libradge’s first year of school was abruptly cut short due to the pandemic. Divine tries her best to help Libradge continue learning from home, with supplies and moral support from the Compassion centre. She is hopeful that schools will re-open for her eager daughter soon. Looking even further into the future, Divine hopes she might one day have the opportunity to return to school herself. “I help [Libradge] do homework and this builds her confidence in me. I’m hopeful that I will also return to school one day.”

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

Eyder stands in front of his home holding a card that says "Eyder's first day of third grade".

Eyder, 8, Colombia

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

Woochang and his mother sit at a table doing schoolwork.

Woochong, 12, Bangladesh, with his mother, Jhapi.

It was already set to be a tough school year for Woochong and his brother, Tullo, in Bangladesh: It was their first since their father was tragically killed in a road accident last year. Of course, things became even more difficult when the school year was interrupted due to the pandemic. The family doesn’t have access to online learning, but the brothers are able to complete their lessons using the school supplies their Compassion centre provided for them. The support makes a huge difference, especially as their mother, Jhapi, navigates competing priorities: Trying to help her boys through school despite her own limited education, while also trying to make ends meet in the midst of a global pandemic.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

We hope these scriptures bring you encouragement and comfort. Be sure to share them with a friend or loved one that is headed back to school.

You can also share these scriptures with your sponsored child, to encourage them in these uncertain times. Letter writing is a great homeschool activity!

Log on to your My Compassion account today to write a letter.

Go to My Compassion


Feature photo: Sara, 7, Colombia

All scripture passages are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

Photography and field reporting by Lina Marcela Alarcón Molina (Colombia), Galia Oropeza (Boliva), Eric D. Lema (Tanzania), Alejandra Zuniga (El Salvador), J. Sangma (Bangladesh) and Doreen Umetsi (Rwanda).

Alyssa Esparaz

Alyssa Esparaz

Alyssa is Compassion Canada's Manager of Content and Public Relations, telling stories that inspire and equip compassionate people to take action on behalf of children in poverty. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto, where she studied International Development, and a current Master of Communications Management student at McMaster University.