Luis’ smile is one that lights up the whole room. When he was just three years old, Luis was registered at the Compassion centre in his community in Colombia. Now eight years old, his joy is infectious and his warm disposition is loved by all at the Compassion centre. As much as Luis is loved, he loves those at the centre just as much. Since the pandemic caused his Compassion centre to close its doors and adapt its programming to keep children safe, he has missed the place that means so much to him. But thankfully, the most important things have remained.
One of those things are the letters from his sponsor. Luis’ sponsor tells him about his family, and Luis sends back letters with drawings. Luis and his sponsor share their passion for soccer, and both love animals. Luis’ mother, Yorledis, counts it a blessing to have the support of Luis’ sponsor in a time when their relationship matters more than ever. “[Luis’ sponsor and his family are people] with big hearts, who support and pray for us,” she says.
For Yorledis, the most valuable thing her son has gained from the Compassion centre is a relationship with God. Every day, Luis reads the illustrated Bible he received from the centre and prays to God. “I pray to God at home with my mom every day. I ask God to give us a house,” says Luis.
The need increases
For Luis and his family, the pandemic was more complicated than simply not being able to go to the Compassion centre. Luis’ parents have informal jobs and this makes it difficult for them to provide for their family during the pandemic. His father’s job is transporting people on his motorcycle and his mother works a few hours a week in a local store. She lives with the effects of polio and needs crutches to walk. This has been a significant hindrance in gaining employment for her.
In October, Luis’ father had an accident while working which severely injured one of his feet. He had surgery and had to stop working for months. Yorledis started also selling products on the street just to try and make ends meet. The family received support from the Compassion centre staff, who delivered a monthly food basket, as well as visiting and calling them periodically to check in on how they were doing. However, if his father’s accident were not enough, Luis’ mother also got sick. She, too, had to have surgery, which left her in a wheelchair. The centre continued to provide the family with food, as well as the emotional and spiritual support they needed in this challenging time.
“I always asked the centre’s director to pray for us,” says Yorledis. “We were living at my mom’s house. When she kicked us out of her house, we had to move to a one-room house. Nonetheless, the Compassion staff has done for us what our families haven’t. They visit us, help us, give us food. Amid our bad economic situation and poverty, the centre has never left us alone. They pray for us and are there to support us.”
The struggle of school during COVID
Luis is in third grade and has always had outstanding performance. However, last year, during the pandemic, it was challenging for him to study. The school was giving virtual classes, but Luis had no device or internet access. Luis could not attend any school lessons. After trying to navigate this as best as he could, he was able to pass the school year. However, it affected his learning process. “Last year it was difficult for Luis to study because we didn’t have a computer or a tablet or even a smartphone,” says Yorledis. “He didn’t attend classes as he didn’t have the tools. We had to make copies of all the study guides so that he could do the homework for each subject.”
When the Compassion centre found out about the challenges Luis faced in his studies, they provided him with a tablet and internet connection to attend his school classes online. Luis’ little sister María Jose also uses the device to study. “When Director Sirlena called me to say Luis was going to receive a tablet, I thanked God!” says Yorledis. “At that moment, I was recovering from surgery and using a wheelchair. Luis really likes his tablet. He is responsibly attending his classes.”
Help in times of trouble
The Compassion staff have been bringing food baskets to children’s families since the pandemic started. However, the staff realized that Luis and his family need extra help. Luis’ father is now working again, but his foot did not heal well. Some days, he must stay at home because his foot is swollen and painful. The doctor has told him that he will need another surgery.
Recognizing the family’s great need, the centre asked Compassion Colombia for additional funding and support to provide extra food for them for six months. Some months, this also helps them with their rent so the family has a secure place to call home. Every time Yorledis arrives home with the food package she received, Luis runs to help her open the bags and shouts with delight at what he finds. “Mom, there is chocolate and face masks! These are for me because I have to be protected from the virus,” he exclaims with a big grin on his face.
For Sirlena, the centre director, the impact of the program on Luis and his family is plain to see. “Helping this family is something that fills our hearts,” she says. “The last time I visited them, with tears in her eyes, Luis’ mother told me that the centre had been a blessing for her family. ‘You have comprehensively helped us,’ she said. Her heart is grateful. We always invite her to have a relationship with God. She says that through us, she has seen God.”
Finding hope in the struggle
With so many families in the area struggling as the pandemic’s impact continues to take its toll and jobs disappear, Sirlena and her team are doing everything they can to help. They provide not just physical support with food and blankets, but emotional and spiritual support, too. “Most of our children are highly vulnerable,” she says. “When parents receive the food baskets, many of them say, ‘Thank you for that help, God bless you. We didn’t have anything to eat today.’ It is good to know that our work is impacting the families. They feel supported and are feeling the love of God in their lives. They know that God does exist and helps and loves them.”
Despite the challenging circumstances, Luis has a better life. He is studying, has food at home and is a child full of dreams. He shares with his sponsor that he wants to become a professional soccer player. Sirlena has her own dream: to see Luis graduate and get a good job to support his family with a reliable income. Whatever happens, she and the other Compassion staff will continue helping him and his family overcome their difficulties and have a better future.
As for Yorledis, she is grateful for the Compassion staff and the church, who care so deeply about her family. “I want to thank God because, without Him, nothing would be possible in this life,” she says. “My thanks to the Compassion staff for caring about many families like us in the centre. Thanks to the pastors, the director and the tutors who teach our children with love and dedication. Thanks to all the people who, in one way or another, help the centre—blessing families like mine.”
As the pandemic has threatened to take so much from children around the world, you can be a part of ensuring that the most important things remain.
Give to Compassion’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Photos by Lina Marcela Alarcón Molina.