We will be brave: Why child sponsorship matters more than ever

On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we're shining a light on those most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis: children living in poverty.

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In Kenya’s Mathare slum, eight-year-old Shaniz reassures her teddy bear. “I know you love breakfast, but Mama says dinner is more important now,” she says. “And we’ve done it before, so we’ll be okay.”

“Children living in poverty are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims.”

– UN Policy Brief on the Impact of COVID-19 on Children

You won’t see children like Shaniz on your six o’clock newscast’s COVID-19 report. But that shouldn’t cause us to miss the staggering bravery and resilience being displayed by children living in poverty and their caregivers in the midst of this pandemic.

A crisis ‘like a leopard’

“Coronavirus is like a leopard,” says Shaniz. “It is very dangerous. It knows how to stalk its prey and can cause serious injuries or even death.”

The COVID-19 crisis has decimated the livelihoods of millions of households with children. Shaniz’s mother, Anne, works in a shop at the markets. Since her husband passed away six years ago, her teenage children Veronica and Kelvin and youngest Shaniz have depended on her sole daily income. When Mathare was placed under quarantine restrictions, the single mother could not work—which meant her children could not eat.

Shaniz and her mother in their home. Anne is cutting vegetables while Shaniz watches from the couch.

Shaniz and her mother in their home.

“I had to borrow food and money for rent, leaving me in debt,” says Anne. “The uncertainty of where the next meal is going to come from or when the next rent payment is due takes a mental toll on me. I live in constant fear.”

“I have heard of people who can work from home. If I don’t physically appear at work, I am not paid. It’s that simple.”

Experts predict that a global recession could push an additional 42-66 million children into extreme poverty this year. The numbers are so huge and overwhelming, it’s hard to make sense of them. Instead, picture Shaniz, bravely comforting her teddy bear as she endures a situation no child should have to face.

A portrait of Shaniz, holding her teddy bear.

Today, her mother has returned to work—but it’s a decision she wrestles with. “I do not have the luxury of working from home,” says Anne. “I have heard of people who can work from home. If I don’t physically appear at work, I am not paid. It’s that simple.”

“My biggest fear is being unable to provide for my children in this critical time. I use public transport and that also gets me worried. What if I contract the disease and then bring it back? But if I decide not to work, there is another calamity looming. It is a choice I must contend with every day.”

Beyond the economic and food crisis, experts also predict that this pandemic will have long-lasting effects on health, education and child protection.

The church-driven difference your sponsorship makes

In the midst of this harrowing crisis, more than two million children living in poverty are being personally cared for by Compassion’s network of more than 8,000 local church partners around the world—thanks to generous Compassion sponsors and supporters. Shaniz is one of those children.

Shaniz at an outdoor tap washing her hands.

“The Compassion centre has given us masks, food and taught us about hygiene and how to keep ourselves safe and healthy,” says Shaniz.

Compassion’s programs continue to be 100% church-driven. Our local church partners know their neighbours and they are in the thick of this crisis with them.

In times that are so uncertain, the steady support, encouragement and prayers of a sponsor makes that extra difference in circumstances that are, at times, life-and-death.

Compassion sponsors are empowering local church partners to continue serving their neighbours through this pandemic. One of the top strengths of Compassion’s programs has always been our church-based model. Now, even though our church partners are unable to gather hundreds of children and their families at their buildings for weekly child development programming, Compassion’s programs continue to be 100% church-driven.

Our local church partners know their neighbours and they are in the thick of this crisis with them. As things constantly change all around them, they continue to have faith in a steady God. They put that faith into action by meeting desperate needs and providing on-going support in the areas of health, education, child protection and spiritual and emotional support.

Shaniz looks in the mirror, fastening her face mask.

We all know this season has not been easy. That’s why bravery—your bravery, your family’s bravery, Shaniz’s bravery, her family’s bravery, the bravery of our church partners—is so remarkable in these times. We’re still rising together to end poverty.

“I miss how things used to be. Sometimes Mama is very worried, not her happy and chatty self. I think that she is afraid of many things, [like] getting sick, losing her job and our safety when she is away,” says Shaniz. “God is bigger than coronavirus. We will be brave.”

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Words by Alyssa Esparaz and Zoe Noakes. Photography and field reporting by Isaac Ogila.

Written by: Alyssa Esparaz

Alyssa works in the role of Content and Communications Specialist at Compassion Canada, telling stories that inspire and equip the Church to live compassionate lifestyles. She is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, where she studied International Development.