They walked down a dirt road on the outskirts of León, Nicaragua, to Vanessa’s home. It was a patchwork of metal and cardboard with just a few plastic chairs for furniture—quite different from Jocelyn Erhardt’s home in Calgary, Canada. Jocelyn and a group of her friends had come to Nicaragua to witness firsthand what life was like for moms living in poverty and learn how they could help.
Jocelyn, her sister-in-law and her niece spent the morning with Vanessa and her baby, Sophie, participants in Compassion’s Child Survival Program. They did what Vanessa would do on any given morning. They swept leaves off the dirt floor and watered the floor so the dust wouldn’t bother Sophie’s asthma. They cooked rice over an open flame in 40 degree heat. They washed dishes until they ran out of clean water. Most of all, they got to know Vanessa. They learned how she was getting access to much-needed health care for Sophie. They discovered what a strong and confident woman Vanessa is. Most of all, they realized that women living 5,000 kilometres away aren’t so different from themselves.
Jocelyn’s group of friends is part of what we hope will become a movement of women coming together to empower moms in the developing world.
Vanessa and her family in front of their home
Women are natural philanthropists. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, women donate twice as much to charity as men, and they make three times the number of donations. They inherit 70 per cent of estates and are savvy givers—they want to know about the integrity of what they give to and the impact of their generosity. And women want to connect with others to create change.
Knowing all this, Donna Carter, an author and Compassion speaker, wanted to find a way for women to connect with the needs of people living in poverty. Five years ago, she was in Haiti when a devastating earthquake killed hundreds of thousands. She came home with a strong sense of how much God had given her and the responsibility she had to steward God’s blessings well.
A year later, Donna’s painting group decided they wanted to help others. They traveled with Compassion Canada to El Salvador to witness Compassion’s Child Survival Program. This program gives pregnant women and moms of young children access to health care, supplemental food, spiritual guidance and training on life-saving topics such as nutrition, hygiene and sanitation. Like Jocelyn’s group, Donna and her friends spent time with young moms in their homes, experiencing their daily life. They also shared a day ministering to moms with with fun activities, encouragement from the Word of God, prayer and the message that they matter.
The women on Donna’s trip were so inspired by their experiences they committed to raise funds for the Child Survival Program they visited. Money raised from Salsa for El Salvador, an annual salsa event they organized, enabled the program to continue ministering. Women from subsequent groups have also been inspired. Jocelyn’s group returned home and organized an evening tapas event. All expenses were covered through their ingenuity. Their contacts donated the venue, and four of the finest restaurants in Calgary donated all the food. In just one night they raised over $60,000—enough to allow the Child Survival Program in León to operate for two years!
Some of the offerings at the tapas event for the Child Survival Program in Nicaragua
According to Karen Taylor of Compassion Canada, “So many women are at the stage of life where their kids are grown, their business or their husband’s business has done well and they are trying to figure out what their next assignment is. They’re asking God, ‘What’s next?’”
Taylor envisions a movement of women across Canada coming together with their circles of friends to find that next assignment from God. Traveling to the developing world can seem risky, but through these trips, women can safely experience poverty with their friends and grow deeper in their relationships with one another. The trips are tailored specifically toward women and give women plenty of down time to reflect and process their experiences.
“The stories that come out of the time with moms are just incredible,” says Taylor. Women on both sides are blessed. After spending time together, one mom in the program confided that she attempted unsuccessfully to abort her child at her husband’s urging. She was having a hard time forgiving herself and her husband. The visitors were able to minister to her and pray with her. One woman visiting from Canada was not a believer, but as a result of her experience on the trip she decided to give her life to the Lord!
“Women are women no matter where we live,” says Taylor. “We want what is best for our children. For women in the developing world, that sometimes means leaving their children all day long, coming home exhausted and not having any time. The Child Survival Program supports women in these struggles. Our visit tells them: ‘You’re not alone. You matter to us and you matter to God. The people at this program care about you. We are going to support you—we’ll go home and make sure you can continue coming to this program.”
We at Compassion Canada know firsthand that women are tremendous philanthropists. We are so thankful and honoured by all the work these women’s groups have done to support, empower and inspire women in the developing world. To find out more about how you can come alongside women struggling in poverty, please contact Karen Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.