Another year has come and gone, and we’ve shared countless stories of families and children living in poverty. In 2018, they taught us valuable lessons about worth, strength and encouragement that we’d like to share with you.

1. All you need is love

Fending for himself at a very young age, working in exchange for food, Kwame grew up without a father figure in his life. As a vulnerable child living in poverty, his life changed when he was registered at his local Compassion centre.

But as he grew older, Kwame felt that something was missing. He thought his life would be even better if he could have contact with his father, who left when Kwame was just a baby.

But when Kwame met his father for the first time in his 16 years, the meeting did not go as he dreamed. “It was as if he hated me even before he had met me. He said very cruel things to me,” he says. The experience shattered his self-confidence and he spiralled into depression. His schoolwork suffered and he decided to quit.

The Compassion staff noticed and knew that Kwame needed new purpose and direction.

They encouraged him to get vocational training, and Kwame signed up as an apprentice fashion designer.

Seasoned fashion designer Osei Bonsu now mentors the young man. Osei suffered as a boy when his father died and says he can tell if a boy is experiencing challenges just by looking at him. “Growing children need a little love to bring out the best in them,” says Osei.

web CC-GH-IssuesAffectingBoys-14-1806 Kwame (left) with fashion designer Osei Bonsu (right).

“I know in my heart that this is what I want to do,” says Kwame. “My new mentor is a good person. He does not talk harshly or embarrass us. He teaches us with patience. He even uses his own money to buy food for us and gives us money when we have to close for the day. He cracks jokes to make us laugh. There is so much joy here.”

Like Mr Bonsu said, sometimes you just need a little bit of love, and someone to believe in you. This year, we encourage you to find someone to invest, and believe in. Who knows where that encouragement will take them?

2. You’re stronger than you think

Grace was born missing limbs, but she lives without limits!

“When I was born, my family and relatives thought I was a curse. They tried to convince my mother to stop breastfeeding me so that I would die of hunger,” she says.

Grace’s relatives demanded she be killed as a baby, but her parents refused: they considered her a gift from God. After her father was murdered, Grace’s mother fled to Uganda, where Grace became part of Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program.

Today, Grace is a confident and joyful young woman of God, despite her difficult childhood.

“I have three things I want to tell people. One: You are not a mistake. You were created by God and you have a purpose. Two: That purpose has a significant place on this earth. You have a contribution to make. Three: Regardless of how others see you, your worth and value comes from God.

Born Missing Limbs, This is How Grace Lives Without Limits

“I think people believe that those of us with disabilities are useless and can’t do much in the earth. To them we’re not useful or productive. But I’ve never thought like that. Whatever normal people do with limbs, I can do them too. For instance, I cook, I am able to mop our house, I’m able to wash and so I’m not limited. I have a goal of being a journalist one day and doing radio presentation. I believe I can do anything!”

If Grace can do anything, you can too! You are stronger than you think.

3. Hope is not lost in a crisis

Remember the 12 boys and their soccer coach who were trapped in Thailand’s Luang Nang Non cave this year?

When the football team was first found by the rescue divers, one of the boys, Adun, played the key role of interpreter.

“Hello,” he said. “Is anyone there?”

Adun, who speaks English, Burmese, Mandarin and Thai, communicated with the divers, translating for his teammates and delivering the news that made the world breathe a sigh of relief. When asked how many people were alive in the cave, Adun answered “Thirteen”.

But even before he played this key role in communicating with rescue divers in the cave, 14-year-old Adun had a powerful story to share.

Meet Adun: Thailand Cave Hero and Inspiring Sponsored Teenager

You see, Adun is a Compassion sponsored child. When the news broke, the local Compassion church partner gathered the community together to pray and host those who were part of the rescue, Adun's parents included.

Pastor Nasou shared how they were feeling during the crisis.

“Because the parents and I are seeing the rescue teams working hard, through the days and nights, that’s what is giving us hope. Many times the parents felt hopeless after they had been waiting and hearing that nothing had [been] accomplished in searching for their boys,” he says.

“So, we didn’t know whether the boys were going to be alive or not. But we kept on praying constantly and really trusted God that they would be found alive. When we heard that they found the boys, that was the most exciting moment and giving us more hope.”

Upon hearing the news Adun was safe and alive, his parents thanked God for keeping their son and his friends safe.

Meet Adun: Thailand Cave Hero and Inspiring Sponsored Teenager Adun's parents say thank you.

“Thank you to God who helps us to see our son very soon. We are so happy to hear that our son is out of the cave and to welcome him home. It’s the love that God gives to our family. God is great love and there’s nothing He can’t do,” says Adun’s parents.

In such a difficult and fearful situation, it was amazing to see the trust and hope this church family had in God to deliver the boys safely from the Cave. Praise God for His goodness!

4. When you stand together, you can change stigma

Carol from Uganda will never forget the mortifying day her pad fell out in front of her classmates.

“One day I was walking to get food and my pad fell out. My fellow students laughed. I was so ashamed. I ran home and got another pad. I didn’t go to school for two days. I was scared," she shares.

All over the world, billions of women have periods every single month, yet menstruation is still a subject rife with stigma, taboos and misinformation. And accessing the basic supplies required for a safe period are still out of reach for many women. It can lead to teenage girls skipping and eventually dropping out of school, and marital conflict. It can even contribute to teenage pregnancy, as nefarious men take advantage of young girls’ vulnerability by purchasing pads in exchange for sex.

Thankfully, Compassion’s local church partner came up with a solution: to train their community to make re-usable sanitary pads. Made on a sewing machine using three pieces of fluffy cloth with a waterproof base layer, one set of seven towels costs just a little over A$2 to make but lasts an entire year.

Thanks to generous Compassion donors, the church received the financial support and materials it needed to train the community.

Everybody who received training was asked to teach others to keep the education rippling across the region. And as a result, caregivers—including men—found a new source of income. The education soon changed traditional mindsets: in Uganda, men often regarded menstruation as a subject that shouldn’t be openly discussed.

“I thought it was not proper for a girl to talk to me about sanitary towels,” says Milton, father to a Compassion sponsored girl in Mulatsi.

“I have a 16 year old. When she would come to me [with problems about menstruation], I would refer her to her mother.”

But his perspective began to change as a result of learning how to make sanitary napkins.

“After the training, I realised that as a father I should learn how to make these sanitary towels,” he says.

Why these Remarkable Dads Proudly Make Reusable Sanitary Pads Milton, (pictured right) makes reusable sanitary towels with other men and women in the community.

“It has also helped me because now I make them and even sell them and get money to do other things. Before I couldn’t provide them, so they would use old mattresses and fold in the cloth, but I discovered that it was unhygienic and [why the women] often fell sick.”

Milton persevered in his new business despite being initially looked down upon by other men.

“In the beginning it was shameful before the men in the community, but to me I found it useful. But I have now educated other men. I think [the stigma came] from a traditional background because our fathers would defer [discussion about menstruation] to the mothers but later I discovered the tradition doesn’t help,” he reflects.

Having the ability to look after your personal hygiene and health during a period shouldn’t be a privilege; it’s a basic human right.

Perhaps this year you could think about ways to stand up for the rights of others in your community. Be like Milton, and change the stigma.

5. Giving is better than receiving

This year, in a poor mountain community in El Alto, Bolivia, we met Juana. With a sweet smile and gentle spirit, she shared with us why she decided to learn hairdressing as a vocational skill.

Unlike most of her classmates, it wasn’t for income generation.

It was to bless others.

Through hairdressing, 21-year-old Juana has the ability to make people feel special in a genuine and loving way.

“I mostly like to do the hair for the girls who don't feel good about themselves. After I do their hair, I tell them, ‘You look beautiful’ and they feel good about themselves. Some even begin to love themselves,” says Juana.

“I particularly try to do the hair for the girls who feel like they are not so pretty and nice.”

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Juana also uses her skills to give back to Compassion’s church, partner by styling hair for those in the dance group. It can take a long time to make everyone stage-ready, but for Juana, it’s worth it. “Hairdressing is a hobby I do to give to others,” she says.

She also has a special message to share with sponsors.

“I have been registered with the Compassion program since I was seven years old. This is my last year and I want to tell you that I am really, really thankful for all the nice experiences I have had here and for all the things you have given me throughout the years. Thank you very much.”

Wow. At such a young age, Juana knows what it’s all about. Thank you for teaching us about selflessness!

And so, as we continue to meet many children, youth and adults who have been impacted as a result of your generosity, we can take a step back from our own worlds for a minute and learn from them. Take time to reflect as you begin the year, perhaps not on a ‘new year resolution’, but on how you can take a lesson from these inspiring individuals overcoming poverty, and implement it in your own way.

Words by Ellyse McCallum, Vera Mensah-Bediako, Helen Manson, Caroline Mwinemwesigwa

Photos by Ben Adams, Helen Mason, Vera Mensah-Bediako, Caroline Mwinemwesigwa, Piyamary Shinoda

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