Kyle Jaster writes about his experience of travelling to the north-east coast of Kenya and seeing the value of compassion played-out in the life of Charles.
Travelling in on the road from Malindi to Barani, I could see women sat at the roadside, chipping away at rocks in the heat of the sun. These women work to fill buckets full of fine gravel and in doing so typically earn the equivalent of about £1 a day.
This tends to be representative of most adult laborers in the town.
Those who are able to find work earn on average the equivalent of just £15 per month. Unemployment is a serious challenge in Barani and is contributing to high levels of malnutrition, Malaria, and HIV/AIDS.
KE-623 is a project located in Barani, a small village of 50,000 residents set two kilometers west of Malindi, on the north-east coast of Kenya. The project is run by Compassion and operates through ACK St Andrew’s Barani Child Development Centre in the heart of a community where deep-seated and desperate poverty is prevalent.
As we drove up to St Andrew’s School, masses of young children in their school uniforms ran up alongside our vehicle. We were taken into a small office space where we were greeted by the principle, the chaplain and project director, and a number of others including Charles, who was quietly sat in the corner. At the age of fourteen, Charles has an extraordinary story to tell of the impact that being sponsored by Compassion has had on his life – but, as I spent more of the day with him, it was his depth of character that struck me and captured my attention.
Charles lives, by African standards, a short twenty-minute walk away from the child development center in a small home with his mum, aunt, and five siblings. With his father no longer around, caring for Charles and his siblings had become increasingly challenging for Charles’ mum.
Seeing the need of this family, Charles was accepted into the Compassion program. Through sponsorship Charles has had the opportunity to receive health care, mosquito nets, Bible teaching, life skills training, counselling and tuition for school. And through special one-time gifts from Charles’ sponsor, his family has also been able to build their home with the support they have received from Compassion.
With this opportunity, Charles has excelled. Now head boy of his school, Charles’ impact has spread beyond his own peers and community having been invited to speak and present at different events and engagements throughout the country.
But it was in the little, day-to-day things that I feel I really got to see the ongoing impact sponsorship had on Charles’ life.
After meeting Charles at his school we went back to his house to meet his mum and the rest of his family. As he showed me around his family home I discovered a bit more of the character and faith that lay beneath the surfaced accomplishments. He showed me the bedroom that he shares with his younger brother – it was a small, dim room with one tiny window and no electricity. There was one bed that took up most of the space and a small mat on the floor that was clearly being used as a makeshift bed. I asked Charles about it and he explained that it gets quite hot at night with the two of them in the same bed so Charles often sleeps on the mat on the floor so that his little brother can get a good night’s sleep.
I asked Charles and his brother to sit side-by-side on the bed so that I could film them interacting with one another for a film I was making with Compassion. I wanted it to look natural so I encouraged them to think about what they would normally do if it was just the two of them.
Charles responded by saying, ‘Well, my brother doesn’t have the same opportunities that I do to learn so I often teach him the things that I’m learning about in school. We also pray together and read the Bible. So maybe we could just do that?’ He then got out his Bible and prayed with his little brother.
Over the last couple of years, Alpha and Compassion have created a partnership that allows youth to do Alpha as part of their Compassion programme. So far, more than 28,000 sponsored children have had the opportunity to try Alpha.
Charles was one of the first to try Alpha and he said, ‘Before I was sponsored by Compassion I was a timid boy. I understood very little of the potential I had hidden deep inside. But, I thank God I was among the first people in our project to try Alpha. Alpha asks some of the most important questions in a young person’s life. From the first topics it helped me to understand who God is. Through Alpha, I have gained confidence. I have become a leader and have the confidence to teach.’
To finish off the day we returned back to the school where some of the other boys were playing soccer in the school field. Charles’ natural disposition was still quiet and reserved, but there was also a clear sense of confidence in him.
I was curious about what the dynamic would be like between him and the other kids, especially knowing that he was head boy. Seeing the other boys playing soccer I asked him if he wanted to join in. Charles assuredly approached the other boys and was met by what seemed like a deep sense of respect as they listened to him. They stopped what they were doing, Charles took the lead rearranging them into teams and they kicked off the game.
I feel that Compassion’s slogan is an appropriate summary for this story – Releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name – because I believe that Charles’ life is marked by both his and his family’s continued journey out of poverty through the help of Compassion. But it’s also clear that the faith he has found and is sharing with his family has a significant role to play in the success of that journey out of poverty, not to mention the impact he is having on the community around him.