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10 Questions With Edwin Estioko

Edwin Estioko Recently, we gave you the chance to ask Edwin Estioko, our Field Communication Specialist in the Philippines all your burning questions about himself, the Philippines and Compassion in the Philippines. Here are his answers …

1. Can you tell about the time when you first decided to work for Compassion? (Catherine)

Before Compassion I was production manager for OMF Literature (the biggest Christian publisher in the Philippines) and a writer of children’s books. I grew up at church serving and teaching little children; playing with them and just enjoying their company. When I saw the ad for a Communications Specialist for Compassion International in the Philippines, I was literally drawn in. Feeling a strong sense of peace and confidence that the Lord was calling me to this beautiful ministry for children, I applied for the post and on the same week filed for resignation from OMF despite not knowing for sure whether Compassion would hire me or not. Thank God they did.

2. What goals do you hope to accomplish in your area? (Jason)

I hope that through the photographs I take and stories I write about Filipino children I could reach as many readers as I can around the world so that more and more people would stand up for children and advocate for them, so that more and more could see that thousands of children and families here in the Philippines truly lack opportunities for a better life (or simply for a livable minimum) despite the fact that they are hard working and full of faith.

What drives me is Proverbs 31:8, “to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

3. What have been the toughest times of your life, and what have you learned from these trials? (Juli Jarvis [3])

Being in love with children, I questioned our heavenly Father for so many years why He continued to refuse my wife and me a child of our own. We are childless for 13 years now. Before our 10th anniversary we knelt before His presence, enjoyed His Peace and said, “OK, Lord, now that we know we have a different calling in life — that we won’t be biological parents — bless and strengthen us so we can be parents to others.” Today my wife works with me in Compassion, we send some of her nephews to school, support non-sponsored children, and now are sponsoring a Compassion child of our own. This doesn’t mean we’ve got it made financially; it only means we now have a clearer focus of our purpose in life.

A few Filipino Christians are now sponsoring Filipino children through Compassion USA. (In fact some are formerly sponsored children.) My wife and I recently met our sponsored child. Meeting her we were the happiest couple alive.

4. What kinds of things can I say in my letters to best encourage my child? (Kalaya G)

These children live in the most uncomfortable circumstances where adults around them are drunk, angry or distressed. A simple “I love you” or “You are special” means a lot to them. Don’t get tired of saying nice words as “God loves you,” “You are loved,” or “You are special,” because you may be the only person who tells that to your sponsored child.

I met one child who, growing up, regularly got, “You are ugly,” “You look like your father” (who was a drug addict) from her relatives. And then from her sponsor she would always get “You are special,” “We love you.” Today, she confesses that it was those words from her sponsor that greatly encouraged her to pursue studies in mass communications. She was recently given the chance to tell her story to several churches around the USA, including Willow Creek, and right now she is in the UK for more rounds of talk for Compassion. Her name is Michelle Tolentino.

5. What is the general opinion of Compassion’s work among people in the Philippines? Is it an organization that is well respected? (Kalaya G)

Around the communities where we have church partners, we encourage the churches to promote their name and not Compassion’s so that people will understand that the children go to church and not to an organization, which is why not many non-Compassion-related individuals know the organization. But to the church personnel, the families, the relatives and children, a mere mention of Compassion could send some to tears (literally, I have seen it) because they know how much this organization helps the children, providing them hope.

6. How about child registration into the programs? Are there income guidelines? Or do you look at other areas of need in their lives? Also, what percentage of the children in the Philippines that go through Compassion’s programs are truly released from poverty? (Kalaya G)

As a country office we make sure we reach the poorest families from the poorest provinces in the country. We regularly update our country map index, which monitors poverty incidence, home development index, and child welfare index. From these we determine the poorest and most needy provinces and so focus our expansion in those areas. So far the only poorest provinces we have not reached are those threatened by insurgents and rebels. Recently we are exhausting efforts to reach indigenous tribes, many of which have not heard the Gospel until today.

The second question is a tough one because we address four kinds of poverty: spiritual, economic, social and physical. While there may be a way to measure the percentage of impact we have done economically and physically through extensive research, measuring spiritual success is much more difficult. So instead of responding in percentage, allow me to quote an interview I have had with an LDP graduate. I asked Jacky Metran whether she truly believes she has been released from poverty and she answered, “I was released from sin and wrong outlook and perspective in life. Even if I’m still surrounded by poverty today, because of what I learned through Compassion, I can go against the flow of society. I do my responsibility to make a difference to this world by the life I live. I am in the same situation and standing in life, but now I have a different perspective.”

After graduating from Compassion’s program, Jacky took and finished a master’s degree from the Asian Theological Seminary and is now working/doing ministry in Indonesia.

7. There is a misconception among some who believe that Compassion force-feeds children a Christian doctrine. While I know that this is false, I do know that not all children accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. My question is, how is the child who has not come into the faith typically treated? (Compassion Dave [4])

The ministry in the Philippines enjoys an advantage that the Bible is freely opened and taught in this country. Teaching salvation and the Gospel is very much in our projects’ curriculum so that what you believe that Compassion does not force-feed a Christian doctrine is true. The Bible is a part of the kids’ regular activities in the projects.

A child who has not come into faith is not treated any differently since kids are enjoined into many other fun activities as singing, playing, camps, trips and so on.

Let me tell you briefly about a young man I met in one of our projects. He was registered into the program when he was only 6 years old. His mother died when he was very young. At the project, he grew up enjoying the activities, friends, and, as he puts it, “of course the food. I would keep some in my pocket to take home as snack for later.”

But although he was in all the project activities through the years, although he enjoyed equal treatment with the other children, he never surrendered to receive Christ in his heart. Today he confesses that he stayed in the program simply for the material benefits of sponsorship. He hid a secret anger towards God when his mother died, and it was not until he became a teenager that he truly met the Lord and established a relationship with Him. So, because he was not treated any differently, he felt comfortable staying in the program as God quietly worked in his heart through the years. He is now a missionary, by the way. His name is Bjorn Rodriguez.

8. Can you share what the prices of some common items are? I send family gifts in small amounts, and if I knew what some items cost I could send more. I realize prices vary, but I would like to have a general idea. (Mary)

What is the average price for:

  • A sack of rice, (50 kilos): PhP 2000-2500 (roughly US$ 44.95-56.15); (a kilo): PhP 40-50 (roughly US$ 0.89-1.12)
  • Sandals: PhP 200-300 (roughly US$ 4.50-6.74)
  • Dress for a 12-year-old girl: P700-1000 (roughly US$ 15.70-22.45)
  • Milk (2-kilo can): PhP 800 (roughly US$ 17.95)
  • Spaghetti, one snack serving: P50 (roughly US$ 1.12)
  • Fruit, such as mangoes: P55/kilo (roughly US$ 1.23/kilo)
  • Banana: PhP25/kilo (roughly US$ 0.56)

(Exchange rate is now PhP 44.51 to a dollar)

9. How does Compassion deal with the jealousy of children who receive no extra money/letters/visits toward the more fortunate ones that frequently receive gifts from their sponsors? (Kayla)

This has always been a concern. I know you are asking about “no extra money/letter/visits,” but there are even children who don’t get regular letters. I met one child who asked the project staff, “Is there anything wrong with me? Why don’t I get letters?” In such cases, project staff step in and explain the possible realities that sponsors go through. They explain that not all sponsors may be as wealthy or as flexible. Filipino children may have an impression that all westerners are rich and do nothing all day but enjoy the comforts of a fully-furnished home in front of the fireplace while immaculately white snow is falling outside. (Yes, many think it is always snowing in the USA, and in all of the states.) It is the project staff’s task to explain that sponsors are real people who have real problems that may be hindering them from writing a letter or sending gifts.

At the other end, I believe Compassion’s Global Ministry Center in Colorado has taken steps to encourage sponsors to write and that when unable to, a sponsor shall assign or allow someone to write for him or her.

10. Being that you frequently interact with sponsored children, I would like to know if the children are truly discouraged when their sponsor discontinues supporting them? What would you suggest to a sponsor who is struggling financially and is wondering if he should cancel the sponsorship or continue the sponsorship despite financial difficulties? (Norman)

Yes, children are discouraged when their sponsor discontinues supporting them, and it is not an issue of economics. Filipinos are resilient people, and even the little ones can forget about poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity as long as there is love in the home. What could really bring them down is the thought that they are not loved or that their sponsor has stopped loving them. Again that question from a child comes to mind, “Is there something wrong with me?”

I would suggest to a sponsor who is struggling financially to try to hold on just a little more. Or if he has truly decided to cancel, do write the child and explain the real situation rather than just being quiet about it. If the child doesn’t get an answer, he or she may entertain many unpleasant conclusions including the thought that he or she is undesirable or unloved.