Many sponsors have the misconception that Compassion runs schools. We do not. However, we do facilitate a holistic child development program that complements and supplements the school systems in the countries we works in.
My country’s (Kenya) education system has been heavily influenced by the British system. Students have eight years of primary school, four years of high school, and four years in an undergraduate program at a university.
It is a requirement for all Compassion-assisted children, regardless of country, to attend the normal school system while they participate in activities at their child development centers. In Kenya, the Compassion programs are most commonly conducted on Saturdays. Because public schoool runs Monday through Friday, the children are easily available for the center activities.
The purpose of our Christian child sponsorship program is to help children to become “responsible and fulfilled Christian adults.” Our Implementing Church Partners (ICPs) are encouraged to be creative in the ways they administer the program, but we also provide age-graded curriculum to help each church partner minister to their children consistently.
The age-graded curriculum is based on the outcomes we hope to see in children in the four facets of development: spiritual, physical, cognitive and socio-emotional.
The spiritual domain of the activities at child development centers includes praise and worship, testimonies from children, various presentations such as memory verses, short sermons, and prayers. The implementers ensure that children are actively involved and are exhibiting understanding of the Bible and the essence of prayer and service. During special occasions, the implementers invite outside facilitators.
Our public school system has designated days for pastoral programs. Certain teachers or the school chaplain take the students through devotion that lasts for about half an hour. Each student attends devotion, depending on his or her faith.
In our sponsorship program, the physical well-being of the children is addressed through various activities depending on the resources available at the development center. Soccer is a popular sport for boys, while volleyball and netball are popular with girls. Some church partners have swings, table tennis and board games that engage the kids during breaks.
In the physical realm, the most significant difference from the schooling system is that we provide medical intervention for the sponsored children. The health of the child is monitored on a regular basis through health screenings. Public schools tend to offer first-aid intervention, while the parent/guardian takes care of any other expenses incurred at the local health facility.
In addition, public schools rarely offer nutritional supplements to children with deficiencies. We, on the other hand, provide nutrition education as well as nutritious food during program days.
Social-emotional interaction is paramount for the well-being of every child, especially children growing up in dangerous environments. Compassion-assisted children are given opportunities to interact in a more meaningful way than in a school. The activities provided are a fertile ground for enhancing one’s self-esteem and dignity.
Our children are encouraged to interact from a biblical perspective, and high standards of morality are advocated. The curriculum taught at the development centers lays a good foundation for self-awareness and reflection. It helps the children to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and how to best cultivate their God-given gifts.
The concept of stewardship is taught, helping them to be aware of their responsibility to the community. Vocational Bible studies, youth camps and seminars, drama clubs, and other creative arts, picnics, and inter-partner competitions offer opportunities to practice what they have learned.
Our goal of leading children along the path of economic independence compels implementers to help children complete the various stages of education. The unfortunate thing about public school systems is the difficulty of trying to update the curriculum to fit emerging trends. Much of the material is very dated and not relevant to children’s daily challenges.
Our curriculum is customized and targeted to the children in their various environments. In case the child does not continue to secondary education, vocational skills are available both at the development center and in a few institutions that can help the child become economically self- supporting. The young people learn income-generating activities, such as soap making, mat weaving, tailoring, cookery and beadwork.
Community service helps children experience the joy of giving back. The young ones in the sponsorship program are encouraged to engage in community cleanups on designated days. More often than not, they help clean the church premises for Sunday services. They also clean their own classrooms, and plant and water flowers and trees within the church compound. Older kids sometimes visit the sick and elderly in the hospital to pray for and encourage them.
Public school systems generally don’t provide for such opportunities, as the main focus is academics. The children also receive more attention at their development centers, as the teacher-student ratio in Kenya’s public schools can be as high as 1 to 80.
Compassion also offers holiday programs to the children. The usual school holidays in Kenya take place in April, August and December. The monthlong breaks separate the school terms, providing opportunities for children to rest and spend time with their families.
However, the competitiveness of the schooling system has forced many schools to conduct holiday sessions that offer specialized training. The schools then continue with the normal curriculum and children have to pay an extra admission fee, exam fee and catering fee.
During this same time, the majority of Compassion Kenya’s child development centers conduct remedial classes for their children for free. Holiday sessions at the development centers continue to supplement what takes place in school. An added advantage is the provision of textbooks and an environment in which to study.
Normally, remedial classes last about two weeks of the holiday. Part-time teachers collaborate with the child development workers to help students, especially those in upper primary school and candidates waiting to take their exams. Over and above class work, these students are engaged in the normal Saturday program activities and are provided with nutritious meals during the day.
During normal school days, many children attend the development center in the evenings for group learning and review. With the help of part-time teachers, they review past papers to test their knowledge and become familiar with the most critical topics.
Most children we serve attend government schools; however, some of our church partners do run their own schools. These schools are not affiliated with Compassion, but are the property of the church partners. In these circumstances, we run our own program parallel to what takes place in the school. This way, the children benefit from both the school activities as well as the sponsorship program.
In these situations, most of the Compassion-assisted children usually attend the church school. It is important for the school and the sponsorship program to work together to maximize instruction.
While the school program incorporates both the Compassion-assisted and non-assisted children and focuses mainly on academics, the sponsorship program concentrates on holistic child development.
School activities are usually funded primarily through school fees paid by individual pupils through their guardians and other donors. On the contrary, our sponsorship program depends largely on donor funding and minimal contributions from parents.
In the event a child’s parent is unable to sustain a school fee payment, the child no longer benefits from the program offered by the school. But our program continues to offer services to the assisted children and their families without attaching monetary requirements to it.
While typical school systems in the developed world don’t serve children’s non-academic needs, we not only address the academic but also the socio-emotional and physical, and most important, we bring the children the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Our model focuses on the child’s here and now, as well as the future. This perspective is different from most schools. Schooling systems do a great job of engaging children and molding their way of thinking, preparing them for the “world out there,” but we prepare children to deal with their daily struggles, as well as focus on the envisioned future.