To finish well in life, it makes an enormous difference if you are given opportunities that allow you to begin well. Our Child Survival Program and Leadership Development Program help children living in extreme poverty to begin and finish well.
The Beginning – Rwanda
Recently, 35 mothers and their babies, and a group of church partners, pastors, representatives from other child development organizations, government officials from throughout East Africa, and ministry staff in Rwanda gathered to launch the Child Survival Program. This event created increased awareness of the need to honor unborn children and highlighted the work of our ministry.
At this special event, Uwingeneye shared her testimony. The 29-year-old mother of four explained how her own mother wanted to abort her and later almost died while delivering her. As a result, she was named ‘Uwingeneye’ which means “the one whom God gave me,” since her mother did not want her.
Uwingeneye’s first two children are 5-year-old twins; her third child is a 3-year-old boy whom she picked up from the roadside and cared for as her very own.
Her second pregnancy, bringing her fourth child, was totally undesired.
She had no job except washing clothes for her neighbors to earn 1,000 Rwandan francs [$1.67] once in a while. Her husband left her. She could not afford rent. She too wanted to abort her child.
“I knew what it meant to have a baby without means. When I was desperate and had tried to abort and failed, the Lord spoke to me in a dream. From Revelation 2:5 God told me to remember the height from which I had fallen, to repent and do the works I did at first, and that if I did not repent, He would remove my lampstand from its place.
God told me the child I was carrying would save my life, but I did not understand how.”
When we came to take her picture for registration into the Child Survival Program, Uwingeneye first thought we were the kind of people who take advantage of the poor and vulnerable by pretending to be an organization that offers aid while using their photos to make money.
Uwingeneye soon discovered she was wrong when our ministry became a blessing to her.
“After the Child Survival Program staff discovered how I was always sent out of houses because I could not afford rent, they paid my rent for a whole year. Because of my sickness, I thought I would deliver from home, but a Child Survival Program worker came and picked me up from home with much respect in a special hired vehicle.
The ministry paid all my medical bills. I would have never gotten money to pay them myself. I may have died had Compassion not been there for me. The ministry gave me all the necessary things for my baby.
The Child Survival Program staff also brought me congratulatory gifts (a custom in the Rwandese culture when a woman gives birth). I thank them because, in the three months after giving birth, I did not lack any foods such as sugar, porridge and other foods husbands give to their wives when they’ve given birth. My husband was not there, but God was there, and the Child Survival Program did it for me.”
Uwingeneye went on to explain how she was helped to start an income-generating activity of plaiting hair. She also considered the scarcity of water in her home area and bought enough jerry cans and buckets to fetch a lot of water and collect rain water to sell at a profit in the days of scarcity. She testified how she got enough profit to return borrowed items and buy her own, to feed her children, send them to school, and dress her family.
The launching of the Child Survival Program in Rwanda was a celebration of hope. A hope that allows more women like Uwingeneye the opportunity to leave extreme poverty behind. A hope that allows moms to offer their children necessities like clean water, food and an education.
Halfway around the world we had a different kind of celebration. One that launched four young men from our Leadership Development Program into finishing their degrees and entering the world as educated adults.
The Finish and a New Beginning – Guatemala
The most recent Leadership Development Program graduation took place in Guatemala City where family members, ministry staff and special guests were able to share this important moment with four outstanding students who completed the Leadership Development Program and made a new life transition.
The Leadership Development Program graduation ceremony is a special event prepared for the students. Ivonne, Leadership Development Program Team Lead, explains,
“It is a ceremony where we want to celebrate their accomplishment and show them how much they have achieved.”
The ceremony is a celebration of the beginning of a new life season, and planning for the graduation begins a year in advance. Plans include finding an appropriate location, choosing a guest speaker, sending invitations, and preparing awards.
This year’s guest speaker was Julie Weller, a member of our ministry’s board. Julie also sponsored one of the graduating Leadership Development Program students, Florencio. In her speech, she encouraged graduates to use their gifts and experiences for God’s kingdom and glory. She advised them to stay close to the Lord.
Julie encouraged and challenged the Leadership Development Program graduates as she read Ephesians 3:16-20,
“As you commit your lives to him, his mighty power is at work within you to make a difference.”
In the midst of this celebration there was a bittersweet feeling because four of the best students, Jonathan, Dujardin, Florencio and Alvaro, were concluding the program.
Jonathan, a theology major, was given special recognition for his outstanding academic performance. He was also involved in the Leadership Development Academy. The Academy is a two-week program where semifinalists for the Leadership Development Program learn about and prepare for college. During this program, the Leadership Development Program students choose new students for the Leadership Development Program.
Jonathan later participated as an Academy group leader, influencing the lives of the next Leadership Development Program generation.
Dujardin pursued a civil engineering degree. Ivonne shares,
“Dujardin is a very determined young man. He has a very humble spirit and works really hard to achieve his goals. He acknowledges all the hard work his parents, sponsors and Leadership Development Program specialists have done to support him.”
Florencio decided to go to law school. He likes to be involved in church and has a heart of service for God. He is currently working as Program Coordinator at the Compassion student center he once attended.
His plans for the future include running a law office, so he can earn profits and still have time to donate his services to people who cannot afford to pay him.
Florencio was blessed with the visit of his sponsors for graduation. They have been his sponsors since he was in the Child Sponsorship Program, and they flew to Guatemala especially to share this important day.
“Having a sponsor has been really special, a special blessing. It has impacted my life.”
For Florencio his sponsors are like his second family.
“In them I found the support of another family. Even from far away they always asked me how I was doing in school, in church and in life. They asked about my needs.”
Florencio’s sponsor had visited him three times before, and this time she came with her husband and two children. The support of Florencio’s sponsors has transformed him and helped him achieve this major milestone.
Alvaro majored in industrial engineering. Ivonne expresses about Alvaro,
“He is an extraordinary young man. He has a very noble heart. One of the characteristics that make Alvaro so outstanding is that he looks for opportunities to grow in the Lord and serve Him.”
Alvaro entered the Child Sponsorship Program when he was 9 and has been a part of our ministry for 16 years now. Through his time with us, he has come to know the Lord in a more personal way. The application process for the Leadership Development Program program made him depend completely on God. Every person on our staff who knows Alvaro mentions his relationship with God as one of his greatest characteristics.
Alvaro has also contributed in the Leadership Development Academy as a tutor for students who attend the program.
“Being asked to help with The Academy is the best memory I have from the Leadership Development Program. I was honored to be included in the selection process of the new students.”
Alvaro’s plan for the future is to start his own business in few years.
“The university gave me the tools that will help me achieve my goals.”
In the meantime, Alvaro will work to provide for his family and save money to start his business. He is interested in projects like recycling, exporting vegetables and food processing. He is an entrepreneur, thanks to his college education and to the Leadership Development Program.
All four students are beginning new journeys in their lives, which is why the Leadership Development specialists make sure graduation is an encouragement to them.
Higher education in Guatemala is different from higher education in other countries. The process of graduation begins when students finish all required courses. Completing course work can take five to six years. Once they have completed their courses, students are authorized to take a private exam or general test. If they pass that test, they can present their dissertation.
Next, an internship may be required, which could take an additional six to eight months. The students take a year and a half to three years to finally graduate after they have finished all their courses.
Dujardin, Florencio and Alvaro celebrated the Leadership Development Program graduation and are now working hard on their university graduation. Jonathan has already obtained his theology degree.
Thanks to the support of the Leadership Development Program, these four students will be able to achieve their dreams of higher education very soon. And thanks to the Child Survival Program, Uwingeneye is no longer homeless and is able to provide a future for her children, one that may even include attending the Leadership Development Program someday.
Photos and content for this post were provided by Rosette Mutoni, Field Communications Specialist, Rwanda and Nadia Soberanis, Field Communications Specialist, Guatemala.