We are proud to present this inspirational story by Silvano Assanga, a formerly sponsored child.
I lost my father at the age of 4, and it was predicted that we would end up in the streets as beggars. He was our sole breadwinner, and he did not leave much to be inherited upon his death. We did not have well-off relatives, either. The thought of attaining higher education from such a background was therefore not real back then.
It is now real. In August 2010, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi. Having pursued my studies from such an institution, I consider my story to be one of luck and God’s love.
When Compassion began recruiting needy children  in Western Kenya, my aunt pleaded with them to consider me for the program. I was staying with her and she informed them that I was a needy case.
My mother depended on hawking bananas at the market to fend for her family of seven children. I was therefore enrolled in the program and my sponsor, Ashleigh began helping me through Tear Fund in New Zealand.
Ashleigh later got married to Andrew, and their support and prayers have enabled me to be what I am. As a sponsored child, we never met face to face, but they trusted me with their resources like their favorite child. They have not only financed my education up to university, but they are also concerned about my future progress.
Like my biological parents, they have kept close ties with me. Such trust, such concern, such love is hard to come by in our society. It is what makes me feel that my story is worth telling.
I was only 6 when Ashleigh became my sponsor. She was a nursing student. She chose to better my life by sparing part of her pocket money for me.
It may not have been much then, but it saved me from heading to the streets as a beggar. That is what encouraged me to become one of the top students in primary school. I studied hard in knowledge that my life depended on it.
Since my aunt whom I was staying with was illiterate, she also encouraged me to work hard so that I could read and write letters for her. I grew up inspired that since so much was being invested in me, much would be required from me too.
I realized how lucky I was when I visited home during weekends and holidays and learned that my siblings and other village mates were having problems with school fees. They could not even afford text books and stationary.
In our family, the siblings depended on my mother, Pauline. She had to hawk bananas and divide the meager earnings between food and school necessities. I was therefore a special child since my uniform was always new, and I never missed classes due to lacking certain items required at school.
In other schools in the village, students had to share old textbooks. A class of 40 or 50 pupils could have less than 10 textbooks.
That was not the case in our school. Thanks to our sponsors, we had enough books, which we shared with other pupils. We had everything we needed to concentrate on our education.
Unlike other students who used to rush home at lunchtime and come back late in the afternoon, the child development center organized a lunch program for us, too!
Such care enabled me to perform better in my studies. From a family of seven – five brothers and two sisters, only my eldest brother and I managed to proceed to secondary school.
I am now the first one from the family to have attained a university education! I can picture myself spruced in graduation attire, receiving my diploma in the presence of my tearful mother and friends. I still recall the long prayers she used to say, asking God to uplift her family.
She never failed to pray for my sponsors. To her, they were my parents from a distant land. They were not materially wealthy. They helped because they were rich at heart! There were considerably well-off people in our society, but my help had to come from distant lands!
There were some obstacles on my path, too. Even though my sponsors maintained their support when I joined secondary school, the development center introduced a new policy that required parents to share education costs. I had joined a prestigious high school in our area, but I had to drop out due to my inability to pay the fees.
I enrolled in another school whose academic performance was not as superior as the previous one. The school lacked adequate facilities and furthermore, I was still required to pay some fees.
Against my expectations of passing highly, I ended up with a grade of C+ in my final examinations. I considered it a big disappointment. The grade did not reflect my true academic ability. Most of my friends in my previous school had better grades and proceeded to universities while I faced a rough end of life at home.
A year after completing secondary school I was departed from the development center for claims of being undisciplined. It seemed to be the end of my ambition of becoming a journalist. And I could not write to my sponsors anymore.
Even though I still loved reading and writing, pursuing higher education became a mere dream. I began helping my mother in her bread winning efforts and worked as a hawker, an assistant in a research institution, and a part-time teacher among other undertakings.
I bought books from my small wages and converted my room into a library just to retain my academic mood.
“Silvano,” my mother would say whenever she saw me preoccupied in the “library,” “your addiction to books is not in vain. You will go to college one day and you will not even believe it.”
I believed the words were merely meant to uplift my spirits. My dismissal from the development center had closed college doors for me. I wrote articles for a local daily, the Kenya Times, just to keep my journalistic skills alive.
I also wrote poems and short stories, some of which were published in overseas anthologies.
While I was working on my stories one day, a thought struck. What if I searched for my sponsors? Would they be willing to assist me?
I decided to write to Compassion’s head office in Colorado Springs. It was a long letter in which I narrated my story and requested them to contact the sponsors on my behalf.
A long period of silence followed. I kept checking my e-mails but there was no communication. The silence led to my conclusion that my efforts were unsuccessful.
I was however shocked one day when I opened my inbox and saw the e-mail. I could not believe it. I reread it several times in order to prove that it was from my sponsors!
Compassion had alerted them to my desire to communicate, and now I was reading their e-mail!
When I showed it to my mother, she was not amazed as I expected. Instead she held my hands and prayed. Then she spoke assuredly:
“I knew you would unite with them one day”
That was in early September 2004. August, six years later, I graduated from USIU with an aggregate GPA of 3.75 (magna cum laude). I was also the second-best student in my journalism class.
When I graduated, my mother and my friends were present to celebrate with me. My sponsor came too. Andrew had flown in to witness the great event.
I know that the only way I can express my gratitude to my sponsors for helping me as a child and for reconnecting with me to support and encourage me even more is through hard work. Currently, I am an Intern at USAID in Nairobi. And I keep praying and working hard for success.
On behalf of the children you sponsor, thank you for loving us and giving us opportunities to succeed.