“One day, we will see a formerly sponsored child lead our nation.” This is the dream that fills the hearts of the Compassion El Salvador staff.
What started in 1977 in El Salvador with the implementation of the child sponsorship program, is now taking a step closer toward that dream.
A few months ago, after a long wait, the Leadership Development Program (LDP) started to take shape in El Salvador.
At Compassion El Salvador, we always have known there is potential in our future men and women to lead this nation. With the Leadership Development Program in our country, we can work hard to further develop those future leaders.
What does it take to start and run a program with such amazing potential? “Vision,” says Monica Funes, El Salvador’s LDP Specialist.
“A vision is needed to see those teenagers become doctors, lawyers, nurses and entrepreneurs; to see that these teenagers will become the ones who will set this nation free.”
It can be difficult to have this vision in a country where, according to the office of the Attorney General, there are between 12 and 13 murders every day; a country where, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, almost one-third of the population lives under the poverty line; a country where the literacy rate is approximately 80 percent and the majority of urbanites stop schooling after sixth grade and after the third grade in rural areas.
How can a boy who has grown up surrounded by gangs and violence become an accountant? A girl who is surrounded by poverty and despair become a doctor?
The message that poverty sends is: “You can’t because you are worthless.” But the message that God sends to these children is: “You can, because you are mine.”
And in El Salvador God has chosen to put a light that will lead the way for these men and women that He has chosen to become the men and women He wants them to be.
In order to ignite that light, something else is needed. Hard work.
From promotion to administration to strategic planning, providing Compassion El Salvador children with the opportunity to develop at the university level requires a lot of hard work and dedication.
Before even recruiting the candidates for the program, an advisory committee must be put together. The committee must show not only expertise in the different fields of study, but also be strong Christian leaders.
They will interview each of the applicants and at the end, along with the Leadership Development Program Specialist, will choose the final 20 who will become the recipients of the program, which is the starting quota according to the strategic planning.
According to Pedro Coto, Program Manager, there are plans to keep growing with 20 new students for the next three years.
The country office also needs to assess the universities that will train and develop these young people.
The LDP Specialist and the Program Implementation Manager studied and evaluated which universities in the country would be the best for our LDP students. They conducted interviews with university staff, visited the facilities, and assessed the areas of study during the first stage of the LDP opening process.
The Leadership Development Program is more than a scholarship; it is a development program that aims at producing strong Christian leaders. Along with the formal education, a leadership development curriculum is implemented, working hand-in-hand with the university education.
Selection, university assessments, curriculum development, promotion … all this would be impossible without something else … teamwork.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is a saying among African tribes, says Brenda Kerls, one of the trainers for the Leadership Development Program startup. The process of starting the Leadership Development Program takes the whole office. But to cast these future leaders, more than just the work of a country office is needed.
There are other factors that are crucial to the development of the students. One is the figure of a mentor.
For LDP students, their child development center director and tutors are no longer available to guide them. Instead, the students have the field office through the LDP specialist advocating for every need they have.
But they also have a mentor, a Christian adult who commits to support the development of the protégé.
A mentor must be a proven Christian who will be able to discover, support, and further develop the LDP student academically and spiritually. The mentor must also hold a grade of expertise in the student’s field of study.
With the help of a leadership development curriculum, the mentor guides the student through the sometimes rough waters of college and life.
The other key piece of the team is the sponsor.
In the Leadership Development Program, the sponsor can play an even deeper role for the student, and build a profound relationship through letter writing, encouraging the student to become not only a good professional, but also an active Christian and leader in his or her family, community, and church.
The prayers, words of encouragement and love that sponsors share through their letters are key in the student’s experience.
With every application filled out, with every test and assessment answered, with every young man and woman interviewed, the church in El Salvador, with the help of sponsors, donors and churches around the world, are raising up leaders who will climb on mountains, cross seas, and walk farther than anyone before, but above all, serve and lift the name of Jesus on high.
And then they will release others from poverty, in the name of Jesus.