The Maseno Child Development Center is one of the oldest centers in the Lake Victoria region of Kenya. I am here to meet Evans, one of the first students to be registered back in 1987.
Evans arrives at the center’s main office and is dressed in a neat navy blue suit, a patterned shirt and tie to match. His current occupation as a high school teacher has him used to wearing a jacket, even on a sunny day like today.
As we sit under the shade of the tall tree outside the office, he tells me of a day he vividly remembers.
“When Compassion staff came to visit, I was at Ematsi Primary, my local school. They looked for poor children, especially the orphaned and those from broken homes. Though I had both parents, we were just as lowly as many other children in the village. I was the 47th pupil to be picked.”
The first gift he was given really surprised him. He shares,
“I received a financial gift from my sponsor and I bought a goat that soon gave birth. When more goats had been born we sold the goats and bought a cow.”
This became the family’s special cow. In Evans’ area, where small-scale agriculture is the main occupation, the gift of a goat was a huge leap forward for the family of seven who struggled to earn money.
Evans grew up during a time of critical political and socio-economic change at both a local and national level in Kenya. But during this time, Evans had other challenges to confront beyond politics.
“I remember that food was scarce. People fought for food.”
His mother would leave very early in the morning and came back late at night in search of bread for the family. Evans fondly remembers Saturday programs because he was always excited to meet his friends, but more importantly, he could enjoy a meal every time he attended.
“My favorite dish was Githeri (a mixture of maize and beans). I still remember how good it tasted.”
A nostalgic Evans recalls playing with other children who are still his bosom buddies. One thing he learned from them was academic competitiveness because, though they came from different schools, they were renowned for their good grades. Evans’ efforts to succeed in school made him the best student there.
To date, only one other student has broken his record, and that was only after repeating a year.
Evans shares his eagerness to go to university, but also the sadness of leaving the child sponsorship program.
“I was thrilled, and especially because I was the only one in our family to go to university.”
His excitement was short-lived, however, because when Evans turned 22 and left the sponsorship program, he could no longer afford his school fees.
“When I left the child sponsorship program I knew I could no longer afford tuition. This was crucial because, more often than not, obtaining higher education dictates one’s type of work, income and eventually standard of living.”
Evans’ departure from the program and the reality of financial struggles back home elicited a quick response; to sell his special cow and calves to finance his education.
“The cow I bought had helped expand our herd. I sold it to take care of my tuition.”
Evans graduated with a bachelor’s of education in math and chemistry and landed a job as a teacher. His occupation helped him to take care of his parents and siblings financially.
“I decided to help my relatives before I got into marriage. My sister is now an assistance chief (government officer) in this location, and she is now married. Another sibling is a laboratory technician, one other is an accountant, and another is a forwarding agent.”
Evans has helped all his siblings through school and they are now independent.
His generosity has also extended to other needy children.
“It pains me to see children sent home because of tuition.”
Recently, one of the boys he helped through school passed his final exams.
“I was very happy when he came back to say thank you.”
At Emanyinya Secondary School, Evans receives a warm welcome by his students. Before he proceeds with the day’s lesson, he has an announcement for his class,
“Today I came with a special guest who is here to follow my story. I was once like many of you; a needy student. I worked hard to be where I am today but more importantly, I was supported through school.”
The students mumble among themselves, seemingly eager to hear more. Evans asks,
“Anyone ever heard about Compassion?”
There is a brief moment of silence, and then a few hands shoot up. One of them, we learn, is sponsored by our ministry at a nearby child development center. He smiles, puts his hand down and scribbles something in his exercise book.
“I once was sponsored by Compassion. Like you, I faced similar challenges, but I want you to know that you can be everything you want to be regardless of your background.”
Their faces light up, and they’re keen to learn more about their teacher. This is a different kind of math lesson.
After school we go to Evans’ home which is not too far away from the school. The blue doors usher us into his spacious and self-contained brick house.
Evans decided to settle down immediately after all his siblings finished school. We are greeted by his beautiful and jovial wife, Loice, and their 7-month-old boy, Albert, named after Evans’ former sponsor.
Evans does not forget his roots for even a moment.
“My parents worked hard to see us succeed, and I want to reward them for their effort.”
The least he wishes to do for them is to improve their house. He has already completed a new roof for them, and now, he wants to install electricity.
“My father always helped wire electricity into people’s homes, but he has never enjoyed the same in his own. I will try to make it happen in his lifetime and witness him light a bulb.”
I am astounded by this humble man, Evans who is not only a brother, a son, a father, a husband, a teacher and a church leader, but also a humanitarian in his own right. Looking back, he sees God’s hand in it all.
“I am grateful to God, first for allowing me to be alive, to have the strength to work hard and now, the beautiful wife and child He has given me.”
Who would have thought? Undeniably, God was in it all.
Even as He guided Evans sponsor when she picked his child packet, a quarter century ago!
Update: This post was originally titled “Spending the Day with a Former Sponsored Child”.