Many of the children we work alongside go to extraordinary lengths to get to school. With their school fees and supplies provided by their sponsors, they'll overcome remarkable challenges to get into the classroom and carry on learning.
7,000 steps down a mountain
It's 7.30 am. Lucia and her two grandchildren have already been walking for forty minutes. They've got at least another twenty to go before they reach the school gates. The heat is beginning to pierce through, the stifling humidity rising.
The journey is treacherous - the family's way is marked with steep rocks and they have to concentrate hard. As the terrain steepens, Lucia picks up her grandson, 4-year-old John, and carries him under her arm. But despite her weariness and the pain in her back, Lucia is rejoicing.
"When my two grandchildren were sponsored, I knew it was their ticket to a good future," she explains. "Taking them to the student centre is not a difficult thing for me. I don't mind."
Lucia has lived on top of Mount Joghon all her life. A couple of years ago, when her daughter Jackilyn was abandoned by her husband, she opened her home to her grandchildren, John and 6-year-old Johannah.
The family live in a lone hut, an hour away from the nearest neighbours. It may be stunningly beautiful, but survival here is challenging. The hour's journey down the mountain is not only the route to school and the Compassion project, it's the only way to get rice.
Johannah and John's project director, Renita, can still vividly remember meeting the family for the first time. “They needed the help. They are living by themselves with no comfort, no money and no chances of getting an education," she says. "If they were not sponsored, they would have zero chance of going to school.”
Lucia and her daughter, Jackilyn, are immensely grateful for the books and uniforms their children's sponsors provide. For them, the mammoth school run is well worth it.
"The biggest benefits they get from the Compassion programme are education and hope for a better future," expresses Jackilyn. "I'm now sure they could finish college someday. I hope Johannah becomes a nurse and John a policeman."
A canoe ride across the river
A bright yellow canoe lurches to the side as a group of excited school children pile inside. Mary Joy takes her seat and smiles generously. She relaxes as she hears the familiar rhythm of the paddle driving in and out of the water.
This canoe may look simple, but for Mary Joy and her mum, it's revolutionised the school run. Up until a few years ago, both mum and daughter used to swim to the school gates.
"Before, when there was no canoe around, we swam across Wawa (the river) to get to school," says Mary Joy. "Now we have a canoe that we ride on. It was given to us by the student (Compassion) centre."
Mary's mum adds her appreciation. "We used to be very afraid for our children when they went to school, especially when it rained. Now that we have a canoe, we are very thankful to the student centre. We now know that our God hears our prayers regarding the needs of our children.”
Wading through a river, stopping for a spot of fishing
The smooth, worn surface of the bamboo spear glistens through the water. With a speed and skill celebrated in youth twice his age, Pa-Er overturns rock after rock looking for fish. The biting cold water is now lapping at his shoulders.
Pa-Er is from the Karen tribe. He is 13 years old, stands just under four feet tall, and carries the silent, reserved personality prevalent throughout his secluded tribe. Living in a remote western Thailand mountain range, this is Pa-Er's regular stop off on the route to his Compassion project. Pa-Er is extremely enterprising: if he has to cross a river to get to school, he figures that he may as well catch a fish.
After years of practice, Pa-Er is highly skilled at walking through the river's strong currents. It may be a challenge when the water levels are high, but Pa-Er is determined to continue his journey and carry on reaching the classroom. It looks as though Pa-Er's feat is paying off. Last term his grades averaged 3.5 out of 4.
Far too often, poverty robs children of the opportunity to sit down at a desk. An estimated 1 in 11 children is missing from the classroom.* Compassion sponsorship gives children in poverty the chance to get back to school and learn. Children are provided with vital school fees, resources and uniforms.
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Independent research shows that if you sponsor a child with Compassion, they are more likely to be employed and be a community leader when they grow up.