One big thing that I didn’t write about in my last post about Ecuador was the opportunity I had to meet Guadalupe, one of the little girls I sponsor through Compassion International. It would have made an “already-long-post” a “too-long-post”, so I saved it for another day…
After my trip to Thailand in 2013, I knew I wanted to do something to stay connected to the area. The country stole a piece of my heart, and so many children there need so much. So I partnered with Compassion International to sponsor a child near the area I had worked. Shortly after I returned from Ecuador this winter, I began thinking about sponsoring a child from Ecuador also. Coincidentally, in January, Compassion was also in Ecuador – doing one of their blogging trips. Each night, I would pour over their photos; seeing familiar places, and all those little faces with their dark brown eyes. In conjunction with the blogging trip, they were running a campaign to sponsor 50 kids in Ecuador during the month of January. So I did it. I scrolled through page after page of little faces. Some would catch my eye, and I would take a closer look. I wanted to sponsor a child who lived in an area close to where we would be working this summer, so a visit would be possible. Most of the kids didn’t fit that criteria.
And then I saw her. Bright eyes and a mischievous smile. A blue shirt, pink shorts, and sandals. Curly hair and those big brown eyes. And she lived in Rocafuerte – a town I knew we’d be working in. She was definitely the one. Janeicy Guadalupe. A lot of name for such a little girl. We exchanged a few letters. Even though they come with a translation, I enjoyed trying to read through the Spanish and figure out what was she was saying. I arranged the visit with Compassion. My mom and I went shopping for her. What should a little girl have? How much can I shove into a backpack and carry across an ocean? We settled on a dress, some shoes, a baby doll, some hair things, a Spanish story Bible, markers and paper, chalk, bubbles, and play-dough. And a tutu skirt. Because every little girl should have a tutu skirt to twirl around in.
My visit was during the second week of the trip. I had arranged for my friend Lydia, and one of our translators, Martín, to join me. As the visit got closer, I was a little nervous. After all, Guadalupe is only three- would she even know who I was? What would I say to her family?
The day came, and one of the ladies from the church in Esmeraldas drove the three of us to Rocafuerte (a very cultural experience in and of itself!). Camilo, a representative from Compassion International, picked us up in Rocafuerte and drove us the short distance to the Compassion project. He told me that Guadalupe was waiting there and that she and her mom, Rosita, were very excited to be meeting me. As we walked up the path, Camilo called her name and she came running out of the building. Just as much energy as her photo depicted. When she wrapped her little arms around me, my heart melted. The sponsorship was no longer just letters. No longer just $38 a month. It was a person. A real little girl living in one of the poorest towns I’ve ever been to.
We toured the compassion project. She showed me her artwork and we played on the playground. I got to see her little world. Camilo told us that kids go to the project twice a week and for church on Sundays. He said that often, those are the only two solid meals the kids get all week. That often they don’t eat all of the food they’re given, because they bring it home to share with the rest of their family. He also told us that many times whole families come to Christ because of one sponsored child. That child goes to the project for church and then the whole family ends up coming and hearing and responding to the Gospel.
The beach is just a short distance from the project, so we drove down and took a walk along the shore. Before long, both Guadalupe and I were soaked from running into the waves. As she collected seashells and chased a ball along on the sand, Camilo explained to us that many families go clamming everyday- digging in the sand for hours to fill up buckets that will sell for a couple of dollars.
As I watched her splash in the waves, I couldn’t help but think of the starfish story. Guadalupe is one of millions of children around the world living in extreme poverty. I can’t help millions of children. But I can make a difference in the life of one.
After the beach, we went to Guadalupe’s home. Just a concrete room, attached to a family member’s house, with a divider that creates two bedrooms. Guadalupe’s mom gave us some fruit from a fruit tree that they have in their backyard. While we were back there, Camilo showed us the huge tub that they collect rain water in. They don’t have running water, so they collect all the water they can when it rains. We went back inside and I sat on Guadalupe’s bed with her and opened the backpack full of surprises. She pulled her baby doll out, gave it a big hug and named her Meagan. A few minutes later, Guadalupe’s brother, Jari, came running home after his morning at school. His smile is just as infectious as hers.
We went to a restaurant for lunch – and for four dollars a person we all ate soup, meat, rice, and lentils. Over lunch, we talked about our families and what life was like for us. I learned that Guadalupe’s father is a fisherman- he wakes up at 4:30 every morning to see if he can get work on a fishing boat. Camilo told us that there aren’t as many boats available to go out as there used to be, because drug cartels from Columbia have started hiring the boats to transport drugs up to Mexico. So some days, he doesn’t have any work. And on a good day, he brings home $5. He also told us that in Ecuador, the kids call their sponsors “Madrinas or Padrinos” which means Godmother or Godfather. In Spanish, the word “sponsor” doesn’t hold that much meaning, but godmother is someone who loves, prays for, and believes in you. After lunch, we stopped for some ice cream, and Guadalupe and Jari’s happiness over such a small thing was as obvious as the ice cream that was all over their faces.
Soon, it was time to take Guadalupe and her family back to their house. We took a few more photos, and under normal circumstances, we would have had to say goodbye. But, the church where we were doing our program that week was literally about a five minute walk from her house. So, I was actually able to see her for three days. Every afternoon Guadalupe and Jari would come to our program and come find and find me and give me big hugs. One day, their parents walked them to the program and brought our whole team fruit from the tree in their backyard. It always amazes me how people with so little are so generous.
After our final program for the week, Lydia, Martín, Jason (who is hoping to sponsor Jari- please pray everything works out for that!), and I walked Guadalupe and Jari home. We said goodbyes and exchanged hugs, and with tears in my eyes, I walked away from her little house, but a part of me stayed there.
In some ways it feels helpless to leave her in a town where there is so much poverty and abuse. But I don’t leave her alone. I leave her in the loving hands of her family, and more importantly in the good hands of a good God who loves her more than I could ever dream of.
A big thank you to Lydia and Martín, for taking this journey with me (and an extra thank you to Martín for capturing our time together so wonderfully).