Many of us living in developed countries such as Canada will never experience poverty to the degree that those living in developing and third world countries continuously do. We live in our comfortable homes and go to work in our soaring glass towers wrapped up in our first world problems, aware of, but never truly knowing or experiencing, the hardships others face in less developed communities on a daily basis.
Compassion Canada, a Christian organization that works to provide holistic child development through sponsorship, has taken on the task of changing how people see and understand poverty, through an initiative called the Compassion Experience.
The Compassion Experience involves being immersed in a real story: the life of a child growing up in poverty. As part of the experience, you walk through various rooms. In each room, you are surrounded with real aspects of the poverty-stricken child’s life, and the struggles he or she faces. With each step, you actively participate in their journey by listening to their words narrate their story through a headset.
Travelling through the rooms, you hear how the child is connected to the Compassion Program through a local church, and how the child gets the chance to be a child, receive education, learn about God, build lasting healthy relationships and find hope. In my case, I had the chance to experience the story of Yannely, a girl from the Dominican Republic.
Yannely’s story introduces you to a girl growing up with a single mother. She has “toys” (dolls that she has made with mud), and her dinner consists of a cup of rice and some bananas to be shared between her and her mother.
Travelling through Yannely’s story, we hear her aunt suggest that her mother enroll her in the Compassion Program through a local church, and are introduced to the positive changes this brings to her life. The Compassion Centre showcases a clean environment, school supplies, and even tooth brushes standing upright for the children. We learn about the relationship that develops between Yannely and her sponsor, and how she finds strength in her spirituality.
Moving through the rooms, we learn of how Yannely wants to become a doctor and is studying hard to do so. We also see how the relationship with her sponsor continues to grow, even in the hard and trying times. Continuing through the rooms, as Yannely gets older we see that she works harder and is coming closer to becoming a doctor, even in the face of a legal obstacle requiring her to have her father’s name to go to university in the Dominican Republic. Facing these challenges, Yannely finds strength in her Compassion Centre, her sponsor, her faith and herself, to persevere and get admitted into university.
At the end of the Compassion Experience with Yannely’s story, we find ourselves standing in the middle of a medical clinic. Yannely, through the help of her sponsor and Compassion Canada, realized her goals of becoming a doctor. She came out of poverty to make a difference in her community, and is now lifting others up with hope in the same way her sponsor and Compassion once did for her.
The immersive nature of the Compassion Experience provides a relatable experience of what life in poverty is like, and how the power of hope and one person can be the change.