This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of HomeLife.
She didn’t know how she would raise three children alone, but she knew they had to leave if they were going to survive.
Eridania’s life was never easy. Her mother died when she was eight, and her father wasn’t around much. She got pregnant with her daughter, Erica, at age 15 and married the child’s father. The marriage didn’t last. She remarried and had two sons, Alexander and Angel, with her new husband. But he began beating her in front of the children. Alexander begged her to leave her abusive husband, and she finally gathered the courage to flee with her children.
The domestic violence that Eridania’s children witnessed had repercussions.
Ten-year-old Alexander was aggressive toward other children, sometimes getting into fights at school. But it wasn’t only Alexander. Carmen Rosa, Alexander’s Compassion tutor, and Roberto Peña, pastor of the church that runs Alexander’s Compassion program, witnessed widespread hostility and violence in the community. So they made it a priority to change that culture.
Pastor Roberto holds a Master’s degree in Psychopedagogy—a mix of psychology and pedagogy, the discipline of teaching. He created an anti-violence program and began counseling sessions with sponsored children and parents, including Alexander and Eridania.
“We took about six months trying to help them change their attitudes,” Roberto says. It worked. “There is a complete change in the classroom. … They can understand violence and the damage it can produce in them and among them.”
Carmen says she’s seen a transformation in Alexander as a result of the program. Eridania agrees, explaining that her entire family has adopted healthy ways of dealing with emotions instead of shouting and fighting. Having peace in the household has eased stress for Eridania, who works hard just to feed her children.
Eridania is a grocery store cleaner. Her monthly salary of 3,500 pesos, about $75, isn’t enough to cover her rent of 4,000 pesos — not to mention other expenses. If she can find side work as a housecleaner, she can cook dinners like fried plantains with spaghetti. But more than once she’s had to ask a neighbor for a piece of bread to split among her children. Eridania’s load grew a little lighter five years ago when the Koldenhovens, a family in Colorado, sponsored Alexander. Ian Koldenhoven, 10, shares a birthday with Alexander and writes to him regularly. Registering Alexander in Compassion’s program hasn’t solved all of Eridania’s problems, but in addition to living in a more peaceful household, she no longer worries about Alexander’s school fees. The meals he eats at his Compassion center ensure he won’t go to bed hungry. And Compassion pays for a tonsil medicine he needs, which costs 300 pesos a month. The Koldenhovens deepened their relationship with Alexander’s family this year when they flew to the Dominican Republic. Amanda and Chad Koldenhoven wanted to meet their sponsored child and also give Ian and his sister, Tava, a jump-start to a broader worldview.
“They’re young enough that they’re not set in their ways,” Amanda says. “They’re still deciding what their view of the world is, how the world operates.”
Since Tava was only six, her parents wondered how she would handle a trek overseas. “I was hesitant because it’s a tremendous amount of work, but it was worth it,” says Chad.
A large part of what made the trip worthwhile to Chad was watching his son’s immediate friendship with Alexander. The boys hugged. Alexander invited Ian to play baseball with the only equipment he has — a board and a plastic bottle filled with rocks.
Meeting their sponsored child’s family and visiting the Compassion center where he learns and plays gave the Koldenhovens a deeper understanding and appreciation of Compassion’s program. “Sponsorship isn’t making life a little nicer,” Amanda says. “It’s pushing them off the knife edge of survival. There are no safety nets in Compassion countries.”
The Koldenhovens saw how much their family means to the Alexanders. During a visit to their home, Eridania pulled out a photo the Koldenhovens sent years ago. “Seeing our worn family picture made me cry,” Amanda says. “It was a treasured possession. They feel about my family the way we do about theirs. They’re family.”
The Koldenhovens didn’t know the history of domestic violence in Alexander’s family until they visited. “Without Compassion, he just would have fallen off the grid in his own community,” Amanda says. “He wouldn’t get counseling groups. He wouldn’t be able to identify his own need. He would have been a child causing problems.”
“Compassion sponsorship works,” Amanda adds. “We can see the difference. These kids have bright eyes and dreams. They still live in poverty but know their future is brighter both here and in eternity. They aren’t trapped forever.”
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As a Marketing Communications Specialist for Compassion International, Willow Welter tells the stories of children whose lives are changing thanks to the generosity of sponsors and donors.