Compassion Experience brings poverty of Uganda, Guatemala to Irving

Walking through a self-guided tour of a replica schoolroom in Guatemala, Bridget Lewis and her daughter, Joy, were reminded of how blessed their lives are in North Texas.

“One child received a pair of socks as a Christmas gift,” Lewis said. “These are the kinds of things many Americans take for granted. It’s no big deal to get a pair of socks. We have so much. Then you see people who could be helped in so many ways, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, by just a little bit of kindness.”

Lewis and her daughter joined visitors of Compassion International’s “The Compassion Experience” in Irving from Aug. 11 through 14 at Grace Point Church. The event educated visitors about the realities of life in poverty through one of two self-guided tours of the lives of children growing up and overcoming poverty: Carlos in Guatemala and Shamim in Uganda. After the tour, visitors were taught more about the organization’s child sponsorship program.

“We have so much here, and then you see people who need a plate of rice and beans to stand,” Lewis said. “Carlos talked about working all day, going to school, then going to bed hungry. I hope people demonstrate more compassion.”

The 1,700 square foot exhibit space featured models of rooms and environments. The spaces were designed to mirror the real-life environments as closely as possible. The children in the stories helped design the rooms and even donated some of their childhood items as decor. The space takes anywhere from 2 to 8 hours to set up depending on the number of volunteers.

“We hope people learn more about what life is like for children living in poverty,” said Kate Amaya, regional manager for Compassion International. “The Compassion Experience is their opportunity to experience that in their local community without having to travel to the developing world. The stories of Carlos and Shamim are real people.”

Amaya helped place one of eight trailers across the country. The trailers travel almost every weekend of the year to different cities and churches. The Compassion Experience is solely church based, and Grace Point Church in Irving is one of the organization’s U.S. church partners.

Compassion International was founded in 1952 as a Christian child development organization. They provide at least 80 percent of their donor funding to program operations and extend their services to include counseling and preventative services.

Based out of Colorado Springs, the organization works around the world to release children from poverty. They partner with more than 6,700 churches in 25 countries. The core mission of the organization is their child sponsorship program. Amaya estimates the organization has 1.2 million children involved all over the world.

After the self-guided tour, visitors walk into the World Impact Room where they learn more about children in need of sponsors.

“It’s a continuation from the child’s story into this area,” said Emily Mathis, an independent contractor with Compassion International.

Mathis became a sponsor years ago during intermission at a rock concert when she was handed a packet and shown a video of the child sponsorship program.

“I was very moved by it,” she said. “I took the packet, and it was a little boy from the Philippines. I became his sponsor and started volunteering.”

Mathis is trained to have information ready for visitors who have questions about how the program works and about child sponsorship. She lives in the North Texas area and volunteers whenever the trailer passes through the area.

The World Impact Room ushers visitors to the Child Sponsorship Wall where cards hang featuring children living in poverty. Individuals can sponsor a children from one of 25 countries in Africa, Central America, South America and Asia.

Some children had a priority sticker on their card, indicating they’ve been waiting more than six months for a sponsor. On the first day of the event, Mathis displays all of the priority children first. Other stickers include one indicating they live in an aids-infected area as well as a child-rights violation area sticker, meaning there can be ongoing human trafficking. The cards also include the children’s stories on the back.

A basic sponsorship costs $38 a month and includes making sure the child has food to eat, clean water, free education including tuition, books, and uniforms, as well as free healthcare. Another component of the program is letter writing, a feature Compassion International hopes will keep the children involved in the program after their education.

“It’s key to helping them feel the hope they need for their future,” Mathis said. “Now that we’re taking care of their basic needs, we can open their eyes to a hopeful future. Now they can be somebody and change their community, change their environment, and do whatever they want.

“They all have different stories. One’s name is Kiwi from the Philippines. She lives in Dallas and works at one of the medical centers. They grow up and stay involved with compassion and some have started their own compassion centers, or their own ministries, or get their college degrees.”

The organization is Christ centered and part of the program teaches the children about Jesus.

“There can be many denominations,” Mathis said. “We present, and they have a choice.”

Including their basic child sponsorship, the organization offers twelve different categories of funding including emergency, disaster, aids relief and malaria relief.

Mathis estimates that 100 to 125 children will come away with a sponsor during the exhibit.

“Our goal is for people to be moved through compassion,” volunteer Ashley Castleberry said. “You see these hurting kids and then to make a difference by sponsorship is our main goal.”

About the Author

Joe Snell

Joe Snell studied film and business law at the University of Southern California. He has worked for a number of film and television companies including 21st Century Fox, Starz Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency, and Brillstein Entertainment Partners.