Nayely walks with her parents near the river where they and many other community members wash their clothes.
Ten-year-old Nayely announces she’s going to change out of her slip-on flats, then disappears inside her adobe home. She returns a few minutes later in white athletic shoes — the special ones she keeps safe and clean inside until the time is right.
This afternoon is such a time, when a soccer game is likely to break out at her Compassion center. Nayely’s parents, Pasesa and Pablo, wouldn’t have been able to afford the shoes if it weren’t for their daughter’s sponsor, who sent a family gift.
Nayely and her family live in Achacachi, an impoverished town on a 12,647-foot plateau of the Bolivian Andes. Most people in the hilly town are Aymara, one of Bolivia’s two largest indigenous groups. The Aymara have lived in the region for at least 800 years, and parts of their culture have survived periods of Inca and Spanish conquest, urbanization and globalization. While Nayely and her friends dress in jeans, T-shirts and sneakers, her mother wears the full skirt and shawl typical of indigenous women, who are known as cholitas. But while wealthy cholitas can spend hundreds of dollars on ornate skirts and their signature bowler hats, Pasesa can barely afford food. That’s why Nayely is one of 367 children who receive help from the church in Achacachi — with the support of sponsors.
Shoes laced up, Nayely joins her friends on a large soccer field at her Compassion center. More sponsored children filter in through the center gate, their round cheeks made rosy by the dry, chilly wind. Most of them were born into need — but maybe none more so than Nayely.
IN SEARCH OF A FAMILY
Before they had Nayely, Pasesa and Pablo had a son, Carlos. When Carlos was 10 he started having seizures that lasted a few minutes each time. The scant income his parents earned selling CDs, DVDs and toiletries in the street market didn’t even buy enough food for Carlos — let alone the medicine that stopped his seizures. Carlos began falling behind in school but continued to attend. Then he stopped speaking.
From left, Carlos, Pablo, Nayely and Pasesa outside their adobe home that Pablo built.
So his parents worked longer hours in the marketplace while Carlos was at school. At the market one morning, Pasesa heard that a friend and fellow merchant had died while giving birth at home. The baby, a girl, survived. Such stories are too common in impoverished places: Many women can’t afford hospital bills or transportation, so they give birth at home with no skilled attendants present.
Three months later Pasesa heard that the baby girl’s relatives were still searching for a permanent family for the girl. Even though she and Pablo were struggling to raise a son with developmental disabilities related to the seizures, they knew immediately what they had to do: A child needed a family, so they gave her one.
“I felt really bad about that situation because she was a baby,” says Pasesa, who adopted the child to raise as her own. “Now she is my baby.”
“The [Compassion] project helps Nayely with school materials, her books and notebooks — everything she needs.”
Nayely's mother, Pasesa
With a new child to feed, the parents’ worries increased. They and the children often went to bed with hungry stomachs. But Nayely managed to reach 3 years old, when a neighbor saw their plight and told her mom about a program for children at a nearby church. Pasesa took Nayely to the church up the street, where they met Alejandro, director of the Compassion program there. After Pasesa told him about her children’s problems, Alejandro explained that at age 14 Carlos was too old to begin the sponsorship program, but Nayely would be a perfect fit.
“He has done a lot for Nayely,” Pasesa says of Alejandro. “The [Compassion] project helps Nayely with school materials, her books and notebooks — everything she needs.”
The meals and snacks Nayely eats at the center are a relief to Pasesa and Pablo, who still struggle to afford enough food for themselves and Carlos, now 21. Pablo still works long hours, making about 20 bolivianos — less than $3 — on a typical day. Pasesa sells toiletries at the market on Sundays, but mostly she stays home to watch over Nayely and Carlos.
Many kids in the community hang out unsupervised in the streets while their parents drink alcohol. Alejandro, the Compassion program director, says alcohol is a big problem among adults and adolescents in Achacachi. Pasesa and Pablo, who don’t drink, feel calm knowing their daughter is playing and learning at her Compassion center rather than joining the kids in the streets.
Pasesa says her biggest concern is for her daughter’s education. Nayely is thriving in that area. “I’m doing well at school,” Nayely says. “I was the best student of the class for two years.”
Nayely does school work outside her Compassion center.
Because Pasesa — who never had the chance to learn to read and write — can’t help her daughter with her homework, she’s thankful for the tutors at the Compassion center who help her after school. One of Nayely’s favorite things to read is letters from her sponsor, Yakimiki, in South Korea. “My sponsor is a math teacher,” Nayely says proudly. “When I grow up I want to be a math teacher too.”
After Nayely joined the program, her parents started attending the church and became Christians. “To believe in God, it’s a good thing,” Pablo says. “… He’s our father, and He sees us. He helped us.”
A FAMILY’S HOPE
Of course sponsorship hasn’t made life perfect for Nayely’s family, but it has greatly improved it. “We are worried about Carlos, and we are sad when we don’t have enough money for buying food,” Pasesa says. “But we are calm, we are OK. I believe in God, so it’s easier. As the Bible says, ‘Be calm, for I am with you.’”
Carlos continues to have seizures once or twice a month. But he’s regained his speech with the help of teachers at his public school, where he’s in 11th grade. Pasesa says she wishes he would read his Bible instead of hanging out in the streets.
Nayely thanks a cook at her Compassion center for a warm meal of rice, vegetables and chicken soup. Many sponsored kids would go to bed hungry if it weren't for the food they eat at their Compassion centers.
But the weight of her worry has lessened immensely thanks to Nayely’s sponsorship. Pasesa knows that when Nayely curls up next to her in bed each night, she has a full belly. She finds comfort seeing Nayely read her Bible and earn top grades in school. And when Nayely laces up her shoes and heads to her Compassion center, Pasesa knows she’s going to a safe place that will nurture her physically and spiritually as she grows into a young woman of God.
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