I remember that I was 16 years old when I had finally saved up enough money, and convinced my parents I was old enough to sponsor a child. After looking at the photo of each and every child on the Compassion website who was waiting for a sponsor, I chose a smiley 5 year old girl from Indonesia.
Her name was Uli.
For the past 8 years Uli and have gotten to know each other, exchanging lots of letters, photos, and stickers. I have seen her grow up from a tiny girl, to a beautiful young teenager.
When I decided to travel to the Philippines to participate in Careen’s LDP graduation, I realized that that there was a chance that I could also meet Uli in person!
So I flew from Manila to Singapore to Jakarta, arriving late in the evening. The next day I was met by my Compassion host Roulianti (ChooChoo for short) and another host who was learning the host role.
We headed out in a rented car, and 10 minutes later arrived at the church that runs the Compassion IO425 project. I was invited inside where I met the pastor and his wife, along with some of the staff and tutors of the project.
As we all got to know each other and they told me about the activities that they lead with the children. Kids in Indonesia go to school for half days, either in the mornings or the afternoons, so the children attend the Compassion project in the other half of the day. I believe they said that the kids attend the Compassion project here 3 days/week, where they receive Bible lessons, tutoring, nutritious food, life lessons, and fun activities.
Next, I received a tour of the project offices and the classrooms where the kids gather. The church has been in existence for 13 years, and was just recently able to purchase the small building where it meets. They also rent a few nearby buildings to use for activities with the kids. They hope to soon have enough money to purchase the buildings so that they can expand the church and renovate the classroom areas.
After seeing the project it was time to meet Uli. We drove for 15 minutes down small winding streets, dodging motorcycles and shops that spilled out onto the road.
When the car stopped we all piled out (some of the project workers had come with us to show us the way) and headed down a small alley to reach Uli’s house. And there she was…
After we finally stopped hugging, Uli introduced me to her mom and her sisters Mona and Esther. We headed into their house and sat on a mat on the floor to get to know each other better. I gave her a binder with page protectors to keep my letters, or other papers in (the front was decorated with her photos), and she showed me the stack of letters she has received over the years. There was a lot of laughter… and tears of joy.
I got to give gifts…
And then they showed me her house. They have a living room, a bedroom, and a small space that that is split between a kitchen and a bathroom. (The photos displayed on the wall are many of the photos that I have sent to Uli over the last 8 years.)
Me with my three little sisters
It was amazing to be able to sit there next to Uli. I have sponsored her for 8 years, yet in the short time we had visiting together I learned so much more about her.
I learned the names of her two sisters. And their unique personalities
I learned that I am her first sponsor, and that her sister Esther is also sponsored.
I learned that she has kept all of the photos I have sent. She has them on her wall, covered with plastic to keep them dry.
I learned that Uli has a skin condition that makes her skin very sensitive. She has to try and wear long sleeves, and avoid mosquitoes.
I learned that the house Uli’s family rents is just four feet away from the edge of a former garbage dump.
I learned that the dump is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and the frequent floods sometimes send run-off water from the dump rushing into the house.
I also learned that her family is full of love.
I learned that their father works hard as a laborer to provide for their family, and that their mother encourages them to continue attending the Compassion project, and she even walks them there and back every day to make sure that they are safe.
I learned that although she lives in poverty, poverty does not live in her. She has dreams and hopes for her future.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye. After a few more teary hugs…
we said, “see you tomorrow….