Children are all around us. There are groups in school uniforms whispering to each other and those kicking a soccer ball in the street. Laughter fills our ears and their smiles warm our hearts. When a child suffers from poverty, when the smile is replaced with hunger and worry, our hearts break and we yearn to help them rise above circumstances they have no control over.

But questions linger. If these children truly need help how do I choose an organization committed to children? According to a recent report from The GINI Project (a statistical measurement that charts inequality in the world) Colombia received a 0.539 ranking, and a country with the fourth largest wealth gap in Latin America.

The 2012 Human Development Index (HDI) ranked Colombia 91 out of 187 countries – lower than the Latin American average. Although improvement takes time, Colombia has made positive changes in the last 10 years, especially in its large cities. But stats show that there is a vital role for NGOs in rural areas.

One organization that works closely with children to meet their social and family needs is Compassion International. Started in 1952 by Rev. Everett Swanson to aid Korean War orphans, Compassion now helps 1.2 million children in 26 countries.

In 1974, Compassion opened its doors in Colombia. They are now one of four organizations where children are sponsored by individuals with monthly donations of US $38. Of the money donated, 85 percent goes directly into programs that focus on the healthy development of the child: from the spiritual, physical and social. Working directly with 220 local churches, the NGO’s development centers are located according to the HDI’s listing of the neediest areas.

Ana Narváez Ibañez, 40, is the director of the Nueva Vida project where 450 children come for classes and a snack. Overflowing with joy and love, girls dance with an instructor preparing for an upcoming competition, kids sit at a table working on expressing a con- cept through art and others gather near a music teacher beating out a rhythm on their chairs. Narváez takes time to do home visits and provides additional classes for parents. Special projects are offered such as mechanic classes for older boys and hair dressing for girls. Children who show significant leadership and academic skills, and with a reference from their pastor, can apply for the Leadership Development program where they are matched with a sponsor who will fund their university education.

The ‘Journal of Political Economy’ recently reported that children who enter Compassion’s program are 27 to 40 percent more likely to finish secondary education and 50 to 80 percent more likely to complete University. Carlos Escobar, country director of Compassion believes his organization helps raise the future leaders for this nation. “We see potential in these children just as Jesus saw potential in the child with the fish and bread to feed a multitude.”

When Luz Adriana Anibal was a child she was sponsored while living in the town of Magangue, Bolívar. Excelling in school and the program she was given a scholarship to attend university. Now in her twenties, she works for Compassion with the dream to one day return to her town and become its mayor. She speaks of correspondence with her sponsors with tears in her eyes. She has kept the letters from her childhood in a special place. “They provided me with love and motivation. They are my friends,” she says.

While visiting a sponsored child is a matter of choice, Jessica Dancel, from Colorado, felt the need to make contact while living in Bogotá. For her, the decision came down to experiencing the “direct impact” this charity has on the lives of its youngsters. It’s a decision she doesn’t regret. After heading out to the neighborhood where her child lives, she made that important connection, and one that will stay with her a lifetime.

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