Building a Brighter Future

By Doug Hayes
Zambia
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For most of us in the prosperous West, education is something we take for granted. It’s a blessing that is largely unappreciated and sometimes even despised. Such attitudes are out of place in sub-Saharan Africa, where the opportunity to study cannot be assumed and a sound educational foundation is often the difference between a harsh struggle for subsistence and a more prosperous quality of life.

This point was driven home for me last year during one of my visits to Zambia. As I normally do when I’m there, I spent Saturday with our Program Coordinator in Ndola walking through the neighborhoods of our sponsored children and visiting them in their homes. It is common on these excursions to receive warm and grateful welcomes wherever we go, but on this day the expressions of gratitude were especially pronounced:

“Thank you for giving my daughter a chance to get an education.”

“I never thought my grandson would be able to go to school.”

The striking aspect of these expressions is the fact that these guardians weren’t referring to a college degree or even a high school diploma. The blessing they had never foreseen for their children was the opportunity to attend elementary school. I was deeply affected by their gratitude, and renewed in my commitment to provide this indispensable gift to all the children Covenant Mercies serves.

Experiences like these only make our partnership with Lighthouse Christian School in Ndola, Zambia more meaningful. Since 2006, Covenant Mercies has sent an increasing number of students to Lighthouse each year to receive their education. As the school has grown through the years, the need for a more suitable facility has become progressively more urgent. So in 2009, we broke ground on construction of a building sufficient for the school’s needs. After nearly three years of raising the necessary funds and completing the project phase by phase, what a joy it was to participate in the ceremony for the Official Opening of Lighthouse’s new campus on February 10, 2012.

Though the ceremony was graced by the presence of Ndola’s Mayor and the Deputy Minister of Early Childhood Education, the true VIPs of the day wore school uniforms instead of business suits. Ultimately, this project is meant to provide quality Christian education for children who otherwise may have had no academic training at all. At present, we are sending 160 of our sponsored children in Ndola to Lighthouse Christian School in grades K-5. Lord willing, as more sponsors come on board and the school continues adding one new grade each year, we will be able to provide education for many more children through Lighthouse.

Future construction plans include administrative offices, a computer lab, and additional classrooms for grades 8-9. Yet our supreme goal has never been to erect impressive buildings with bricks and mortar. Our aim is to shape young lives with the building blocks of education, faith, and love. Through these key ingredients we believe we can impart hope to our children for a brighter future, and we are delighted to collaborate with Lighthouse Christian School in doing so.

Embracing Opportunity

By David Mayinja
Uganda
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Julius Olwenyi was only five years of age when he lost his father in 1997.

With no source of income, his mother struggled to care for him and his younger brother. The year after his father’s death, Julius was enrolled in a public school in his rural Ugandan village. He was eager to learn, but the school was poorly equipped and his mother was unable to provide him with the basic school supplies he needed. Oftentimes, she was unable to pay for his lunch fees at school, so Julius would have to go hungry until he got home in the evenings. Life was very difficult indeed, and the family  was barely surviving.

In 2003, when Covenant Mercies began caring for orphans in partnership with Nagongera Gospel Centre, Julius was one of the first children enrolled in the Orphan Sponsorship Program. Thanks to the generosity of his sponsor, his school fees were paid and school supplies, uniforms, textbooks, and lunches were also provided for.

“The lack of scholastic materials and school fees were no longer a looming threat to my education and future,” Julius says. “Covenant Mercies made my acquiring an education possible and easy.”
Julius completed his primary school studies successfully and joined secondary school in 2005. By this time his mother had managed to acquire employment with the local county office. Julius was able to enroll in one of the best secondary schools in the area with the combined resources of his mother and Covenant Mercies. With the burden of his tuition and boarding fees lifted, and with frequent visits and encouragement from the local Covenant Mercies staff, Julius was able to apply himself fully to his studies and excel in all subjects. His grades were so impressive that after graduation he qualified for a full government scholarship to attend Uganda’s premier university. He is now enrolled at Makerere University, majoring in Information
Technology.*

Julius’ experience in Covenant Mercies’ Sponsorship Program has shown him God truly loves and cares for him. He is convinced that God purposely brought Covenant Mercies to Uganda to rescue his family in their darkest hour.

“Covenant Mercies has played a big role in my life,” he says. “The routine gathering of all sponsored children by Covenant Mercies local staff and teaching us thoroughly about God’s love for us, and following us up individually wherever we were, helped us get a better understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Julius now regularly attends church near his university and is actively serving there.

Not every child in our Orphan Sponsorship Program will achieve what Julius has achieved academically, but all have God-given talents that can be nurtured and developed when given an opportunity to flourish. We are grateful to all our sponsors for investing into the lives of our children, and we pray that each of them would follow in Julius’ footsteps and make the most of this opportunity to become all that God has created them to be.

*Update: Since the creation of this post, Julius has graduated from university. He is currently employed at an international IT company in Kampala, Uganda.

Reclaiming the Innocence and Opportunity of Childhood

By Doug Hayes
Ethiopia
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Many large African cities are faced with the challenge of street children. When families are decimated children lose hope for their future, and they often end up on the street begging and stealing. The streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia are replete with examples of this tragic loss of childhood’s innocence and opportunity.

Most children living on the streets have relatives nearby who might be minimally capable of putting a roof over their heads. However, antisocial behaviors learned on the streets aren’t easily broken, and this can make the task of reconnecting children with their families quite challenging. Such was the case with a young boy in our program named Bereket. After years of fending for himself on the street Bereket was befriended by Tesfaye Melaku, our Program Coordinator in Addis Ababa (whom we introduced in last year’s Sponsorship Program Update.) Tesfaye was quickly able to find a relative willing to take Bereket in, so we assigned him a sponsor and started supporting him in the context of his extended family.

However, things didn’t go well at first. Instead of going to school, Bereket returned to his friends on the street. He stole from his family and soon wore out his welcome. With no other relatives willing to take him in, Bereket was back on the street again. But Tesfaye continued visiting him regularly. He found a family in our program who agreed to include Bereket in their meals, then set out prayerfully to find him another home.

In time, Tesfaye found a guardian in our program who was willing to give Bereket another chance. The grandmother of a young girl named Meskerem agreed to take him in, as long as he would receive the same nutritional, medical, and educational support her granddaughter was receiving. This represented a wonderful opportunity for Bereket. He now had a chance to claim a different kind of life; far from the area of town where he might be tempted to rejoin his old friends on the street.

As of this writing, Bereket has lived for almost a year in his new home. He has adjusted well to family life, and developed a genuine love for his guardian and young foster sister. He has made friends in his new neighborhood, including some older boys (also sponsored in our program) who have been a positive influence on him.
Bereket has made a good educational adjustment as well, despite the fact that Tesfaye needed to convince the school administration to accept a 13 year-old who had never attended school. Bereket’s academic aptitude appears to be strong, and he finished his first year ranked near the middle of his class. He is in Grade Two this year, and we are looking for ways to provide extra tutoring to help him catch up with other students his age.

Bereket is learning that we serve a God of second chances. In one way or another, this is the story of every child in our program. We pray that all our children will make the most of this opportunity for a second chance at childhood, and we are grateful for each and every sponsor whose generosity is making it possible.