The sound of men exiting the bar grows louder on the other side of the thin walls. A chair angled under the doorknob holds the door fast, but if one of the men really wanted to get in, the chair would do little. Voices fade, leaving the night sounds of insects and other low, murmuring voices from huts like this one. Stars wink through holes in the tin roof—beautiful on a clear night. But during the rainy season, those same holes let in rain that turn the floor into thick mud. Muddy shoes, muddy clothes, muddy hair.
I thought of mud as I watched my three children exploring the one-room hut, my fourth child warm against my body in a sling. We are out of place here: dressed in clean, dry clothes. I even remembered shoes today. (For two of the kids, anyway.) And then there is the technology—the boys and I have iPhones and headsets and are listening to a little girl tell the story of what it is like to grow up in a one room shanty next to a bar in Bolivia.
What it is like to grow up without a father’s protection.
What it is like to grow up in a one-room hut with a dirt floor and only a cot because someone stole your bed.
What it is like when young girls have no value, save the value of being a child-bride, sold by desperate parents who are hungry and have other hungry children.
This is the Compassion Experience. A mobile event designed to immerse you into the life of a child across the world, or a few countries away. For at least a few moments as you move through the interactive exhibit, you will hear the sounds of life in Bolivia or Uganda. You will see life without sponsorship and the tiny sliver of hope that comes through sponsoring a child with Compassion International.
We move to the next room, a tiny replica of a school where this little girl goes because of her sponsorship. There are clean toothbrushes along the wall that Cooper wants to touch, and games on a wooden bookshelf that my boys get down and begin to play on the floor. On the wall are slots for letters to and from sponsors. Bibles, pencils, and paper are on the desks, plus a bowl of beans and rice. Plastic, but Cooper tries to eat them anyway. The sounds of the bar have faded and children are laughing now, the benefit of attending school and being able to actually be a child. For so often these lives force children to be workers, foragers, wives, slaves. In this room I can begin to count the many things we take for granted.
I am sweaty by the time we reach the fourth and final room on the 20-minute tour. Trying to contain three children while holding Quin in a sling is a near-impossible task, but we have done it. I heard most of the recording about one small life in Bolivia before I gave my iPhone and headset over to Cooper, who is intent on seeing the screen light up at her touch. The boys are listening, I think, and have interacted with even those things not meant for interaction in each room.
I am exhausted from the struggle of getting through the exhibits without destroying anything or losing a child, and it hits me: for mothers all over the world, this is a daily struggle. A struggle to live life in a one-room building with a dirt (or mud) floor. No toys, walls that can be touched from the center of the room. The sound of drunk men passing by the door every night while young and vulnerable daughters hold their breath on a cot or perhaps just a dirty blanket on the floor. The pressure to sell my daughters as brides to feed myself or my other children. Choices I will never have to make. Fears I may never know. Wants I may never have.
When we lift the curtain and climb down stairs out of the trailer and into the sunlight again, my children bolt for the playground across the church parking lot. Even after this experience, they do not realize how privileged they are to be able to do something so simple as play.
I sponsored a child after college who aged out last year and we have a new little girl from Tanzania now. She is a few years older than my children but until the Compassion Experience, they did not think about her or speak her name.
Now Fatuma is a part of our daily prayers. Now the boys have made drawings that they ask me to send her and Lincoln prays for her by name at the dinner table. “When can we visit Fatuma?” he says.
Probably never. Though by world standards, we are rich, the price of a trip to Tanzania is way more than out of reach for our family. But through Compassion, the world becomes a little smaller, even just a little. (Click to Tweet) Through the Compassion Experience, this large world has grown much smaller for my children, who now have some very real sense of another kind of life. Enough that they remember in prayer and conversation a little girl in a place they struggle to locate on the map.
Had I known that strollers would not work, I likely would not have gone, and so I am glad that I did not know. Otherwise I might have missed the moment when Cooper got so tangled in the headphone/iPhone cords that a Compassion volunteer had to fish her out. I might have missed the friendly offer of a complete stranger to walk through with me and help with the kids. I might have missed the kindness of the volunteers who didn’t seem to think taking four kids by myself was a terrible idea. And my children might have missed a chance to have some understanding of how privileged they are and how the whole world doesn’t look like a home with air conditioning and food on the table three (or five) times a day.
If the Compassion Experience comes to your area, go. Even if you’re wrestling with your children or think they are too young. Even if you drive halfway across town. (We did.) Even if you don’t think you have the money to sponsor a child monthly. Even if it’s costly or uncomfortable, just GO.