Birthday Boy

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Compassion children celebrate their birthdays with their sponsors!

Today is Esteban’s 9th birthday!

This month also marks four years that I’ve been sponsoring Esteban, and getting to know him through letters.

This year, I had the privilege of sharing birthday cake with Esteban in an early birthday celebration during our child visit day last month in Managua. Toward the end of the day, we all gathered together to sing “Happy Birthday” to the children with birthdays in October and November.

It was very special for the children, and Esteban even teared up a bit with emotion during the song.

Afterwards, I got to hug him, wish him a Happy Birthday in person for the first time, and share some cake with him.

It was a special moment for us, and has been on my mind today as I imagine him celebrating his birthday at home with his family.

Happy 9th Birthday, Esteban!

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Esteban with his birthday cake.

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Kerri & Esteban

Boats, Cars and Smiles

One of the boys’ favorite activities during our visit day was driving, whether it was boats or cars. Please enjoy the beautiful smiles in the following photos.

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Jose, Aidan and Kerri ready to race!

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Jefry piloting his very own little boat.

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Esteban driving a race car.

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Kerri and Esteban

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Jose and Aidan riding together.

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Jefry and Kerri

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Esteban getting ready to take aim at Kerri.

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Jose enjoying the boats.

Play Time

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Aidan showing Jefry and Esteban his balero.

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Esteban conquers the balero.

When we arrived at the Play Zone Park, we were directed to a large cafeteria-like room, where we waited for snacks before we could go outside and explore the activities available.

To pass the time, Aidan pulled out his balero, which he had purchased at a market place the day before. A balero is the same thing as our “ball-in-a-cup” toy.

Aidan had been practicing with it since he bought it, and definitely was improving, so he showed the little guys his new skill. Then he offered it to 8-year-old Esteban for a turn.

Esteban caught the ball in the cup on his first try.

We all clapped for him, then watched in amazement as he continued to catch the ball on the first try, over and over and over. He just smiled.

Next, we gave it to 3-year-old Jefry. He wasn’t quite coordinated enough to catch the ball, but he gave it a try, and knocked it all over the table where he was sitting. Finally he picked up the ball and put it in the cup, so we clapped for him, too.

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Jefry with the balero.

His dimpled smile was beautiful as he showed off his accomplishment.

Well, if Esteban’s skill was impressive, and Jefry’s smile blew us away, when 11-year-old Jose took his turn, he showed everyone that he is, indeed, the master of the balero.

Jose proceeded to catch the ball on his first try too many times to count. He must have worn out his arm, though, because when I finally pulled out my phone to make a video of this mastery, he missed the ball.

Not to be outdone, Jefry pulled from his little jeans pocket two balls connected by a string – a traca traca, known to us as “clackers.” I’m still not sure how this toy fit in his pocket.

Jose showed us what to do with the traca traca, but neither Aidan or I had much luck. Fortunately, what I lacked in skill, I made up for in hilarity because the boys laughed quite a bit at my efforts.

Once again, Jose was the true master of this toy, and he impressed us with his ability to make the balls hit faster and faster.

Now we have some goals for our next Nicaragua visit: master the balero and the traca traca!

By the way, several people told us there is an even more difficult way to play with the balero. Instead of catching the ball in the cup, you can try to land the ball, with the hole in it facing down, onto the peg at the bottom of the balero’s handle. I thought they were joking with us, but they insisted it’s possible. It may be something to keep Aidan busy until we visit our Nicaraguan family again.

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Aidan and Jose, the balero master.

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Aidan trying the traca traca while our translator, Nicole, looks on.

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Jose, the traca traca champion!

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Jose giving a traca traca demonstration.

The Meeting

In a trip that was full of new experiences, sights and sounds, filled with emotion, with each day ending in exhaustion, heart overflowing with God’s blessings and love, everything came together in these brief, beautiful moments. I met my boys.

Yes, meeting them was the main purpose of this journey to Nicaragua. If not for them, Aidan and I would not be there. But we had experienced so much already, changed so much already, how could there be more?

But of course, there was more, and it began with this meeting.

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Anxious sponsors listen as Kim, our tour leader, reads off bus assignments before the children arrive.

After much anticipation, a sleepless night, and an early-morning wake-up filed with anxiety and nerves, Aidan and I headed to the hotel lobby, loaded down with gifts for our boys. There we joined the other sponsors on our tour, and listened closely as our leader, Kim, read off our bus assignments.

Five buses would be arriving shortly, carrying our sponsored children, and we were excited to learn that we’d be on the first bus!

Finally, we saw the buses pull up in front of the hotel. The first sponsor from our bus headed out and hugged his children, then they posed for photos. At this point, it was becoming difficult to hold back the tears. I squeezed the hand of the sponsor in front of me, and moments later, she walked outside to meet her beautiful young lady, followed by more hugs, more tears, more photos.

And it was our turn.

I handed my camera to Kim as Aidan and I walked through the lobby doors, and I saw Jose walking toward me. We hugged, I kissed him and cried, and we hugged some more. Then we tried to pull it together enough to pose for a few photos.

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Meeting Jose for the first time.

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Aidan, Kerri and Jose after our first hugs.

Before we had a chance to recover, Esteban walked into my arms. The little pudgy 5-year-old, whom I had sponsored almost four years ago, who had asked me to visit in his letters, was now a thinner, taller boy, and hugging him at last was a wonderful feeling.

As soon as we finished our hugs, little 3-year-old Jefry cautiously walked up and greeted me. I only started writing to Jefry at the end of August. In fact, he hadn’t even received a letter from me, yet, and that, along with his age, left him a little unsure of what was going on. But he followed Esteban’s lead, and joined in the celebration, posing for photos after hugs.

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Finally hugging Esteban after almost four years of sponsorship.

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Aidan, Kerri, Esteban and Jefry.

We climbed onto the bus together, where I met each boy’s mother and project tutor, and I must admit, I had to ask for everyone’s names again later because it was all I could do to just be in the moment with my boys, hardly believing I was sitting next to them on a bus in Managua.

To break the ice during the drive to Play Zone Park, I gave each boy the soccer bracelet my daughter had made for them, and a little photo album full of family photos. We all looked through the photos together, Esteban making sure Jefry turned the pages in his album right along with the rest of us.

It was a beautiful start to an unforgettable day.

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Seated on the bus, traveling to Play Zone Park.

Beautiful Nicaragua

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Volcanoes Momotombo, left, and Momotombito, right, as seen across Lake Managua.

Nicaragua is known as, “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” and that’s just what we got to see while driving back to Managua from Leon one evening.

It had been such a hot and humid day, while visiting a project in Leon, playing with the children and visiting a home in the area, that a quick stop at the shore of Lake Managua was a welcome reprieve. The air was cooler standing at the edge of the water, and the breeze felt wonderful.

The view was beautiful, peaceful, and it was a perfect end to the day.

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The shore of Lake Managua.

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A family collecting firewood on the shore of Lake Managua.

The Boy who Brought Bread

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Obert, Compassion graduate

In the middle of the church service, he appeared, off to the side, watching and listening.

One sponsor noticed him, then another, whispering, “Look, it’s Obert.”

We had met Obert as a group the day before in a conference room at our hotel in Managua. He was there with three other Compassion graduates to share his story with us.

Obert told us he first was registered with Compassion at the age of five. He was sponsored by the same Canadian sponsor until he graduated the program.

During that time, Obert switched projects twice and even stopped attending the project for a while. His project director never gave up on him, though. Obert said the director would find him at his home or playing in the neighborhood and encourage him to begin attending again.

Obert listened to his project director, and he eventually did return to the project, where he became enrolled in a bakery class.

The class was offered under Compassion’s Complementary Intervention Program (CIV). This program provides for a wide range of enhancements to Compassion’s sponsorship program, including emergency medical care, nutritional assistance, disaster response, water projects and non-formal education, like Obert’s baking class.

After taking the baking class at his project for two years, Obert started a bakery business with his parents. At 16 years old, he sells about 100 loaves of bread each day, earning about $34 daily.

As a Compassion graduate, Obert will begin teaching baking classes to children at his project soon.

He said his dream for the future is to go to a university and become a professional chef.

After telling us his story, Obert expressed extreme gratitude to Compassion, his sponsor, the project director and others in charge of his development. We all shook hands with Obert, hugged him, and told him we were proud of him. One sponsor told him he’d love to taste his bread someday.

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Obert’s bread; 1 Cor. 10-17: “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.”

Obert’s story was an inspiring testament to the wonderful good Compassion does in children’s lives, but the reason for Obert’s appearance at church that morning was even more than inspiring.

As the service ended, our group was told to line up because Obert had come to church that morning with a gift for each of us.

He gave us bread.