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Compassion UK: campaigns that change lives

“Life would have been completely different if Compassion UK hadn't stepped in,” says Lyzabelle Awor

There’s no shortage of charity campaigns and adverts featuring needy people in developing countries as a voiceover calls on UK citizens to offer a helping hand by donating money.

After David Lammy MP lambasted Comic Relief this year for continuously using tired, unhelpful tropes” in its fundraising for African communities, the London-based politician renewed his plea for fresh imagery that celebrates the progress made within the continent, rather than marketing collateral that may reinforce negative perceptions. 

Having interviewed Ugandan Lyzabelle Awor, who credits the life she now lives to Compassion UK, I now see beyond the marketing – tired or not – and the tangible effects our combined support can have in the lives of people who live in some of the poorest parts of the world. 

For, as a child, Lyzabelle lived in poverty, surrounded by HIV, malnutrition and prostitution. But when Compassion intervened, she went from having no hope and no future to feeling loved and secure. She also saw a way out of the deprivation that she witnessed destroy so many people in her country.

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Lyzabelle, now the wife a Church of England curate and mother of three young children, lives in Woking, London, where she gives her babies the childhood she didn’t have. She’s healthy, educated and knows Jesus Christ, and she thanks Compassion for this. 

What was your life like before Compassion UK stepped in?

I grew up in Uganda in late 80s when the HIV epidemic was raging. My father contracted it and passed it on to my mother. He died in 1991 and left my mum, who was a housewife, with nothing. I was six at the time and my sister was seven. 

When dad passed away, we couldn’t pay the rent for the house we lived in, so we had to move in with my grandmother. She was very old but well enough to help care for my mum who was unwell most of the time. My mum would go to charities and aid agencies to get beans and porridge, and that’s what we lived on. 

I was on and off from school; we could only go if our grandmother had some extra money from selling mangoes. Then, my mum heard about Compassion. It was 1992 and Compassion UK was only moving into Uganda, partnering only with a few churches in certain areas. 

One of my mum’s friends lived close to one of the partner churches in the capital city, Kampala, so we moved in with her to be in the catchment area for the project. We registered and both my sister and I were accepted. Usually Compassion allows only one child per family to be part of the project, but our situation was so dire that they signed up both of us. 

What happened next?

We got registered at school, got uniforms and school equipment, mattresses to sleep on, and medical care. It was the first time we saw a dentist. My sister immediately got a sponsor – a man from Australia – and in his first letter he sent her money. From that money mum rented a kitchen from a member of the church we were part of by that time and started a small business. 

Did your life change immediately?

In some aspects life changed dramatically, especially for my mum. She was under less pressure and the relief from some of her worries made her feel better. 

For me, it made me feel loved and special. No one had ever spoken positively to me before, and when I received support and was surrounded by loving people, my confidence shot up – I’d never known that kind of attention. I realised I was quite good at school, too.

Suddenly, I had a sense of security; I knew that going to school, a roof over my head, and wearing shoes and uniform were guaranteed day after day. 

From then on, my life was much better. I could play, make mistakes, laugh. It gave me back some of my childhood. It was mostly my sister’s sponsor who wrote us letters; he was encouraging, supportive, told us who we could become in the future. 

How would your life be now if you were not supported by Compassion?

I wouldn’t have gone to school. I would either have got married early or I would have had to go to work as a housemaid or a prostitute. Some of the children I knew back in Uganda are now adults with HIV and they are not very well.

What was the most important thing Compassion offered you?

Everything the charity did was important, and all these different parts worked together. We had to come to church every Saturday to be part of the project. There, Compassion taught us about the Bible, fed us, and gradually got us involved in the church activities. We were cleaning, helping and later some children joined the choir, while others got to play in Christmas plays or something similar. Serving in the church and being part of the community gave us a focus.

However, only going to church wouldn’t work, because the church didn’t send us to school. Compassion provided the resources, while going to church provided spiritual support. Someone may tell you to go to school but if you don’t have a good example, you may not do it. We became attached to the church community. We started to admire a different way of life we saw in church. It also taught me not to take for granted what Compassion gave me.

The partnership between churches and Compassion is the core. They all played their role very well. I grew up in environment with illnesses, drunkards and prostitution; when we went to church, we were showed we didn’t have to live that life. Being part of the project and attending the church introduced me to Jesus and His love and being part of church-based community.

Is this how you became a Christian? 

Yes. As part of the project I was learning the Bible. But because it wasn’t reiterated in any way at home, it went over my head at the beginning. However, continued input led me to believe that there is a God and He has a Son called Jesus. 

The way people behaved at church – full of love and acceptance – made a difference to me. I was reading the Bible and devotionals and I saw Christ working in my life and through prayer, and eventually I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour. My mum also got involved, opened her heart to God, and accepted Jesus. By the time she died, her faith was very strong and gave us hope. 

What happened when your mother died?

She died when I was 12 and about to finish primary school. People from the church and Compassion were able to locate my mum’s cousin who could look after my sister and me. My mum’s cousin lived slightly further away but it still was a walking distance from the church – about 45 minutes. We weren’t based in the community anymore, but we were still able to go to church on Saturday and Sunday. 

Compassion made an exception for me and put me in a boarding school, so I could continue with my education. My sister stayed in a day school. Eventually, she went to live with an uncle because the cousin couldn’t have both of us. 

My sister didn’t get a home like I did. Eventually, she ran away. She made contact with me after a few years; she had two children and was pregnant with her third by then. We helped her restart her life and she now has her own hairdressing business. 

Finally, you graduated from school and went to university?

Yes. I studied accounting as part of an international business course. I had another sponsor for university; she was very encouraging and we were close. 

After graduating from university, I worked in operations in Barclays in Uganda. Then I met my husband who was based in the UK. We had to decide where we wanted to live as we didn’t want a long-distance marriage. We decided it was best for me to leave my job and move to the UK. My sponsor wasn’t very happy about my decision, but she supported me through it. 

Now, we’ve got three children. The youngest is one and I’m hoping that maybe next year, when she’s a bit older, I’ll go back to university and study to be a teacher. 

What impact does the work of Compassion have on children in some of the poorest parts of the world?

Sponsorship does save lives. It changes lives and communities. I’m a testament to that. It not only changes the life of that one child but of their whole family. It also brings people to church.

Most of the children who are sponsored through Compassion have stories; they deal with adult problems very early on in their lives. Being supported by Compassion brings them hope. 

I would encourage anyone to become a sponsor. And, if you can, write to the child; you may be their only role model to help them grow up to be a responsible God-loving person. 

Through sponsorship you build a relationship and, like a good Samaritan, you provide much-needed funds to transform lives. 

As part of its mission to protect children worldwide from the devastating effects of poverty, Compassion UK has launched its Different Path Appeal to provide vital support to vulnerable mothers and babies in Togo. Please visit www​.com​pas​sionuk​.org/​d​i​f​f​e​r​e​n​tpath to find out more and partner with Compassion UK to help. Alternatively, find out how you can sponsor a child through Compassion’s child sponsorship initiative

About the author

Writer and blogger Joanna Sopylo-Firrisa has worked as a freelance journalist in Poland and has written for various media in the UK. At www​.good​goodlife​.co​.uk, Joanna blogs about faith and everyday life.

See more from Joanna Sopylo-Firrisa

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