Felix lives less than two miles from the Compassion center.
We climb into the director’s car. I’m sitting in the front passenger seat, and Felix is in the back seat with Ben, the videographer.
As we’re driving out of the parking lot, I ask Felix if we can take a selfie.
“Okay, say cheese!”
He laughs and grins.
It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile, and it warms my heart.
A few minutes later, after driving down a few side streets, we end up at a concrete wall with a doorway in it. We walk through the doorway into an empty dirt lot. In each corner of the lot, there are one-room shelters constructed with plywood and sheets of corrugated tin.
Felix lives in one of the houses with his mom, dad, older brother and older sister.
His mom knows we’re coming. She’s put a wooden bench and two plastic chairs outside.
When we arrive, I smile and shake her hand. Another woman is next to her — Felix tells me it’s his aunt, his dad’s sister. I shake her hand, too.
They invite me to sit down, so I sit on the bench, and I ask Felix if he wants to sit next to me. His mom and aunt sit in the two chairs. They pass me a plastic pitcher of water. The director tells me it’s considered hospitable to offer your guest a sip of water when they come to your home.
I take a sip, say thank you, and pass the pitcher to the next person.
Felix speaks French, and so do I (kind of). His mom speaks a local language called Ewe. I chat with Felix in French, and when I have questions for his mom, he translates those to her.
During our conversation, I find out that Felix’s father is a carpenter. He doesn’t have a steady job, but when someone asks him to make something, he does. His mother sells pineapples in the market.
Felix likes math. His favorite elective at the Compassion site is choreography. He also likes to run.
Ben takes some video and still shots of Felix and his family. They seem to enjoy the experience. Ten little boys from the other houses gather to watch the activity. I stand in the back with the director, watching, listening to the ten little boys crack each other up.
The director tells me that families in this area pay about 5000 CFA ($10 USD) a month in rent. The housing is very temporary. Any time, the landlord or the city can come evict people living in this lot, and they’ll suddenly have to find a new place to live.
There’s no running water — they have to walk several blocks away to get water from a well, and the water supply is not clean. (Yes, that’s right, the water I just sipped from the pitcher is from a contaminated well. “Well, that could be interesting….” I think, praying against parasites and who knows what else could be on its way to my intestines.)
There’s no electricity. There’s no plumbing, no toilet. He points to a 5 foot tall piece of plywood propped up at an angle against the concrete wall a few feet away from the family’s front door. “That’s the toilet,” he says.
In this moment, I am deeply grateful to have the chance to invest in Felix and in his future. And I also think his parents are rock stars. With hardly any money, no electricity and no running water, they provide food and shelter for their kids. All of their clothes are clean. And everyone I’ve met so far is kind. And they all smile.
After almost an hour, it’s time to go. I hug his aunt and his mom good-bye. I give high-fives to his ten little neighbors. I ask if these other little boys are in the program and the director tells me no, because there aren’t enough sponsors. He asks if I’ll tell my friends in America how many more children from this neighborhood they can help if they can just find more sponsors.
“Yes,” I assure him. “Yes, I’ll tell my friends.”
The director asks if I will pray for the family. So we make a circle and I pray for them before I go. His mom tells me they will pray for me every day.
We drive back to the site, where lunch is waiting for us. A woman in an apron hands me a bowl with rice and a chicken drumstick.
Ben, the director, Felix, two other program workers and I sit in the office eating and talking.
As I was talking to some of the program workers, I felt Felix, who was sitting next to me, tap my knee.
“Excuse me,” he whispers. “Excuse me.”
“What’s up, bud?” I ask him.
“Can I ask you a question?” he asks.
He looks down at the floor for a minute. It looks like he’s mounting the courage to look me in the eye.
Finally, he looks up.
“Why did you choose me?” he asks.
Why did you choose me?
The real answer is that I had gone onto Compassion’s site and looked at the children in Togo who are waiting for sponsors and I actually couldn’t bring myself to choose one because I wanted them ALL. So I asked my contact at Compassion to choose one for me. And he chose Felix.
But what I said to Felix was, “I called the site, and I said, ‘I need whoever is your most talented, kind, intelligent, awesome kid.’ And they said, ‘Well, that’s Felix!’ And I said, ‘Okay, then, I want Felix.'”
My gosh, that boy can smile.
After lunch, I played with all the kids. They pushed me on the swings. We made a train and all went down the slide together. We danced. We ran around. I taught them how to give high-fives and how to say, “Hello” and “Good-bye” in English. They laughed at my sub-stellar French. They touched my hair and rubbed their fingers on my arm, baffled by my pale skin.
At the end of the day, so many kids competed to hug me good-bye, they almost knocked me over.
You would never know from the love in their hearts and the joy in their faces that some of these kids went most of the week without food, and slept under tables at the marketplace at night.
As we drove back to the hotel, I let the day replay through my head.
I saw so much death and suffering during my three months at the hospital in Mango, seeing the joy and the potential in these kids was so healing for me, and it gave me hope.
It’s easy to look at all the problems in Togo, in Africa, in the world, and be overwhelmed. There are so many problems, and so many needs. How can I, one individual, possibly change the world?
But here’s the thing.
The world is already being changed for the better. Nicholas Kristof wrote a great piece last week that highlighted all the progress we’ve made in the past two decades. Infant mortality, starvation and extreme poverty rates are dropping dramatically. If we keep it up, we can end extreme global poverty by 2030.
Seriously!? We’re almost there!!!!
I can pay $38 a month for one child to be lifted out of poverty. And then maybe you can pay for one, too. And then you can ask a friend and a neighbor and a co-worker to do the same thing.
And before we know it, every child living in poverty has a sponsor who loves, believes in and invests in them. And they are empowered to make a positive difference in their community.
Here’s what I’m learning:
The world is not changed when one person gives a billion dollars.
The world is changed when a billion people give one dollar.
The world is not changed by one individual doing it all.
The world is changed by all individuals doing something. Maybe even just one thing.
Togo will not change because Americans went in and took over.
Togo will change as we invest in these Togolese kids. As we give Felix and his friends what each of us needed to get where we are:
p.s. You can click here to sponsor a child with Compassion International.
p.p.s. For Part I of this blog post, click here.