Young and fearless
There’s plenty to get done in communities across the developing world. And sometimes, the best person to step up is a child. Equipped by sponsorship and bold beyond their years, three children are taking on critical community issues: faith, education, and peace.
Faith like a child
When Jolly Olara stood before the crowd, ready to deliver the opening prayer for the annual Day of the African Child festivities, a local politician wondered aloud, “Can this boy really pray?”
Jolly not only prayed — he spoke to God with deep inspiration that steamy June day.
The politician turned to a local pastor. “Do you have anything to add?” he asked. “No,” the pastor responded. “The boy has done it all.”
“The people wondered how such a small boy could make such a prayer,” says Keni Keni Alexis, a former community development facilitator in World Vision’s Aber project in north central Uganda.
Thirteen-year-old “Pastor Jolly,” as his community calls him, grew up attending church with his mother. When World Vision came to work in Aber in 2008, staff taught Jolly how to share Christ with others. Jolly also joined local church leaders as they learned more about God’s Word.
“He speaks God’s Word to us without fear,” says his mother, Margaret. “He loves people and prays for people. When we are going to sleep, he prays for us. When we are going to eat, he prays. In the morning when we wake up, he prays.”
This sponsored child is so committed to ministry that World Vision gave him a bicycle so he could more quickly traverse the community. He hosts radio talk shows, speaks at World Vision retreats for children, and is even called upon to preach in church services.
Jolly hopes to become a bishop and maybe, one day, pope.
“When I am referred to as pastor, I rejoice, because God gave me a position in his kingdom. He knew that I would serve him even while I was still young.” —Simon Peter Esaku
Defender of the dropout
“I once was very shy,” says Manjula Narayan Sharwad from Holtikoti, India. “I preferred to be in the background, watching others.”
Yet Manjula came out of her shell when it counted. In 2008, a classmate named Chamabenna dropped out of school to work on a plantation and help support his family. Manjula, a sponsored child since she was 6, had participated in World Vision’s local children’s club, where she learned about the importance of education for children. The teen and some of the other club members decided to talk with Chamabenna’s parents.
“We were glad his parents listened to us even though we were children,” she says. “We told them about child rights, especially the right to education, and how Chamabenna can have a better future if he goes back to school.”
Working with World Vision staff, Manjula and her peers arranged for livelihood assistance for Chamabenna’s family so that he wouldn’t have to work.
In the process, the club members learned that some parents simply don’t understand the value of education. Changing adults’ attitudes was a challenge, but Manjula was pleased by the results. “I find fulfillment in helping send children back to school,” she says. Manjula, now 20, has set her sights on becoming a police officer — a natural extension of her early efforts to protect children’s welfare. —Cecil Laguardia
Climbing mountains for a cause
In the mountainous terrain of Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, a 12-year-old girl climbs precipitous stairs to reach the children who live at the top.
Alejandra Ceballos, a sponsored child, makes the same climb every week. As she approaches the elevated neighborhood, more than a dozen children emerge from their makeshift homes of wood, waiting to greet her.
Despite living in a desperately poor family marred by alcohol addiction and violence, Alejandra chooses to spend a weekend morning teaching other children how to live in ways that propagate peace.
As a member of World Vision’s Peace Builders youth initiative, Alejandra has learned how to nurture peace through cooperation, respect, and strong values. She passes these virtues on to other children through discussions and games. And she encourages her young entourage to speak out for peace. “The most violated rights of children [are] because of war,” Alejandra says.
Through more than 50 years of armed conflict, Colombia’s children have been vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups, indiscriminate attacks, sexual violence, displacement, and the threat of unexploded ordnance.
Occasionally, Alejandra explains, people are found dead in the streets near her home, so she does not leave her house after 7 p.m. But she knows violence also can reside at home — in her case, a tiny house without running water inhabited by her parents and six children, ages 4 to 17.
The young peace advocate regularly admonishes her parents to stop swearing, smoking, and drinking. Little has changed, but Alejandra isn’t discouraged. “I pray at night and ask God to change my parents,” she says.
By any calculation, Alejandra is busy. Her days are filled with carrying water to her home, babysitting, doing homework and, with the support of a scholarship, learning to master multiple symphonic instruments.
Yet when Saturday morning dawns, everything else is put aside as Alejandra scales the hillside to share her passion for peace with other children. —Astrid Zacipa