Summer often includes taking a break from routine and traveling for rest and recreation. But for Larry and Susan Paine of Hillsboro, their one-week trip to Africa had an alternate purpose.
In mid-July they returned from Togo after spending time with the Togolese children their family decided to sponsor through Compassion International: 8-year-old twins Davi and Dagan, 9-year-old Christine and 13-year-old Karisse.
“For me, it was to encourage the girls and to be able to relate to them and get a better idea how they live,” Susan said of her reason for traveling to Togo.
Larry, who works as Hillsboro’s city administrator, said he wanted to understand the progress being made for people to break out of the poverty cycle, such as learning a craft, developing skills and having a vocation.
“I couldn’t help but carry my city manager hat with me and see the homes and roads there and how I could use my skills to help them out,” Larry said.
Compassion International, which works in 26 countries throughout the world, is an advocacy ministry that focuses on children who live in poverty and enables them to become responsible, fulfilled Christian adults, according to the organization’s website.
This summer, the Paines and daughter Brynn joined a group of two leaders and 17 sponsors who visited four Compassion project centers in Togo.
This trip to Togo was the first one sponsored by Compassion International, said Susan, who is an advocate for the ministry.
Two years ago, she and Brynn had traveled on a Compassion tour to Tanzania. On that trip, four translators were assigned to the group of 40.
During the Togo trip, “We were treated like royalty,” Susan said.
One-on-one translators were assigned to the group members, which enabled individual interaction with the Togolese.
Togo’s official language is French and many speak Ewe, one of the ethnic languages.
“My translator, Jean (John), said most of the children speak a combination (of languages),” Susan said. “If they’re asked (what they speak), they say French.”
Togo, officially known as the Togolese Republic, is located in West Africa and bordered by Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso.
The Compassion projects the Paines visited are associated with Togolese churches and staffed by nationals.
Susan corresponds regularly with twins Davi and Dagan, and has sent them pictures. She said the girls recognized her when they arrived at the Compassion center.
“I didn’t meet strangers there,” Susan said. “They knew who I was.”
The twins greeted both Susan and Brynn with hugs.
“But Christine was extremely shy—her mother was very shy and withdrawn,” Susan said about the child sponsored by Brynn, who works with Compassion’s international division.
The Paines also met Christine’s father.
“Her dad was as nice as he could be—he was a wonderful guy,” said Larry, who was able to spend quite a bit of time with Karisse, the boy sponsored by the Paines’ son, Brock.
Susan said: “Karisse’s dream was to have a camera. Within five minutes of meeting him, he asked whether we could take him to America and may he use my camera.”
The Paines were surprised how quickly Karisse started using the point-and-shoot Canon.
“‘Video? Is it OK that I do it?’” Susan said he asked. “No one really showed him how to operate the camera.”
The Paines decided to leave their camera there for Karisse.
“He’s just so bright,” Susan said. “It kind of breaks my heart. Will he have the opportunity (to develop his interest in photography)?”
While in Togo, the Paines were introduced to customs that differed from theirs.
“Twins are always named Davi and Dagan,” Susan said. “Dagan is the oldest, but she was born second.”
“In Africa, what they say is that the older child tells the younger child to go out and see what the world is like,” Susan said. “She’s born first, but she’s considered the second oldest. That’s because Dagan is older and more mature and she sent Davi out first.”
One question asked of Larry and Susan by the Togolese was the weekday of their birth.
“The Togolese have as part of their name the day of the week on which their born,” Larry said. “So I had to go back to (the Internet) to find out (Susan) is a Friday and I’m Thursday.”
Part of their visit included observing classes the children attend at the center. That particular day’s lessons focused on health and hygiene.
“That’s part of what the regular curriculum is all about,” Larry said.
Another day involved an outing for the sponsors and their children.
“On the child visit day, they actually took us up to a waterfall on a three-hour bus drive,” Susan said. “Some of these kids had never been in a bus before.”
After the bus took a couple of sharp turns, Susan said, Davi had a bad case of motion sickness.
“My translator ended up holding her (on the trip),” she said. “It took her a long time to recover.”
En route to their destination, one of the children needed to go to the bathroom, Larry said, so the driver stopped the bus.
“Everybody who had to go to the bathroom got out and went by the side of the road,” he said.
Once there, the group had to walk about 30 minutes from where the bus dropped them off to the picnic area.
“We had a picnic on china plates,” Susan said, adding that the meal was catered.
The children went through the food line first. Forks were distributed but there weren’t enough for everyone.
“(The children’s) forks were laying on the ground (at their feet) and the Americans had nothing to eat with,” Susan said with a laugh.
The children had used their hands to eat, which is their common practice.
Although, Susan was a little disappointed that they didn’t do more physical work—as she and Brynn had on the Tanzania trip—the Paines helped plant some trees, one of the projects in Togo because of deforestation.
“We had the privilege of planting three mango trees for our children,” Susan said.
The dirt with which they worked was very red.
“I quickly picked up that extra color (on my hands and clothing),” Larry said.
The Paines delivered children’s dresses sewn by Marie Kessler and other women in Hillsboro.
“When we got there, we knew we were going to four centers—each one of the centers we went to got 12 dresses,” Susan said. “We put dresses in each bag (given to the children). We put (dresses) on all the kids. I was surprised they left them on.”
The Paines underscore the importance of sponsors corresponding with the children they support.
“It is a sparkle in the eyes,” Larry said about children receiving letters. “There’s somebody in the world who’s showing love to me.”
Susan added, “I think that’s the most important thing.”