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  • Robert Benson

Do You Believe In Me? Cultivating Hope

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Scarleth arrived at the Arms of Love Children's Home in Nicaragua in early 2002. Today she is one of the newest students in the Love Forward scholarship program.

"Do you believe in me?"

I was talking recently with one of our students in Nicaragua by Facebook video chat. She had grown up in the Arms of Love home that I started nearly 20 years ago. Some years after leaving the home, we reconnected. Today she has a beautiful young son, but is struggling as a single mother in a country in crisis. We were discussing her current situation, her aspirations, and in particular, her desire to go back to school and pursue a college degree to provide a better foundation for her career and life. She yearned for greater economic opportunities to care for herself and her son.

We discussed what she would need to do in order to apply for a Love Forward scholarship, what she might study, and how that would fit into her broader life goals. As we were about to end our conversation, it was then that the question arose.

"Do you believe in me?"

I recently visited the students that we are sponsoring in India, who grew up at the Refuge orphanage in Kolkata. Dr. Joya Chatterjee and I met individually with each of the girls still living at the orphanage, who aspire to enter college in this year or next after they finish secondary school. We spoke with each of them about their goals, what they would like to study, and what career they would like to pursue.

As we talked with them individually, the same issue arose in a variety of ways ... in their questions and in their eyes, they wanted to know,

"Do you believe in me?"

Parents provide the first and most important influence in a child's life. But what happens when one or both parents abuse their children or abandon them? When they are also rejected by other members of their family and/or ostracized by their community? Left to fend for themselves, they sometimes live on the street before arriving at an orphanage or a children's home like Arms of Love.

These are the students we sponsor through Love Forward. All of our students were separated from their families due to death, abandonment, abuse or other circumstances. They grew up in orphanages and other residential programs. The process of rebuilding their sense of self-worth, their confidence in themselves, and a vision for a better future is a process that takes years - or a lifetime.

And one of the things they need most is hope.

People in the educational field often say that when it comes to the most disadvantaged youth, the most important predictor of success is hope. A student coming from extreme poverty and a traumatic background needs to find a basis for hope, even when all the evidence of their past points the other direction. Emboldened by hope, students are better able to adapt, overcome adversity, and take control over their current situation and their future.

Hope can come from many sources. In my experience, faith can be the strongest source of hope. Some students have shared with me a verse from Jeremiah 29:11, "I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Promises like this are filled with hope.

Successful peers can be another source of hope. When some of our students have overcome incredible adversity to achieve a college degree, start a business, or have a strong family of their own, they have served as an inspiration to many others in their community. Seeing someone you know succeed, who has been through similar circumstances, can serve as a tremendous source of hope.

As adult mentors in the lives of youth, we can also be an important source of hope. When parents fail their children, teachers and mentors are often the most important influences in a young person's life, and a positive relationship with a caring and supportive adult can be transformative. The message that someone else sees them for who they are and still loves them and believes in them can instill hope, and from hope can arise self-confidence, determination, resiliency, and healing.

It is critical that we support our students financially as they leave orphanages and other residential programs, so they can pursue a higher education and have a few more years to lay a strong foundation for the future. But this is only half the battle. Our youth need people who care about them enough to continually encourage them, guide them, love them ...

... and believe in them.

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