Talking to Vivian today, a vivacious bright-eyed woman with a contagious smile, you wouldn’t begin to imagine how her life began. Growing up on the outskirts of Arusha in northern Tanzania, she faced the same difficulties as many of her friends in the community. Born to parents with minimal incomes, she lived with her family in a single room in a house that belonged to her grandmother.
But the hardship did not end there. As Vivian talks, her memories are those of arguments and fights, of a father who would not recognise or support his children and a mother who worked all the hours she could to provide for her two daughters.
Life began to change for Vivian and her sister when Compassion opened a new project in her community. The hope that came with sponsorship, however, faltered just a few years later. Vivian’s voice quietens as she remembers, “It’s like it happened yesterday, but it was 12 years ago. I was 10. My younger sister was sleeping with our parents on a single bed in our room, and I was on the sofa.
“In the middle of the night I woke up to go out for a short call. As I sat up, I saw my father hanging from the rafter. I went to touch him, but he didn’t respond. I went to the bed and tried to wake my mother to help him, but I could not wake her either. I didn’t know what to do. As I looked across the room, I saw an exercise book. My father had written’ ‘I, Adam, have decided to kill myself and my wife.’”
Terrified, Vivian ran to her aunt next door and she, in turn, called the police. Vivian and her sister were all alone. The girls went to live with their aunt but, over time, this situation too turned frightening for the already traumatised children.
“Going to bed with an empty stomach was the order of the day, and my aunty was often drunk and angry. We confided in our pastor, and he talked with her, but the day came when she chased us from our home and told us not to come back.” Vivian explains. “I was so sad; I told my sister that I wanted to die like my parents, so I didn’t have to live through all these tortures.”
Vivian’s sister found the words to encourage her to stay strong. The Compassion project worker, Upendo, stepped in and took the girls in to live with his family. Surrounded now by people who showed her love and care, Vivian gave her life to Jesus in 2006 and completed her high school education.
Now, Vivian is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in social security and protection at the Institute of Finance Management in Dar Es Salaam and is enrolled on the Compassion Leadership Development Programme (LDP). “I applied to join the Leadership Development Programme when I heard that it works to create leaders who will bring change in their society.” smiles Vivian, “I want to be one of those people. I want to give back to society, to start an orphanage and help other children like me reach their potential.”
Vivian has already started giving back; when she is in Dar, she volunteers at an orphanage and the local Compassion project. Reflecting on the path her life has taken, Vivian is full of thankfulness; “My story would have been so different without Compassion. I could not have got where I am without the kindness shown by Upendo and my sponsor. My parents died, but my sponsor treated me like one of her children. Even though she lived so far away, I knew I had a family somewhere who was looking out for me and praying for me. Her love touched me and kept me going. I cannot thank her enough.”