Education is a powerful way to reduce poverty. It’s an opportunity we so often take for granted in Australia, but for many children around the world, getting an education can be the difference between thriving and struggling to survive.

The benefits of education are clear: every additional year of education can increase a person’s future income by 10 per cent and have significant impacts on employment prospects, health and social outcomes. 

Sameson, left, found his life on a new path when Compassion sponsorship meant he could be trained in woodworking. PICTURE: Compassion Australia

“In Ethiopia, if you fail your exam, you cannot continue studying. I didn’t know what to do, but God had a plan.”

- Sameson

Yet there are an estimated 70 million children not in school and 31 million primary-school aged children worldwide who dropped out of school as of 2012.

But education requires more than  classroom attendance.

For thousands of children, breaking the cycle of poverty requires specific educational support to see them succeed and thrive. 

According to the United Nations, 200 million young people in developing countries do not have the skills they need for employment and prosperity. The reasons are varied and many: overcrowded classrooms, impractical curriculums, a lack of school resources, poor attendance. But the impact is huge: one in eight young people are unemployed; over a quarter are trapped in jobs that keep them on or below the poverty line.

For Sameson from Ethiopia the story could have been the same, until Compassion stepped in.

Sameson was abandoned by his mother when he was just four-years-old, and grew up with his aunt’s family. As another mouth to feed, he was put to work tending to the cattle each day. At the age when he was supposed to be cared for and able to play with his friends, he would spend countless hours alone and scared, out in the fields. 

This left Sameson unable to attend school during the day. His aunt was eventually persuaded to send him to evening classes so he could continue his duties for the family. His life changed when he was sponsored through Compassion at age seven where he had the opportunity to attend tutoring, Sunday school, and make friends. 

But Sameson struggled academically and he still recalls his devastation when he failed his Grade 10 exam. “I remember my feelings of disappointment and shame,” says Sameson. “In Ethiopia, if you fail your exam, you cannot continue studying. I didn’t know what to do, but God had a plan.” 

Compassion staff, knowing Sameson was skilled at woodwork, arranged for him to complete a carpentry course and he excelled. Today he has his own business, employs two staff and teaches other children carpentry skills. “Compassion is a place where I grew up to be the young man God created me to be,” he says.

For Sameson, this holistic approach to education and child development impacted all areas of his life. 

It’s an approach researcher Dr Bruce Wydick, from the University of San Francisco, found works. 

Independent research conducted over three years by Wydick and his team found numerous benefits for former Compassion sponsored children compared to their non-sponsored peers.

Children stayed in school for an average of one to 1.46 years longer, were 14 to 18 per cent more likely to have salaried employment as an adult and, on average, were 50 to 80 per cent more likely to complete a university education. 

 “Compassion appears to get under the hood of human beings to install aspirations, character formation, and spiritual direction,” says Dr Wydick. “In short, it trains people to be givers instead of receivers.”

Compassion staff know each individual child’s strengths, struggles and dreams for the future. They understand their specific education needs - and how meeting those needs can help them overcome poverty.

Right now there are thousands of children and young people like Sameson who have great talents and abilities but lack the resources to reach their potential. A textbook, a tutor, access to a library, or simply having someone give them another chance could make all the difference to their life.

For Sameson, the right educational support not only helped him overcome poverty, but changed the course of his life.

Please donate to Compassion Australia’s Education Appeal to help provide children with life-changing education and skills that will impact all areas of their life. To give or for more information visit www.compassion.com.au/appeal

Rebekah Faith is a communications specialist for Compassion Australia.