Q&A with Emi Hernandez

Q&A with Emi Hernandez


Since graduating from Compassion International’s Leadership Development Program about 18 years ago, Emi has gotten her degree in accounting and started her family. Currently, she splits her time between training Japanese professionals in business English, bookkeeping for a non-profit organization and running a ministry for children in a local slum community, which she founded with her husband in 2014.

Q: The data shows that people who are personally touched by poverty (by living in or near it) are often the ones who have the highest levels of concern about poverty and show a tendency to get involved to help other people in turn. Does this confirm your own experience? 01

As someone who has experienced firsthand what it was like to lack in resourc- es such as food, clothing, school supplies and finances, and having come out of that situation by the help of the ministry of Compassion International, I have this deep sense of gratitude for how my life was changed. This compels me to be of help to others facing the same situation that I came out of in any way I can. I would say that it’s a combination of wanting to pay it forward and also the firm conviction that the acts of help that we do indeed make a difference. Opportunities to help can be in different forms: Not only did I gain from the financial assistance that I received for my schooling, but I also expe- rienced mentorship, discipleship, fellowship and that sense of having value as a person because God loves me. Because the impact of those experiences changed me, I want to be able to somehow provide the same to others in my own capacity. Because I know what it was like to be in that place of need, I am able to empathize. Because I was helped and the help made a difference in my life, I know for a fact that the help I give will do the same to others.

Q: When it comes to getting people involved in helping those in need, encouragement and empowerment can be motivating emotions. Why do you think this is? 02

When we respond because of anger or sadness, there’s bound to be an object of that negative emotion—it could be the government, “the system,” the people themselves facing that situation. We could give grudgingly with the thought that it is somebody else’s responsibility to address these people’s needs. I be- lieve that when we are encouraged or challenged to help, it creates a more posi- tive impact on us and makes us realize that there is something that we can do to change the situation. We take responsibility as people who are part of the bigger community outside of our own neighborhood; we become actors and not spec- tators. The concerted effort of individuals may not resolve the issue for all of the world, but it will make a difference for some people at least.

Q: As someone who was sponsored as a child, do you think early intervention is important? 03

Without a doubt, lack of education is one of the underlying causes of poverty. In context, a child who is poor may not go to school for any of the following reasons: he is hungry because there’s no food to eat at home; he doesn’t have fare money to go to school; he’s unable to comply with the school projects because of no money; he is forced to find ways to support himself and his family either by begging or finding odd jobs. When he misses school, he misses the opportunity to be equipped with the knowledge and skills that would give him a fair chance in life.

In reality, when a child has missed a year or more in school, it is easier for that child to give up on the idea of finishing school because he is behind for his age and he tends to be embarrassed about it. When early intervention in education is given while the child is still young, combined with other programs that address the other needs of the child, it minimizes the likelihood of the child continuing that cycle of poverty into adulthood, thereby changing the course of his life.

In the Philippines, where I come from, people who have not finished college have few opportunities to find better jobs that give them decent pay and allow them to support themselves and their families. In our work with children in poverty, we know kids who have dropped out of school because they feel they’re getting too old for their grade level, or they are unable to attend school regularly because of financial issues. In most cases, the parent or guardian of the children did not pursue their own schooling in their time for the same reasons. Education—starting at a young age and with continuity— can break this cycle and is sure to make a difference.

In my case, I was already in 5th grade when I got accepted in the Family Helper Program of Compassion in 1991. Back then, it did not have much of an impact to me. However, because I was part of the program, and I met other specific requirements, it qualified me to apply for the Leadership Development Program when it was pioneered in the Philippines in 1996. This program greatly impacted my life, as it gave me the opportunity to go to college and get a degree and then find a great job. It definitely changed my life.

Q: Beyond bringing people to a place of financial stability, what do you believe should be the end goals and outcomes of poverty alleviation work? 04

Addressing poverty is not just about meeting the physical needs of the person. Beyond the economic issues, people in poverty situations face underlying issues of self-worth and hopelessness that are magnified by their struggles in their everyday life. Yes, providing financial and material assistance helps, but the need to address the spiritual needs of these people should not be overlooked. When we find Christ, we find hope and the courage to believe that life can be different for us going forward. The goal of spiritual transformation has to go hand-in-hand with poverty alleviation for greater impact.

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