'A little bit of help’
Kevin Streelman and other PGA TOUR pros are supporting needy children across the globe with Compassion International
June 18, 2019
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
The first time Kevin Streelman heard of the country officially known as the Togolese Republic was in a class when he was a junior in high school.
That social studies lesson might have been the last time, too, had he and his wife Courtney not decided to become involved with Compassion International, a faith-based organization that partners with local churches to provide the skills and support needed to rescue needy children from the unrelenting cycle of poverty.
And in Togo, a tiny sliver of a country on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa bordered by Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso, more than 30 percent of the people live below the poverty line, existing on roughly $1.96 per day. It’s one of 25 different countries around the world where Compassion has made an impact.
“They go to all ends of the earth and wholeheartedly pursue some of the poorest, most underprivileged, economic and social areas, socially depressed areas in our world,” Streelman says. “Places that need water, clean water. Places that need the basic sanitary needs, basic medical needs, big HIV areas.
“And (they) give to them whether it's building a community center there, building a church there, sending doctors’ teams there and training in order to help them help themselves.”
So Streelman and his wife felt compelled to donate to Compassion a little over a year ago. Shortly afterwards, the couple received a letter from Andy Russell, who handles donor relations for the organization, telling them that their gift had been combined with another to build the Etoile Brillante Baptiste – which translated from Togo’s predominant French language means “Shining Star Baptist” – Child Development Center.
The facility is in the village of Vogan, where the unemployment rate is more than 40 percent and the average family income a mere $56 per month. Homes in the area are adobe huts with thatched roofs that have no running water or sanitary facilities. The dropout rate is high, and the children are at risk of falling victim to human trafficking. So, the need for the center and the services it provides was huge.
The photograph Russell sent with the letter spoke volumes about the work being done there.
“It's a picture of 200 kids with their arms raised toward the sky,” Streelman says with a catch in his voice. “I mean, I'll try not to get emotional thinking about it but like the fact that these kids, part of the other side of the world, who I've never met (get) just a little bit of help or having a chance to learn about Jesus, get clean water for the day, get some food, their family gets some medical attention.
“To be a little part of that is more important than whether I hit the green on 17 this week. It's been a special, special charity to me and my wife.”
And Streelman, who is one of several PGA TOUR players involved with Compassion, wants to do more. His goal is to raise enough money to build, furnish, equip, staff and sustain child development centers in two neighboring villages. Another 400 children and their families would be served.
“It gives the community a center to come together, to learn, to teach, to cook, to drink, to be safe, and most importantly, to have a chance,” Streelman says. “What they're doing is out of control. It's amazing.”
Streelman’s dream is big -- each facility will cost $27,000. So, he has worked with Compassion to put together a campaign to raise money for the centers.
Any and all donations are welcome, but Streelman has devised some incentives for giving. Anyone who donates $100 or more will receive a personally autographed photo of him. People who gift $1,000 or more will receive two tickets to a PGA TOUR event of their choosing (with limited exclusions) -- and if Streelman is entered in that tournament, he will do a meet-and-greet.
The first generous soul who donates $10,000 gets to play golf with Kevin in Scottsdale, Arizona, in a foursome round with two friends. (Update: That gift has been provided, and a new gift is now available for $10,000: A foursome round that includes TOUR pro Scott Langley.)
“That's how much it's on my heart to get this done,” the five-time TOUR winner says. “… If we don't quite get there, I would be willing to match whatever funds we do raise here.”
Streelman first learned about Compassion through his friendship with the members of the Christian rock band Tenth Avenue North. For the last six years the Duke graduate has co-hosted a very successful charity tournament in August with the group at North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Players reflect on working with Compassion International
“They always were big fans of Compassion and so through Tenth Avenue North and their belief in Compassion, I've grown to know and love them as well,” says Streelman, who has also been known to get his guitar and share the stage with the band. “To see what they’re doing is just mind-boggling.”
Compassion was founded in 1952 and serves more than 2 million children in 25 countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The child development program is holistic in its approach and addresses the spiritual, physical, academic and social needs of each boy or girl.
Another aspect of Compassion’s outreach is through finding people to sponsor children throughout the world, which takes a commitment of roughly $1 per day. People who are interested can go to the website, www.compassion.com, see photos and pick a child based on a birthday match or the country he or she lives in.
Bernhard Langer, the five-time Charles Schwab Cup champion, has been working with Compassion for more than 15 years after finding out about the organization at his church on Boca Raton, Florida.
The first child Langer and his wife Vikki decided to sponsor Shumbusho, who is now 19 years old and lives in Rwanda. The Langers have sponsored the teen since 2004. They added 14-year-old Jhoan, who is from Peru, in 2013 and Bryan, who is 10 and from El Salvador, a year later.
Langer was drawn to the Christian mission of Compassion, and the opportunity to help young people who might otherwise go hungry and have little or no access to medical care. His own four children, the youngest of whom is now 19, ended up benefitting, as well.
“It's a great lesson for them to learn because they live in this bubble where we are in the one percentile of the world in terms of ways of living and income and all that,” the two-time Masters champion explains. “So they need to see there's millions and millions of people around the world that really struggled just to find some food for the next day.”
The 61-year-old Langer corresponds with the three children he sponsors and sometimes sends additional funds for gifts on special occasions like birthdays and Christmas. The letters reveal a glimpse into their lives – maybe one child likes playing soccer, or another just got a dog or a chicken or a goat.
Sometimes, though, the subject matter is more serious.
“There's often a very a heartwarming story in there when they would pray for me or for us as I shared a couple of things and they would write back and say, ‘Oh, sorry, you're going through this, we're praying for you,’” Langer says. “And that's, that's pretty cool.
“It's vice versa. They share with us what their daily or weekly thing looks like and what they're struggling with, whether it's health or whether it’s a sport or school.”
Cameron Tringale first heard about Compassion at Streelman’s fundraiser. He was drawn to the way the group partnered with local churches to share the gospel with children, as well as working to provide better nutrition and living conditions and access to medical care, particularly for expectant mothers.
“When I heard the stories, I thought this was something I needed to be a part of,” says Tringale, who also went on a Compassion trip to El Salvador several years ago.
Tringale and his wife Tasha have been sponsoring an 8-year-old girl from Colombia named Zuleima since she was 4. One of the reasons he wanted to sponsor someone from South America was the proximity to the United States and the realistic possibility of meeting her at some point. Colombia interested him because he knows how much TOUR veteran Camilo Villegas and his brother Manny love their homeland, too.
“It sort of made sense to be the right fit for me,” he said.
Stewart Cink and his wife Lisa have been sponsoring a young man named Okema from Uganda since 2008. He’s 17 years old now, and as is the case with most teenagers likes sports, history and music. Cink has tracked Okema’s progress through the letters and photographs he receives through Compassion.
“We've seen him go from a kid who's getting a soccer ball and a little toy doll, to now, he's getting a bicycle, a form of transportation to get place to place,” Cink says. “To the things he needs, the support he needs, to help break free from a really bad situation that he could have fallen into easily without just a little bit of support without Compassion intervening.
“It's been great to see him freed up to do things in his life that previous generations haven't been able to do.”
As much of an impact Compassion has had on the children it serves such as Okema, those who donate also reap big benefits from knowing they helped change lives.
“When Andy came back to me and said, look at what was built with your funds, I got emotional,” says Streelman, who would sometime like to build a community center in the Philippines, where his wife’s grandmother was born.
“That's doing something that can help. It's just being in this whole world we get lost and forget how big the world is and how blessed we are. … It's the least we can do.
“It's easy to decide to give. It's tough to go and do the work and be the people on the ground.”