As many of you know, I recently took a trip to Bolivia to visit my sponsored children. It was an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
I had planned on visiting my children for a long time, and this was one of the reasons why I sponsored all of my 12 children in one country — Bolivia. This way, I could visit them in one trip, creating a logistical headache for the person in the country office trying to organize all of this. Doing it this way is probably the least expensive way per child to visit them. It’s not for nothing that they say, “Cheaper by the Dozen!”
Disney supplied me with a lot of extra gifts for the children, and so I had two big suitcases full of them. At one point, I started feeling like Santa Claus, or Papa Noel as he is known in Bolivia.
I arrived early on June 28 in El Alto (the La Paz airport) after flying all night. Compassion Bolivia had arranged for a taxi driver to pick me up. As soon as I got through customs with all of the toys (without any questions, thank you, Lord!!!), I saw a man standing there with a little sign that read, “Kees Boer, Compassion.”
After he took my luggage, loaded it into his taxi and started driving, I noticed a convoy of black cars on the other side of the road, going towards the airport. As soon as they had passed, the driver nonchalantly mentioned to me it that was Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, on the other side of the road.
On the first day I went with Delia, the Compassion translator, to the beautiful Lake Titikaka, on the border of Bolivia and Peru. I believe it is the highest lake in the world. It was truly an amazing sight to behold. The blue lake against the huge Andes Mountains. It was so beautiful and without any tourists around.
I could write a blog about each individual child visit, but if I had to sum it all up in a few words, it would be that I had no idea how much each child truly loves his or her sponsor. They just came up to me and gave me the longest and biggest hugs you could ever imagine and quietly would say: “My sponsor, my sponsor…”
Another thing that I noticed with all of the children is that they really study each of the letters I send. One of the first questions they all asked me is where and how is Corgi, my dog. They just absolutely loved him. So, I had my laptop with me and had some videos of Corgi, which they thoroughly enjoyed. They also asked about everyone that I had written about. They were really concerned about each one of them.
I expected to just visit with my children, but many times what happened is that I was taken to the child development center and all the children and staff would be waiting to meet me, and they would sing songs and do small performances. Speeches were given by the director and pastor, expressing their appreciation. All the while my child would be sitting right next to me.
At times, it was overwhelming to see how much these child development centers really appreciate their sponsors. I have never had whole programs done just for me; I felt like I was treated like a rock star. All the children wanted to meet me and would crowd around me and my sponsored child.
Then the time would come where I would be taken to a separate place where I could give gifts to my children. The center staff didn’t want this done in front of all of the other children so that they wouldn’t feel bad. This was always a very special time to get to know them and their family better.
Many of my sponsored children come from broken homes. It’s common for fathers to “get tired” of their families and find a new girlfriend and then just start new families, leaving wives and children alone without income to fend for themselves.
From what I saw, this was one of the main reasons for the poverty . . . women who had no source of income and had to work many hours just provide food, leaving the children alone to be raised by their surroundings. The cycle of poverty would continue to the next generation. This is why I believe so much in the holistic development program of Compassion.
I remember one mother crying against my shoulder, because her husband had just beaten her up, and she wanted her children to have a better life. Her husband also was leaving her. The vast majority of the families were like that.
I also noticed that it’s pretty much impossible to write too much to your children. I write every child twice a month. In Bolivia, they have a system that when the child gets a letter, they would actually hand another sheet of paper with the letter to the child so a response can be written. As a matter of fact, I was there when one of my children got a letter that I had sent her!
I used to wonder if I might be writing too much and that some of the children might feel burdened by the many letters they had to write me in response. When I asked them about it, they all told me “No way.” One girl came to me and asked if I could write more!
Most of the older children asked me if I could teach them English. So, I’m thinking of a system right now in which I would create English lessons for them every other week that I would send them and then the other weeks write personal letters. The children were really excited about this.
When I arrived in Santa Cruz, I was taken to the hotel, but I hadn’t eaten anything. So, I asked the receptionist at the hotel if there was any place where I could eat a meal. He pointed to a restaurant across the way.
After eating my meal, I walked back towards the hotel and saw six young boys going through a dumpster looking for food. One of them was really excited, because he had found a box that obviously had contained a chocolate cake before, and he was eating the chocolate frosting with great delight!
It broke my heart to see these young boys living like that. I told them to stop eating that because it was dirty, and to come with me to the restaurant for a meal. They all got excited and followed me to the restaurant.
After we sat down, I ordered a simple meal for each of them and began to talk with them in the little bit of broken Spanish that I could muster.
The boys ranged in age from 10-12 years old and they told me their names. They were actually really sharp young boys, just very poor.
After they had their meal, I said that I wanted to give them a tiny little gift, and I took them with me to the hotel. At first the hotel didn’t want to let the boys in. I mentioned how they were my guests and really important, but they wanted them outside anyways.
So, I told the boys to wait outside, and I’d be back in a little bit. I had written a pamphlet with pictures of me and the Gospel in it. A friend of mine had translated it to Spanish.
When I came back downstairs, to my delight, the owner of the hotel had asked the boys in and they were all eagerly sitting on the couch. I gave each of them the pamphlet and they started reading it very eagerly. We ended up sitting down there for about 20 minutes, while they were studying the little pamphlet.
It was tough, but I had to say bye to them. I hope that they all will remember the meal, but most of all the Gospel and that God loves them and considers them very important.
My last day I spent with Carlos and Yovanna. Carlos is a young 9-year-old boy and Yovanna is 18 years old. The parents expressed how they were so thankful for the sponsorship and how they really wanted their children to grow to become professionals and escape poverty.
It was tough leaving Bolivia the next day. I truly love these children so much, and I can’t wait to see them again. I’m excited to be continuing praying and writing with them. They truly are the very apple of God’s eye.
View photos from the trip.