Jul 21 2008

Back From Bolivia

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.

kees-at-lake-titikakaOn 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.

welcome-presentation-at-a-center

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.

kees-fed-several-young-boysOnce in the restaurant, they all wanted to use the restroom to wash their hands and freshen up. I’ve never seen young boys that eager to clean themselves for the meal.

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.

kees-with-carlos-and-familyMy 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.

  • 31 Comments
  • Print This Post Print This Post
  • Add a Comment

31 Comments Add a Comment
  1. Jul 21, 2008
    at 6:17 am

    Thank you so much for talking about your children’s reactions to your letters. I had a thought as recently as this week that maybe I was burdening my sponsored child by writing her every two weeks and making her feel pressured to write back. I’ll continue without guilt now. =)

    You are one of those “super sponsors” Compassion talks about. They (and the children) are blessed to have you!

  2. Jul 21, 2008
    at 8:07 am

    This is such a great story. I looked at every one of your photos. What stands out to me most of all, is how comfortable all the children are with you. They obviously love and appreciate you very much. Thanks so much for sharing — and most of all, for sponsoring each one of these precious ones — they will be able to reach their potential because someone cared enough to sponsor them.

  3. Amy
    Jul 21, 2008
    at 8:08 am

    Wow, Kees! It sounds like you had an amazing trip! How awesome that God gave you a chance to meet a need for those six boys, AND share the Gospel with them as well. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  4. Shelly Quigg
    Jul 21, 2008
    at 9:19 am

    Dear Kees,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences in Bolivia. My heart breaks for those boys and others like them who aren’t being sponsored. Every child should know that they are loved and important to God and to the Church.
    I also sponsor a child in Bolivia and when I heard about Kees’ upcoming trip, I emailed him some questions. He graciously offered to take a doll to the country office to be given to my Eliana. Thank you Kees for your generosity!!!

  5. Jul 21, 2008
    at 9:21 am

    Kees…You are the man. I too viewed all your pictures. What a blessing you are and oh how God is using you in a mighty way for His honor, glory, and praise. I’m looking forward to having a strong cup of coffee with you in the DR (Lord willing) in October.

    God bless

  6. Jul 21, 2008
    at 9:21 am

    Kees, I agree–you’re one of the super-sponsors! And I’ve learned something important from seeing your photos: I have focused my picture-taking on my girls, when I have visited, but have very few of the girls with me. I will change that, in October!

    I agree with Juli, as well: The love between you and the children is so clear, and they do appear to be very comfortable with you. I’m remembering, too, how Denisse and Maria have clung to me, and how wrenching it is to say goodbye.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and the photos. I had been waiting eagerly for you to do so!

  7. Jul 21, 2008
    at 11:40 am

    Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your trip! I want to go on a trip to meet any of my sponsored children so bad, but for the time being cannot because I have a baby and very young children. I love hearing the stories of others meeting their children so I can live vicariously through them! I loved all of your pictures, they were great! You make me so excited for the day I’ll get to meet my sponsored children!

  8. Denise Luepschen
    Jul 21, 2008
    at 1:38 pm

    Thanks, Kees, for writing a great article about your Bolivia trip. I devoured it along with all your photos! Two years ago I was able to visit my Yesica from El Alto, and I so wish to see her again. I read all I can about her country and Compassion projects there. Seeing all those photos of brown children with rosy cheeks and brilliant smiles, I couldn’t help but smile back as I remembered the days of my visit. Thanks again!

  9. Jul 21, 2008
    at 5:07 pm

    What an amazing trip! Reading your story helps me to imagine my own. Hopefully one day I can meet my sponsored child, Heidi.

  10. Jul 21, 2008
    at 6:03 pm

    Hi, wow, thank you for all the replies!

    Yes, Carolyn, all the children were happy with the letters every two weeks. They kept them all and showed me the folders with the letters in them.

    I don’t know if I would call myself a supersponsor. LOL. I just really love the children and really care for them and if something bad were to happen to them, it would really hurt.

    Yes, Amy, I was very glad to meet those little boys. It was difficult going back into the hotel and leaving them on the street, but I didn’t know how to help them more. I pray that they will trust Christ as their Saviour.

    You’re welcome Shelly. I was glad to do it. :-)

    Yes, Dave, let’s get together. I’m a tall guy, so I’m easy to find.

    Hi, Vicki, I was blessed that some of the Compassion staff was able to take pictures. I had a 2 GB SD card in my digital camera, which can hold about 3,000 photos, thus I mentioned to the person taking the pictures to not worry about taking too many pictures. Also, I heard that some of the children had never been on a photo before and that was why sometimes they would look so serious, because it was a major thing for them. So, I let each of the children take pictures too. Some of the pictures they took actually were really good ones. They had a good time taking pictures. I just had to be sure that they had the little strap around their hands, so that the camera wouldn’t fall and break by accident.

    Hi, Melissa. Yes, but you have such a blessing yourself in having your own children with you all the time. I’m single, so I just have my little Corgi. :-) It is nice to meet your sponsored children. They are so lovable and I like being able to really think of them as more than a couple of photographs if that makes sense.

    Hi, Denise. Wow, you sponsor a child too in El Alto. I had difficulty with the altitute there and they ended up taking me to the doctor. Since then the children came down to the hotel to see me, until I went to Cochabamba.

    Beth, it was amazing. I loved it.

    This is one of my favourite videos, but it does take about 10 minutes on High Speed Internet to load, but I love how the children in the project sing on it:

    http://www.positive-entertainment.com/compassion/01-dulce_and_class_sing.avi

    Kees

  11. Jul 21, 2008
    at 6:20 pm

    P.S. in order to play that file, you might need the latest codec, which can be found on http://www.divx.com

    Kees

  12. Britney
    Jul 21, 2008
    at 7:29 pm

    Kees,
    Thanks so much for sharing about your trip to Bolivia. I was actually in Bolivia in April visiting some friends who teach in La Paz. It’s exciting to hear about someone else’s adventures there.

    I have sponsored a “little” boy in the DR for 9 years now. (He’s not so little any more!) I decided earlier this year that the next international trip I make will be to visit him. Reading your story makes that commitment even stronger. I can’t wait to meet him!

  13. Jul 21, 2008
    at 8:12 pm

    Hi, Britney,

    Yes, isn’t Bolivia an amazing place. I keep thinking about it.

    That’s wonderful about the boy from the Dominican Republic. My brother just sponsored a 13 year old boy there and I’m going to visit him this October, Lord willing.

    Kees

  14. Sara Benson
    Jul 21, 2008
    at 9:50 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your stories. I can see that you really love your kids. I hope that one day I will get to visit my children too.

    I think that it is neat that you get a response for every letter. I write to all my kids at least once a month, but only get the 3-4 lettters a year. I hope that program gets started in the countries where I sponsor kids.

  15. Jul 21, 2008
    at 10:01 pm

    Hi, Sara,

    I think, but I’m not totally sure that slowly but surely they are planning to bring that program to each country. I sponsor a little girl in Columbia with Monét and I get about 3 to 4 letters/year from them too. I know in Bolivia, if a sponsor wouldn’t write, they would get 3 letters. Of course, I would really encourage the sponsor to write or if they can’t, to request Compassion to find a correspondent for them. Children can be really sad when the children around them get letters and they don’t.

    Kees

  16. Linda
    Jul 22, 2008
    at 1:13 pm

    Hi Kees,
    I’ve been waiting to hear about your trip, and it seems everything and more!! I too, along with many other sponsors long to see our children that God has blessed us with through this program. I know without a doubt that God has blessed me just knowing my child, far more than I could ever imagine! I’m saving now to go visit my little Joselin in Nicaragua.God Bless all of you.

    Linda

  17. Jul 22, 2008
    at 2:37 pm

    Hi, Linda,

    That sounds wonderful. You’ll be so blessed. Be sure to let Compassion know at least 6 weeks in advance so that they can arrange it. One of my little children is Jhoselin too. She is in the photos.

    Blessings,

    Kees

  18. Jul 22, 2008
    at 8:23 pm

    What a wonderful trip! Thanks for caring for those three boys and blessing them with the gospel. I love hearing how much your kids love to get letters. This is a kick in the pants to get going and write more often. It’s amazing to think that kids all over the world are not just physically hungry, they are spiritually hungry, too. Sponsorship is so much more than money — it’s a cool connection that brings me closer to them and to Jesus. Hopefully, it brings them to Jesus, too. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Jul 22, 2008
    at 8:29 pm

    Yes, it seems to almost be impossible to overestimate what letters do. I just got a letter from Jhoselin’s mother. She told me that she and Jhoselin cried when they got my first letter.

    BTW, I added 11 more photos to Hunter Gomez’ website of the children with autographed pictures, which he had given for the trip.

    Just go to:

    http://www.huntergomez.com

    Select Photos and then choose Charity photos and then they should be there under Compassion Bolivia Trip or something like that. :-)

    Blessings,

    Kees

  20. Cindy Maddox
    Jul 23, 2008
    at 8:52 am

    Kees,

    I have loved looking at all your pictures from the trip. I know it was an experience you will never forget! I just wondered about Eliana. I know from a previous post that you just found out she had heart problems. How is she doing? Did you find out anything else about her while you were there?

    Cindy

  21. Jul 23, 2008
    at 9:14 am

    Hi, Cindy,

    Thank you for asking about her. She went to the doctor and they helped her there and she ended up being fine. I was really happy to hear that. Did you recognize her on the pictures? She is the one that I show the drums too. She loves played the tambourine. So, I bought some claves, (Lisa, the same type that you used to play, actually, that’s how I learned about that instrument!!!) a triangle, and a practice pad with drumsticks. The day, I arrived there her little dog just passed away. I was able to get her a dog. She and Isaias are also seen in the park. She is a really nice girl. I was happy to see her.

    Kees

  22. Cindy Maddox
    Jul 23, 2008
    at 11:35 am

    Kees,

    Yes, I noticed her. She looks very sweet. Me being the animal lover that I am, just had to say how sweet it was of you to get Eliana a new dog. I know she was so excited! Also, I wanted to ask you what the staff at the projects were like. I’m sure they must be very special and caring. After reading about Nano Kojo Sekyi-Arthur from Ghana (June 13 Blog), it sounds like they all go above and beyond.

    Cindy

  23. Jul 23, 2008
    at 12:20 pm

    Hi, Cindy,

    The staff was very friendly. Everyone wanted to meet me. I heard that there are 4000 projects and about 4000 sponsors that go to see their children. Thus on the average every project gets one sponsor per year. Of course that is a very rough average. The staff was just very thankful and they would thank me many times. They would have whole programs for me where the children performed. They treated me very special. It was overwhelming at times. All the other children would also crowd around me.

    Kees

  24. Aug 14, 2008
    at 10:10 pm

    Hi, in case you’re interested, I’m in the process of writing a three part article for the local newspaper on my trip to Bolivia. The first part came out today. If you’d like to read it, it can be found at:

    http://news.mywebpal.com:80/news_tool_v2.cfm?pnpID=956&NewsID=919798&CategoryID=15126&show=localnews&om=1

    Blessings,

    Kees

  25. Aug 21, 2008
    at 7:27 pm

    Hi, this is the second part of the three part series.

    http://news.mywebpal.com/news_tool_v2.cfm?pnpID=956&NewsID=921080&CategoryID=15120&show=localnews&om=8

    Blessings,

    Kees

  26. phillip
    Aug 25, 2008
    at 4:18 am

    do you have a link to your photos…

  27. Aug 25, 2008
    at 9:45 am
  28. Barbara Holland
    May 25, 2009
    at 12:02 pm

    Kees,
    It’s so wonderful that you sponsor so many children!!!
    Thank you so much for the inspirational story you shared about your trip to Boliva. It reminded me again how important our letters are.
    My first Compassion child graduated from the program when she was 19, several years ago. From her letters I could see her growing spiritually.I never got to meet her but I expect to know her in heaven someday!
    The next two moved out of a Compassion area.
    Some friends who didn’t feel they could take a child alone agreed to co-sponsor, so I help them with a teenager from Rwanda. I also have a child from the Dominican Republic and at this year’s Compassion Sunday at church, I took a 7 year old from Bolivia.
    Your letter made me really wish I could visit them in person, but due to health problems, I haven’t tried to visit. My fragile bones would make rough riding dangerous for me and from reading about various upcoming tours, it sounds as if that would usually be the case. I also think 7 days would be too hard. I did wonder if I could take a cruise to the Dominican Republic and just meet my child for a day visit, if that might be a possibile. When younger I did travel to Israel, Greece, Rome, Alaska and other places twice each. I really miss traveling.
    Since you mentioned gifts from Disney to give the children, I wondered if you took a Disney Cruise.
    Another woman and I got Compassion Sunday started at our church a few years ago. Now our pastor, music director, and several others at church are sponsors. Each year after we get our new sponsors, we have a sit down dinner to share our excitement with the new ones. I printed out your letter to share bits of it at this Sunday’s spagetti dinner.
    Thanks so much for reinspiring me!
    Barbara

  29. Jun 2, 2009
    at 11:16 pm

    Hi, Barbara,

    I could see with the Dominican Republic that it would be possible to take a cruise to there and meet your child. I think it would depend a lot on where the cruiseship lands and how far it is from the project.

    I don’t know that much about cruiseships, but I think they book up fairly fast and you would need to make sure you probably book the cruise 6 months in advance. That could create a possible difficulty, because you can arrange the individual visit at the least 6 weeks in advance. If you had booked the cruise, there is a chance that the visit might not be approved if there isn’t the staff available to help in the visit. You’d want to coordinate that with the visits department, but be sure to call them at the latest 6 weeks in advance. It might be easier to take a flight down to the Dominican Republic to Santo Domingo and stay in a good hotel there and maybe after a day or so, have it arranged that the child will meet you in the hotel and you could spend the day together.

    If you would have a hard time travelling with your health, I wouldn’t suggest Bolivia, especially not if your child lives in the El Alto/La Paz area. The altitude is very high there. It would be like being on top of the Rocky Mountains. Maybe if the child lives in the Santa Cruz area, that might work a little better, but the roads can be rough there and the way the people drive might be tough too.

    I have worked with a lot of PR people of Disney, that’s how I had the connections.

    Barbara, I’m very encouraged with your love for the children and I’m sure that they love you a lot too. Thank you so much for all you do for them and I like your last name, but I’m from Holland originally! :-)

    Blessings,

    Kees

  30. Barbara Holland
    Jun 3, 2009
    at 8:23 am

    Dear Kees,
    Thank you for the information you sent. It might be possible to fly to Santo Domingo and meet at a hotel. This DR child lives 7 km. north of La Vega.

    My reply from Kiersta of Compassion said they do not have any trained hosts in the La Vega area that speak English (I don’t speak anything else)
    so they’d have to send a host from Santo Domingo to La Vega. Maybe as you said, I could just fly directly to Santo Domingo and meet there. It might help if I knew how far it is from one city to another, what transportation is available, etc. It might not work out but reading the blogs and seeing how much it means to the children made me wish I could go.
    Having to make arrangements for a specific day and place in advance, with the Compassion people, makes it harder, as you couldn’t work the visit around special prices with airlines or cruises. I may just not be able to go.
    From reading all the blogs last week, I had a new idea. Since I’ve traveled in the past, I could take some snapshots from my trips to Israel, Greece and Turkey (Ephesus, Isle of Patmos)and write a paragraph about them and send, one city at a time to my children. I might have to make a copy of the pictures on computer paper to not exceed the 1/8″ thickness limit. I don’t know how much that limit would allow. I’ll have to find out.

    I did print out your blog and took to church last Sunday, and used your example as I talked about Compassion to our sponsors, new and older sponsors who might need to be ‘re-excited’. The last letter from one of my little girls said she’d just had surgery, and the project had taken care of it. That showed us an example of how much Compassion sponsorship helps.

    We had 3 visitors there who had also been present at our Compassion Sunday. They were impressed enough to go to internet and choose a child, came back to our dinner and we invited them to share their excitement with us… so they did. It was a wonderful day of sharing as others told about their children.
    Again, thanks for your help and quick reply.

    In His love and service,
    Barbara

  31. vicki
    Jul 9, 2009
    at 11:06 pm

    I have been sponsering a boy from Bolivia for a year now and am motivated to write and enjoy him even more because of your blog post. Thanks for sharing your blessings with others.

    In Christ,
    Vicki

© 2008-2014 Compassion International. All Rights Reserved.
ECFA Charity Navigator BBB