Everyone needs to be humbled. We need to be reminded of how much bigger the world is beyond the realm of our small lives. We hear about extreme poverty from celebrities and we see starving children line the pages of National Geographic. But really– how does that affect me, so many miles away?
A few years ago my parents decided to partner with Compassion. Because my mother spent the first 18 years of her life in Bolivia, my parents decided to sponsor a child from that country. They soon found a little boy from Santa Cruz, Bolivia: Yeison.
I didn’t know much about Yeison, except what the little packet we received told us: He was born on Valentine’s Day, he enjoys playing soccer, and he likes playing with toy cars.
And so we began our relationship with him and his family, communicating through translated letters. Yeison always sent a colored drawing, reported on his soccer team, and told us how he was doing in school.
One summer, I had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Bolivia on a mission trip supported by my youth group. It was announced that we would spend our 12 days in Santa Cruz.
I contacted Compassion in hopes of meeting the boy who felt so much a part of our family.
I met Yeison on a Monday. A representative from the local child development center met me in the morning, and we went by taxi to the center. The taxi took us past the city center toward the outskirts of the city.
The building stood out from the surrounding dilapidated houses and businesses. A sense of hope emanated from its high walls as the happy shrieks of the children within breathed life into the broken-down neighborhood.
And standing in the front entrance were Yeison and his mother, Beatriz.
Yeison wore a green button-up shirt and his hair had been neatly combed to one side. As we stepped out of the taxi and started toward them, a wide smile spread across the boy’s face. I couldn’t help but smile, too. Yeison immediately ran up to hug me, and his mother soon followed.
Did he really exist? Could we really impact the life of a child who lives 5,210 miles away?
We had no agenda for the day, so Beatriz invited me to come to their house. We rode a bus for half an hour, during which I gave Yeison a coloring book and a box of crayons. He immediately opened the book and colored for the remainder of the ride.
We ventured even further outside of the city, and finally reached our stop.
Beatriz announced that she would walk to a nearby shop to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola, and she assigned Yeison the task of walking me to their home. I had only taken three years of Spanish in high school, but I was surprised that Yeison and I had no trouble communicating. He immediately opened up, talking about everything from school to sports to cartoons.
We ambled along a dirt path, carved into the earth by truck tires, and chatted along the way. He held my hand as he happily pointed out the homes of friends in his impoverished neighborhood and showed me the park close to his house: a rusted swing set and a small muddy soccer field.
I was surprised when he announced that we had arrived at his house. To the left of the road stood a small shack that was no more than 15 feet by seven feet in size. The house was constructed mainly of brick, wood panels, and other improvised materials. And yet, Yeison had no shame in showing me his home.
As we walked inside, he excitedly led me to the bed that he shared with his cousin. Four people live in this small space? Spiderman stickers lined the headboard of the bed, and on top rested a small box.
Onto his bed, Yeison dumped the contents of that box: every letter we had written him over the past two years and the family pictures that my mom had sent him. He pointed to each of my family members, reciting our names.
Together, we reread some of the letters and he asked about my life in the United States. He then retrieved his school workbooks, proudly showing me the high scores that he received on almost every test, and we reviewed the few English words he had learned: colors, shapes, and animals.
I spent the next hours coloring with Yeison, talking with his mother, and sipping Coca-Cola.
Later, Beatriz suggested that we return to the Compassion center so that I could see where Yeison spent his days attending classes, playing with friends, and receiving meals.
We climbed aboard the bus once again, and along the bumpy ride back into the city, Yeison fell asleep on my lap. It was one of those moments that I will never forget.
This precious boy is so happy and at peace. How selfish I am.
Yeison gave me the tour of the center, holding my hand along the way. He greeted friends by pointing to me and saying,
“Ella es mi padrina!” (She’s my sponsor!)
We sat in his classroom and I was introduced to his teacher, who was also his uncle. They offered us a lunch meal, and we enjoyed a hearty bowl of chicken soup.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon talking with the staff, playing games, and walking through the child development center.
Before meeting Yeison, I had never imagined the impact that he could have on my life. Through Compassion, I met the most incredible little boy, and that night, I couldn’t help but feel that my family’s decision to support him was one of the best decisions we had ever made.
Yeison lives with such happiness, despite his circumstances, and it is our incredible privilege to sponsor him. To this day, we continue to support and communicate with Yeison. He can write his own letters now, and his drawings have improved. And at the end of every letter, he always adds,
“Que Dios les bendiga.” (May God bless you. )
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heidi Feneis is a junior at Montana State University-Billings, majoring in Spanish and minoring in English and International Studies. Heidi loves to travel and play the guitar. She has been a sponsor for five years.