When we choose to sponsor a child, most of us closely examine the photos of the available children. The children stand very straight in their pictures, as if they are in the military service.  And many have serious looks on their faces.

The children are generally dressed well, but for some reason they don’t all smile for the camera. Does this mean they are unhappy?

I had the privilege of being at several child development centers in Bolivia as they took the child sponsorship photos. Once I witnessed it, it all made a lot more sense.

It also showed me that I, at many times in the past, had read way too much into the child photos — things that weren’t really there.

It was easy to assume that because a child didn’t smile in the photo, it was because of the child’s difficult and sad life.

I’ve subsequently received photos of my sponsored children posing with gifts I had sent and they had big smiles on their faces. So it was easy to assume that my gift had broken through their “sad life” and that, finally, the children were happy.

So I thought I would share what it was really like when it came to taking child photos.

Every child development center has a staff member who handles the letters, takes the photos, and accompanies any sponsor visits.

Basically, they deal with everything relating to the relationship between the sponsor and the sponsor’s child.

In Bolivia they call these staff the “sponsorship responsible.” In Peru they call them “secretary” and in El Salvador “sponsorship coordinator.” Whatever the title, they are all the same position. These staff take the photos and send them to the country office.

In the country office, someone receives the photos and makes sure that they are in accordance to Compassion’s standards. For example, the child’s eyes must be open and the child’s hands and ears must be visible, in addition to other requirements.

The person in charge of taking child photos at each child development center has a challenging task. Imagine accompanying 30 children to a location and making sure they behave, don’t get into accidents or squabbles as they await their turns, and pose willingly for their photos.

The child photo should not have inappropriate things in the background. For instance, a street dog can’t be in the background (and they are all over the place). A placard displaying the child’s Compassion number is placed on the ground in front of the child. This way the staff member is able to organize the photos easily.

The video below is of Delicia. She is the “sponsorship responsible” for Bolivia’s Pucara Grande Student Center.

At this photography session, she had to photograph about a dozen children. In the video, Delicia is photographing a little boy named José, and José was quite the character. He did not have the patience to stand still while Delicia took his picture.

Delicia is one of the most patient women I’ve ever met. She dearly loves these children!

Watch the video and see how she patiently handles José. Notice how José’s mother gets involved to make sure her son stands up straight. Then notice how this serious little boy does a little dance at the end of the session!

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  1. Marci Ficht
    Dec 26, 2011
    at 11:06 am

    Oh, Kees…what an adorable little moppet!!!! Thank you for the glimpse into what goes on behind the photographs we see…and thank you for all you do for the children!!!

  2. denise smith
    Dec 26, 2011
    at 7:47 pm

    thanks for sharing that!

  3. Dec 26, 2011
    at 11:16 pm

    This little boy was very funny. He was difficult to take a photo of though. He does have a sponsor. But I am looking for several sponsors for children from that center and you’ll get a photo taken by Delicia. :-) She is an amazing woman!!!

  4. Dec 27, 2011
    at 5:22 am

    oh my goodness. he’s adorable, but i would have been super frustrated by the end! I used to wonder why we didn’t get more photos, but now I know what a difficult task it is!!!

  5. Linda Wrage
    Dec 27, 2011
    at 6:26 am

    How cute! I loved seeing the behind-the-scenes look into the child photography session. Thanks for sharing that. It was interesting to see all the other kids standing in line waiting for their turn.

  6. Kristina Korth
    Dec 27, 2011
    at 4:21 pm

    So timely. Our sponsored child is also from Bolivia and every picture we receive of her looks as if she is facing an executioner. LOL! I know she laughs and plays, so we just have to be patient and maybe one day we’ll see that evidence in a photograph. :)

    • Dec 27, 2011
      at 8:05 pm

      What project number is your child at? Maybe I know your child. :-)

  7. Dec 27, 2011
    at 6:28 pm

    Kees, Photographing the kiddos is sorta the same as attempting to herd kittens, yes? :-) Thanks for sharing this video.

    • Dec 27, 2011
      at 8:11 pm

      I have never herded kittens, but I do know that it’s not easy. I know a month later, Delicia had to photograph 200 children like this. Imagine taking 200 children with you to a location, making sure that they don’t get into trouble, while photographing each child. It was a lot of work. The children get photos taken, not just when they register, but also every 1 1/2 years to 2 years. So, the sponsorship responsible also has to photograph them. Normally, they take half a dozen to a dozen photos. Some of the ones that don’t get selected to be sent to the sponsor are really funny… jajajajjaa

      BTW, this boy did have a sponsor already by the time these photos were taken. I had found him a sponsor about 1/2 year before that. So, he gets a lot of letters.

  8. Paula Wisdom
    Dec 27, 2011
    at 6:33 pm

    Kees, this was an excellent way to clear up any questions about those “serious faces”.

  9. Dec 27, 2011
    at 7:15 pm

    Love it Kees! Especially the little dance at the end!

  10. Dec 28, 2011
    at 2:12 pm

    Great, great post, Kees! One of my initial two girls never smiled in her first three periodic photos–meaning several years! But between the first and second photos, I met her, so I knew that she was a very active and expressive child. Yet her photos used to suggest a real attitude. She’s grown into a lovely young girl and now smiles. Thanks so much for this insightful and informative post!

  11. Marijke den Blaauwen
    Dec 29, 2011
    at 5:23 am

    I wouldn’t mind to see a stray dog in the background or seeing my kid making a happy dance on the photo!:)
    I bet Delicia is very happy that she never had to take a picture of my son! This little boy is very calm compare to him!

  12. Jan 17, 2012
    at 2:34 pm

    Great post!

  13. Jason
    Feb 14, 2012
    at 7:24 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. The only photos I have ever got were the ones they take every other year or so. I have never got a photo of the children with the gifts I have sent. I had hoped I would get one last year when I sent a family gift but, nothing. All the photos I have got look the same except he is alittle older. It helps me realize more how these photos are taken.

  14. Brenda Vernon
    Apr 14, 2012
    at 10:20 am

    Thank you. I too have wondered why my little girl in Bolivia never had a smile. I get really sweet letters from Erlinda but she always looks expressionless in her pictures. I hope to go visit her some day. God Bless you!!

  15. Hannah
    Jun 19, 2012
    at 11:07 pm

    loved this video! :-) It really clears things up! This little boy is so funny and I loved his little dance. In the picture I have of my little boy in Burkino Faso he looks really sad and has a very serious face. But, seeing this video helps me understand the picture taking process. Thank you so much for sharing. I pray that my little boy is happy & healthy and enjoys getting my letters..

    • Jun 20, 2012
      at 6:30 am

      That little boy still does his little dance regularly. I saw him and his mom the other day at the center when he had gotten a letter, so they were writing the letter back and the boy still had the same little dance from time to time. :-) They are a nice family.

      • Hannah
        Jun 20, 2012
        at 11:29 pm

        That is such a joy to hear! I’m glad he has a sponsor. He seems to share his joy with others around him as well. I pray that God continues to bless him & gives him many reasons to dance. :-)

  16. Doreen
    Sep 14, 2012
    at 1:50 pm

    this is an old blog, and I’m just now reading it–(& its a great blog, very informative)–but I’m curious about the Compassion standards for photo taking: “… makes sure that they are in accordance to Compassion’s standards. For example, the child’s eyes must be open and the child’s hands and ears must be visible, in addition to other requirements.” 1) what are other requirements, and 2) why must their hands & ears how?

  17. Cindy
    Oct 5, 2012
    at 6:27 pm

    Does anyone know why the photo of my sponsored child changed to a different little boy? I sponsored Wesley in March 2012 and the little boy that is showing on my account page is not Wesley.

    • Oct 8, 2012
      at 3:08 pm

      Hi, Cindy,

      I don’t know what happened with Wesley, but it could happen by accident. A number of the child number can be written or read wrong or another little mistake or typo could have happened. What I would suggest is to call the office of Compassion in the country that you sponsor, if it is the USA call 1-800-336-7676 and ask them about it. It’s happened to me before too…. :-) It’s an honest mistake, but they would be happy to correct it.

    • Shaina Moats
      Oct 8, 2012
      at 3:36 pm

      Hey Cindy! Give us a call at (800) 336-7676 so we can take a look at your account and see what’s going on.

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