When I solicited questions from readers before leaving for Bolivia, this was one of the most popular.
What happens to sponsored kids when they outgrow the program? Are they given further educational opportunities or do they simply return to poverty and perpetuate a culture of dependence with their own children? What are their futures like?
So one of the highlights of the trip for me was getting to experience the answer to these questions myself.
It was our final day out in the field, and the team was tired. We sat in wooden desks in a large schoolroom at World Vision’s ADP (Area Development Program) in Viloma, waiting for a local youth group to present a play they’d been working on for months. Most of us were recovering from another late night of writing, struggling to keep our eyes opened.
But as soon as the teenagers took the makeshift stage, an energy filled the room.
Dancing and lip-syncing to a soundtrack they’d compiled, the students presented us with a sort of Spanish version of High School Musical. Their faces glowed at our applause and they bowed with delighted enthusiasm.
Afterwards, we got the chance to talk with the students—there were nine of them—and ask about their pasts and their futures.
Most had been sponsored children. In fact, several had willingly deferred their sponsorship upon reaching young adulthood so that other children could benefit from the funds.
In rural Boliva, many women keep their heads down and their eyes lowered. They speak timidly, especially when men are around.
Not these girls.
They laughed freely, spoke with confidence and animation, and looked us in the eye even while waiting for the translator to repeat what they had said.
They teased the ADP director about having to “sell tomatoes” once World Vision’s programs in Viloma become self-sustaining enough for the organization to transition into areas of greater need. “He is like a father to us,” one of the girls said. “We tease him because we love him and we will miss him.”
(World Vision staff focuses on sustainability, with the goal that each ADP last around 15-20 years before being handed over completely to the community.)
If these teenagers represent the future of Viloma, then it is a bright one.
We asked what their plans for the future.
“I want to be a theater teacher.”
“I want to go to university.”
“I want to be a doctor.”
"I want to be an engineer."
“I want to make documentaries.”
“I see myself dancing in a theater full of people.”
“I want to work for World Vision.”
When one young man shrugged and said, "I haven't decided what I want to do yet," his friends laughed and then applauded in support.
It was Bolivian independence day, so we asked them what their country meant to them.
“Bolivia is like a house that is rough on the outside but beautiful on the inside."
“Bolivia is my family”
“Bolivia is beautiful! Viva Bolivia!”
“I see Bolivia as a territory for us to conquer.”
A territory to conquer. I loved that.
These teenagers were funny, smart, and articulate—much more impressive than most youth groups you encounter in the States. Their stories reflect the emphasis World Vision places on addressing the unique needs of young adults as well as children. In a country where alcoholism, gun violence, and drugs lure a lot of young people (particularly young men) into destructive lifestyles, World Vision has implemented leadership initiatives, after-school programs, and peace programs that seem to be making a difference, particularly among sponsored children who grow into adults.
A few days earlier, I had the chance to talk with Norma—a woman who had once been a sponsored child and who is now responsible for leading all the programs related to women’s empowerment in Colomi, where World Vision has just started making an impact. “Do not forget to thank the people from your home who have given to us,” she said, grasping my hand tightly, tears in her eyes. “Don’t forget to thank them for me.”
So for all of you who have chosen to sponsor children last week or at some point in the past—Thank You! Sponsoring one child can have a ripple effect that impacts many lives, and perhaps even a country.
Boys and girls over the age of ten are the least likely to get sponsors, so keep that in mind if you decide tosponsor a child today.