I recognized him from across the dusty patch of grass, his shy little face mirroring the exact expression that he has in his picture--the one that is posted on our fridge at home. My heart leapt across the last, final steps between us. I felt shy at first, didn't want to make him nervous or embarrassed. He stood to meet me and suddenly, flung his arms around me. And he wouldn't let go. How does love span the thousands of miles? How is a mother's heart able to so fully and immediately embrace another child? I don't know. All I know is that I fell in love. His precious face made all the travel, delayed baggage, lost toiletries, altitude sickness and tiredness worth it. Just one of his smiles washed everything away. We were together. At last. Here is my Jhoel.
His mother had brought him to the ADP (Area Development Project) and I had the privilege of meeting her, too. She laughed when I told her I had five children--todos muchos! So much! Yes, so much. And still, room for more. She was lovely and wore the traditional dress of Bolivian women: several layered full skirts, leggings, several layers of hand-knitted sweaters, a shawl and broad-brimmed hat. She thanked me repeatedly for sponsoring her son, Jhoel, who has been coming to the ADP since he was 2 and waiting for a sponsor for 4 years.
Even though Jhoel has not had a sponsor until now, he was able to receive ADP services because World Vision provides help to the whole community and any child that comes for aid is not turned away. At the ADP, each child receives medical evaluations (they have a doctor on staff right in their community) and educational assistance. There are meetings for parents to learn nutritional education and various work projects are created so parents can provide an income for their families.
Once a child is sponsored, any additional gifts that are sent by the sponsor go directly to their child. I'm hoping to save money to provide Jhoel with a bike so he can ride to school--most children here walk 2 hours each day (roundtrip) to school.
Jhoel had a bloody nose and was embarrassed about it. I held his hand and told him no problemo, telling him about how I'd just had a bloody nose myself that morning. That made him smile again.
I brought out the few, small gifts I had brought for him. He acted like it was Christmas morning! Presents are the universal love language of children, I think. We unwrapped his gifts together. He held the picture of my family in his hands and stared at each face for a long time. When he saw the toy cars I'd hidden at the bottom of his bag, he got so excited he started bouncing a little bit and showing them to his mother. And then, another long, tight hug. Embrazo, embrazo, he said. Embrace, embrace.
I know it sounds cliche to say this experience is changing my life. But it really is. I had no idea how real, how important and how profound child sponsorship is. Meeting the children, hugging them, even kissing them and seeing with my own eyes how their lives are definitively helped by the simple gift of sponsorship---I actually burst into tears because how do you not sponsor all of them? Why did it take me so long to step up and sponsor a child? The deep affection that has already sprung up between myself, Jhoel and his mother will positively impact the rest of Jhoel's childhood.
I'm humbled and so, so grateful to be just a small part of that. It's worth every sacrifice.
all pictures except the last one are ©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision