This past week I had the privilege of traveling to South America with World Vision to see how they've been working with communities in Ecuador and witness their new #chosen initiative at work firsthand.
I can definitively say that my life has been changed by getting to meet so many amazing people in Ecuador. I know that this simple blog post telling about my experience won't even begin to do it justice. But I hope that by writing down the details, others will be able to get even just a small taste of the incredible things that are happening through child sponsorship with World Vision in Ecuador.
If you're not familiar with #chosen, it's World Vision's new take on child sponsorship where the child has the power to choose their sponsor. (As opposed to the traditional sponsorship model where sponsors choose a child to sponsor from pictures on a website.)
(This short video demonstrates the #chosen concept in a nutshell if you'd like to see more about how it works.)
I left the US on a Tuesday afternoon and flew into Quito, Ecuador to meet up with the rest of our group, which consisted of several bloggers as well as a few World Vision staff.
Leading up to the "choosing party" that would happen at the end of our trip where we'd get to experience the kids picking their sponsors, we got to visit several families and groups that have been impacted by the work that World Vision is doing.
How World Vision Helps Communities
I was absolutely blown away by how much World Vision does to help the communities they serve. I knew that they did child sponsorship. What I didn't realize was how far they are able to reach with those funds to impact not only the single child, but their families and their entire communities as well.
Before World Vision even goes into a new community to set up programs, they do an in-depth study to discover what that specific community needs the most. It's not a one-size-fits all plan. It is genuinely meeting needs of each individual place.
Once they have determined the needs, World Vision goes in with a plan to target the root causes of poverty, not just its symptoms. The plan is also designed with the goal of enabling the members of that community to be responsible for the work and the progress.
World Vision is typically in an area for 15-20 years, at which point the community is able to continue the programs that have been established far into the future without the need of assistance from World Vision any longer.
They're not just going in, giving a little bit of temporary help, and leaving. They're not causing communities to rely on them indefinitely. World Vision is helping to positively change the future trajectory of these communities, the people in them, and the children born there. It's pretty incredible.
On the first day of our visits we met Diana, a single mom of two cute kiddos-- Lupita, who is 5, and Karey, age 2. Diana is also a caregiver for her elderly parents, including her father who has health issues and is unable to work.
Through training from World Vision, Diana was able to learn improved methods of nutrition so she can feed her family in a way that enables them to grow and thrive. She has her own garden where she grows herbs, fruits, and vegetables to use in her cooking.
We were so honored that she made us a delicious meal of chicken, rice, and vegetables that we ate together in her home.
Along with her nutrition training with World Vision, Diana also learned the skills she needed to open a sweet shop business with a few family members, which helps her bring in enough money to be financially independent and pay for her father's medical care.
After leaving Diana's house, we visited a sewing group made up of 25 female entrepreneurs. With the help of World Vision, who assisted in providing their building and supplies, they create costumes, clothing, and bed linens that they are able to sell to earn money to help their families.
Traditionally in this area, only the husbands are able to work (mostly in farming) to bring in an income, and it can sometimes be hard to make ends meet. By providing a way for the women in the families to also learn a valuable skill and earn money, the families are more able to become financially independent.
Finally, we visited a sweet shop that was set up with the help of World Vision.
Again, the women who work here are able to learn a valuable skill that can also bring in additional income for their families.
Jaime and Marta
On the second day of our visits, we were welcomed into the home of Jaime, who is 12 years old and lives with his grandmother, Marta. Jaime is sponsored by a family in Alaska through World Vision and loved showing us some of the letters and mementos he has received from his sponsor.
Jaime plays the drums and also works at his uncle's shop. The money he earns mostly goes to help his family, but he occasionally keeps a little back to buy himself his favorite treat-- french fries! 🙂
Jaime and Marta make beaded jewelry, which they sell in their community. We were so honored that Jaime gave each of us one of his beautiful creations!
World Vision's Impact on a Local High School
After we left Jaime's house, we went to a local high school where students specialize in animal husbandry.
Previously, the students had only been able to learn the theory behind the work. But thanks to the help of World Vision, they were able to set up facilities to house animals and really put what they were learning into practice.
The students were gracious enough to give us a tour of all of their different projects-- they are doing amazing things!
Angela and Yeisy-- Ready to Choose!
On the final day of our visits, we were able to meet two sweet girls who ended up attending the choosing party to pick their sponsors.
First, we were welcomed into Angela's home. Though Angela had not yet been sponsored, she had been able to benefit from community events and opportunities that World Vision had put on in her area.
Along with receiving backpacks and school materials from World Vision, she also got to attend workshops and trainings which helped her to become more confident to speak in front of others.
(At the choosing party, Angela ended up picking Stephen, one of the other bloggers in our group, to be her sponsor!)
Our last home visit was with Yeisy and her grandparents at their house. Yeisy had had a sponsor, but they had left World Vision's program, so she got the opportunity to pick a new sponsor at the choosing party.
Yeisy had the brightest smile and a dynamic personality that could be felt even with the language barrier! She loves to dance and was kind enough to demonstrate her skills for us.
We went with Yeisy to a performance in her community where we saw other talented young dancers-- they were amazing!
The troupe is supported by World Vision and helps its members learn new skills, build their confidence, and have a blast at the same time.
The #Chosen Party!
On one of the last days of our trip, we headed off to the big event that we had all been waiting for-- the #chosen party!
At the event, parents participated in family workshops and trainings while the children got to play different games and activities as they waited for their turn to choose their new World Vision sponsor.
Kids were taken into a room at the school where the event was held, and they were met with dozens of photos of all of the people and families who had signed up to become sponsors.
After looking at all of the photos, they chose the person or family they wanted to sponsor them-- they were so excited!
The kids then had their picture taken with their sponsor's photo and wrote them a letter to introduce themselves.
It was so fun to get to meet and hug the sweet kiddos who chose some of my friends, family members, and blog followers as their sponsors!
And though the entire day of the event probably ranks as one of my favorite days of my life, the absolute highlight was getting to meet Lady, who chose our family to be her sponsor.
She was so sweet to get to talk to, and I can't wait to continue our relationship through letters, cards, and pictures!
You can be chosen too!
Our # chosen party in Ecuador was just the tip of the iceberg. We may have been the first event that collected sponsors digitally and then allowed the children to have the power to choose, but we definitely, definitely are not the last!
World Vision is continually looking for more people who would be willing to be chosen as kids' sponsors in countries around the world. You could make an impact not only on that one child, but on their family and community as well.
I've now seen firsthand the power of child sponsorship and just how far the impact can reach. It can literally change the future of an entire community for the better.
If you'd like to be #chosen as a child's sponsor, you can learn more and sign up here.
[And if you prefer the traditional method of sponsorship where you pick a specific child from a specific country, that's still an option too! Head here for that.]
Thank you so much for "coming along" on this trip to Ecuador with me! I could feel your prayers and thoughts as I was there and so appreciate each and every one of you who sent them!
I look forward to continuing to support World Vision and the children, families, and communities they serve, and I can't wait to see how God works in their ministry in the future.