August 04 2011

Paulo has 8 children ranging in ages from 14 years to 6 months. Three of them walk 2 hours to school and 2 hours home. He told us that he used to live near the mines, but it wasn’t a safe place for children. He bought the land in the mountains where we visited him, and moved his family there. But he can’t grow enough in his fields to feed them all.

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

As we talked, his wife nursed their baby, surrounded by five of her beautiful but shy little ones (the older three were at school).

As we walked away, I couldn’t help wondering when the next baby would come.

In rural communities, we’ve seen a baffling series of contradictions about the value of children. On the one hand, their’s is a close-knit large-family culture. On the other hand, if a cow and a child are both sick, the family will usually seek care for the animal.

Rural Bolivian women believe that their role is to make babies, care for their animals, cook food, and make more babies. Their identity is wrapped up in this. They also have a real need for children to help them work their fields.

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

Bolivian men also see children as helpers for the farm. But the extra mouths to feed are an inexpressible strain. Almost all Bolivian children are abused sexually, physically, and verbally. If you were to take a U.S. class of 30 kids and move it to Bolivia, 27 of them will abused and 12 of those are sexually abused (both boys and girls).

Many parents just walk away. They usually go to find better work somewhere else, promising to send money home, but many never return and never send money. They just disappear.

How can you find your identity in child-bearing and then turn around and abandon your children?

It seems obvious to us that if you can’t afford to feed more children, you don’t have more children.

But it isn’t obvious to rural Bolivians.

I don’t know how to help Paulo and his wife. He is so underwater he doesn’t even know what his problems are, or how World Vision can help.

But it takes time. You can’t barge in, point your finger, and say “Stop having babies and here’s how. You can’t have sex with your spouse certain days.”

It’s far more complicated than that. You have to build trust which requires building friendships. You have to open their minds to new ideas through education. Children need to grasp a vision of their future that includes options like higher education, small business ventures, agricultural innovation, and giving back to their communities. Families need to embrace the value of children, the responsibility they have to each child, and their capacity to meet that responsibility.

©2011 Amy Conner for World Vision

World Vision does all of this in the communities within which they work. They also teach nutrition, cleanliness and sanitation, and healthy practices. They have the opportunity to teach about fertility, the reproductive cycle, and why and how to space pregnancies for the health and wellbeing of the mother.

Because unless they take ownership of their capacity to provide adequate care for the children they have, the cycle of poverty will only continue.

Join World Vision’s work with communities. For just $1 a day or 1/4 of a Starbucks latte, you can help break this cycle of poverty.
Sponsor in BoliviaThe first 150 sponsors will receive a special edition Bolivia bloggers necklace by Lisa Leonard Designs!

P.S. We’re hosting a livestream session tonight! Hang out with us at 7pm PST/10pm EST here: (Spread the word today while we’re out in the countryside, will you?)

P.P.S. We aren’t here in Bolivia to entertain you and give you warm fuzzies. We are here to show what World Vision does so that you can sponsor children with confidence. But people aren’t reading. Our stats are the lowest they have ever been. So many of you have expressed support and said you are praying, so I’m just going to ask you. Please share our posts. Tweet them, share them on Facebook, send emails to all your friends. Help us help these beautiful people.


  1. Just want to say I am reading these posts, and my heart is breaking. The sadness and the need are so overwhelming to me…I can’t even imagine what you all must be feeling. Thank you to each of you for being there, and being willing to tell the stories & share the need.

  2. It is hard on a heart to hear of the struggles of others, but it is so very important to understand. Thank you for sharing, caring, and being there.

  3. Unfortunately we are inundated day after day with tales of extreme need. Whether it’s tornadoes in the South, or floods in the Midwest, or hurricanes in Haiti, tsunamis in Japan, or starving children in Bolivia, Somalia, and so on- there is just so much need.

    I think part of the problem is that there are people who literally could care less. As long as they are happy, they don’t care about the needs of others. I think the other other problem is that people are so overwhelmed, they get discouraged and do nothing. They don’t realize that absolutely yes less than $40 a month can make a difference! So they do nothing.

    My husband and I sponsor a little girl in Malawi through World Vision. We love it and it’s been a huge blessing to us. I have been sharing various blogs from your team since you began your adventure. I will continue to. I pray more people will get on board and do something.

  4. Praying, Joy… praying…

  5. sarah lacey

    I am enjoying your blog and am sharing it on my FB page. I am proud of the work World Vision is doing and you are doing a great job of blogging all that you are seeing. This experience, as seen through your eyes has touched me and I am sure it will touch ALL those who read it!
    Good Luck and God Bless,
    Sarah Lacey

  6. I’m sorry more people aren’t participating. Perhaps some are reading but not commenting. I think too many people are overwhelmed by human need. Their own need is so great, in many cases. And then to hear about all the heartbreak in the world! Yes, some could give more. And care more. Others of us wish we could help a lot of others, or even just ONE in an adequate manner. But we just don’t have the resources. And everywhere we turn, there are cries for money. It’s enough to overwhelm us. The more often we’re asked, the harder it gets not to glaze over at just the mention of the need for money.

    I sponsor a child in the Philippines. On, how I would love to help her whole family with a larger gift, or funds to start a micro-business. I wish I could buy a well or something needed by a whole community. But I can’t give more than I’m already giving.

    May God have mercy on the poor, and provide for them. May God have mercy on all of us! For there isn’t a person anywhere who doesn’t have some sort of desperate needs — yes, even those who think they are rich, are still needy inside.

  7. I posted about this post here:
    I hope more readers tune in. I’m waiting for my husband to get home so we can discuss becoming sponsors and make something happen.

  8. “Families need to embrace the value of children, the responsibility they have to each child, and their capacity to meet that responsibility.” This is why I don’t sponsor a child. I have my own hungry mouths to feed. I don’t have vacations or cable or Starbucks or a wine budget I can give up. There’s not a lot more squeezing one can do, and sometimes, I’m just selfish. I want a nice thing or two now and then. You know, like new underwear – Hanes, not VS. We are not poor, but all our resources are used. And I feel guilty because I can’t give *at this time.* So when I see posts like these, I avoid them. The World Vision Sunday at church. The Ann Voscamps, Jennfer McKinneys, LisaJo Bakers of the world lose me those weeks. I’m sorry. Africa and South America will still have need when God calls me on this. But I feel that the time (for me) is not now.

    Someone else said the word “innundated.” I also feel that way. There’s so. much. need. Everywhere. It’s overwhelming.

  9. Praying for Paulo’s precious family. And I’ll help you spread the word about the need in Bolivia, friend.

  10. Lily


    Be encouraged! Thank you for taking the time to visit Bolivia and thank you so much for sharing what World Vision is doing in Bolivia! God has an awesome plane for Bolivia! Never forget that!

    Thank you for sharing tonight on the live chat! It was great to see all of you smile and share the great news!

    Be encouraged!



  11. Joy, thanks for writing this. I love how balanced you are in your communication of the issues because you are right, changing the way a culture views it’s children takes time and relationship and more time and more time. It’s a giant ship that just can’t be turned on a dime.

    But I love that you are writing about it and sharing with us the culture in Bolivia. Isn’t it amazing how ethics seem to “change” when people are deeply poor? Somehow, their choices to “care for the kids” or “do the right thing” suddenly seem so much more complicated when food hasn’t been on the table for three days . . .

    Praying for you guys, still . . .

  12. Kimberly

    Wow very honest blog- about a very real problem… I always wonder how non-profits approach especially sensitive issues- including matters regarding reproductive health and family planning methods. I think you’re right there has to be an element of trust and safety between workers and members of the community. World Vision seems to do a good job of integrating into communities and working with community leaders to find solutions to complex problems in the community.

    I already sponsor 4 children through World Vision and 2 through Compassion. I wish I could sponsor more through World Vision in the future! They seem to have a pretty sustainable method when it comes to their sponsorship model- meaning the benefits of your donation don’t exactly end when your giving ends.

    I hope that more Bolivian children are getting sponsored and that World Vision will continue their blog trips in the future! These blogs really do bring awareness to some pretty big/complex issues that affect developing nations.

  13. I am reminded of the term “compassion fatigue” that I heard in The Hole in our Gospel. I am beginning to believe that, by and large, most people are not heartless :) I know, surprising, right? Most people actually do have compassion and do care that people are abused, starving, hopeless, etc. I think perhaps people just don’t realize that these things are actually happening, but let me explain what I mean.

    Obviously, it is impossible (or at least very rare) today to be ignorant of the reality of poverty. But I think most of us don’t really believe the “reality” though we may see evidence of it every day. We believe the truths we see in front of us every day, and often don’t really believe the reports of truths that exist outside of our experience. Think about the last account you heard from someone who experienced poverty, abuse, or other atrocities firsthand (or the last time YOU saw it) they reacted with shock and surprise didn’t they? But it shouldn’t be surprise, for as long as we have had cameras we have “seen” these truths and we’ve heard reports of them for even longer. If we really believed the evidence of testimonies and photographs then we wouldn’t be surprise, if we really “saw” these injustices as if they were happening in front of us our reaction would be more immediate and radical.

    I don’t say this to excuse apathy, especially my own, but rather because we, no I, misunderstand what true “awareness” is. True, lasting, awareness, the kind that invades your life and forces you to respond with action, requires an experiential kind of knowledge. And not just once, a real lasting and ongoing experience. It’s not enough, I don’t think, to hear stories, see pictures, or watch videos. That is enough for some people but not for the majority.

    I suspect, and I’m just musing here, that we have to get a whole lot more personal with pain and poverty. There’s not just one way to do that, but it has to go beyond words and pictures to experiencing real people: touching and knowing them. Again, I’m not sure what this looks like, though telling their stories is a starting point, but not enough by itself.

    Does this make any sense or am I just rambling in circles here? What do you think, do you think there’s a way for the average comfortable 1st world person to actually build a relationship with someone who is in pain or poverty? How do you help that happen? (I’m struggling with these issues as a child-sponsorship Advocate as well)

  14. Ana

    I read your blog & Rachel Held Evans. I just started a sponsorship with World Vision (my second — my first is with Compassion). Thanks for your witness and stories…. don’t be discouraged.

    • Hurray! Thank you so much for sharing this with me — I needed the encouraging word.


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