Already travelling on his own through South America, Laurence embarked on the journey to Colombia to meet his sponsored child, Clara. What he wasn’t expecting was to learn about the realities of life in Clara’s community - and why World Vision is there.
“You sort of understand why they’re involved with World Vision, what caused the situation, and about poverty.”
Could you describe what it was like seeing Clara for the first time?
I’d seen photos of her, I’d read bits and pieces about her, but it just didn’t feel ... I don’t know the words, like it was a surreal sort of thing. You get to feel that it’s actually a real thing, that your money is doing something.
What did you learn about Clara that you didn’t know before?
You find out the other side of the story that you don’t always hear from World Vision. I’ve never had contact outside the Christmas cards, the birthday cards and the Annual Progress Report, so there was a lot about her life that I had no idea about. You sort of understand why they’re involved with World Vision, what caused the situation, and about poverty.
In Clara’s case, her dad was living with a disability. He had to communicate with sign language so he worked within a family business as a labourer. I could see that it made sense now; why they’re in the situation they’re in. It’s more of a complete experience to actually meet them, you find out so much more about them this way.
What was Clara’s reaction to meeting you?
At the beginning she was very shy. I brought her a little toy kangaroo and gave her a photo of my dog. We visited the school that she went to and all her friends came running over. She had the kangaroo in one hand and the picture in the other and all her friends were touching the kangaroo.
I gave her a colouring in book with a puzzle and at the end of the day she sat me down next to her and was colouring in - I just thought “this is really good!”
Was there anything that shocked you or challenged you culturally?
A lot of the city she lived in was very poor. I have lots of photos of the actual street, which isn’t even concrete, it’s just dirt roads with holes and the drainage system is just a hole on the side of the road.
What experiences touched you as a sponsor?
I met her family – her grandmother, uncle and her cousins and I learned that literally the whole family lived in the one house. That was the real thing that touched me the most to be honest, because I got to hear how different it is to Australia. In our house, one of our rooms can be the size of their entire house and they have eight people living there.
What was one thing you didn’t expect that really moved you?
One of the big things that touched me when I was over there ... I learned that a lot of the staff were all World Vision children themselves. And that’s something I wasn’t expecting. I was expecting to see working travellers, or people who had donated their time from other countries. But it wasn’t that way at all; they were all people who had grown up in the community. So to me it was another big thing - to see these people starting their careers who had such a good positive impact on the situation of being sponsored through World Vision that they thought “well this is what I want to do, I want to do something to help as well”.
Would you encourage others to visit?
I’ve had such a good experience, I just hope that others can get a little piece of what I had - that would be amazing. But it is difficult, it’s very hard to get to a lot of the countries, I get that completely, but also, you don’t have to go there just for the one day, you can make a holiday out of it and that’s how I did it.