Johan’s Story: What Becomes of Sponsored Children in Colombia

Johan Espinosa has been linked to World Vision for most of his life. He was sponsored at the age of five and grew up to be sponsorship coordinator in Bucaramanga, Colombia where I visited recently with World Vision Canada. His journey from sponsored child to inspirational leader building futures for sponsored children in Colombia is nothing short of remarkable. His story is a beautiful illustration of what becomes of sponsored children in Colombia.



Johan Espinosa, sponsored as a child, now he is sponsorship coordinator in Bucaramanga, Colombia

One of Three Brothers

Espinosa was one of three brothers. They lived with both parents and their father worked, but they were still barely getting by. When you are poor, you often live a life that is anchored deeply in the present. It is difficult to dream when living day to day. Harder still to imagine a future. Childhood sometimes protects you from knowing any other way, any other reality. Espinosa remembers feeling happy as a child, being cared for and loved. His family shared what little they had with friends.

“When I was five. I remember there was a lot of need in my neighbourhood. We were three children and though we were happy we didn’t have any opportunity to dream, to study or be better.”

And Then Life Changed

Then World Vision arrived. His world changed. It opened up. Sometimes hope and pride arrives mysteriously, and literally, looking like bunk beds. Something so incredibly simple and commonplace for many of us. But for Espinosa it was the start of a life transformed. Before the bunk beds, they were three boys sharing a bed.

“World Vision arrived and we had a chance to dream. We got benefits that were so important for us. It was so important to get the bunk beds. I had a sponsor and I started writing my sponsor and taking part in various activities in the community. We were each so happy to be involved in the activities World Vision put on in the community.”

The Need

Throughout the week that I stayed in Colombia and travelled throughout the country visiting several ADPs (area development programs) I learned over and over that many children had no books, or uniforms to attend school. I have told some of those stories already in this series, but this is the story of child sponsorship and how it changed one life again rippling through the community to become a tidal wave of change that transforms many.

Each time I have heard the personal stories I am overwhelmed to learn how much one sponsored child impacts this country. The team in Bucaramanga is the greatest illustration that lives are altered forever by sponsorship.

On a day when I heard half a dozen personal stories about child sponsorship and the impact it has had on each of the current local World Vision workers, I was left speechless, often teary eyed and humbled. Overwhelmed wondering how to retell these stories that are so impactful in person.

Johan’s Story

Espinosa, for instance, was one small child in a country where there are millions displaced and living in poverty. He was sponsored and he grew to become a leader in his community, building something so unique inside World Vision Colombia that it struck a chord inside an office at World Vision Canada and prompted me to fly here to see it for myself. Espinosa sits as head of the very department through which his letter might have passed years ago, starting at his home and ending  in his sponsor’s mailbox. He and his Canadian sponsor exchanged letters often, and the department he now heads is a vibrant space filled with young people who also were all once sponsored children.

A Photograph Brought Us Here

It is the photograph of this group that has lured us here. What are the odds that this many former sponsored children should all end up working together in the same office, and then go on to each sponsor a child themselves? Truly, a magnificent thing to see this group interacting and talking about the incredible responsibility of handling the correspondence between sponsor and child. It is something we don’t give thought to even when we are already sponsoring children back home in Canada. The work here in this department is very much a labour of love. Each one of these young people speak of poverty replaced with hope and responsibility to give back.




This city, Bucaramanga, Colombia is at once both the richest spot I have ever seen due to the people working here inside World Vision and the poorest community I could ever imagine. Asomiflor, a community where an ADP has just started here is startling and sad. It is this contrast that defines Bucaramanga. Rich in people, but poor by geography, history and circumstance.

“I am so thankful for World Vision,” says Espinosa. “I am a byproduct of what I received here as a boy.”

Espinosa is now married, a leader in this region and a father of two boys, ages 10 and 3. He sponsors a girl in Medellin and has also had a chance to meet the little girl he sponsors. Medellin is one of the areas worst hit by domestic heroin use.

Our Journey

While we are here we have visited Cali, Bogota and Santander de Quilichao. Santander de Quilichao has the second worst domestic heroin problem in all of Colombia. Medellin has the highest rate of heroin use. Although the narco-trafficking problem of years gone by has been effectively battled, a quieter domestic heroin issue has grown. It threatens young people the most as gangs sometimes prey on children as young as ten offering them free heroin and showing them how to use the drug, then turning on them as they become addicted forcing them to earn money by whatever means necessary.

The Ticket to Success

Education and sponsorship are the biggest weapons in the daily battle to keep Colombia’s youth healthy and steer them out of a life in drugs, crime and gangs.

“I think there is a real need to contribute to the life of a boy, or a girl. It is needed. When I look back on who Johan was then and who he is now I am very grateful and thankful. Through World Vision, I had the chance to meet the Lord, and to meet my wife. I think I will continue working with World Vision for life.”

This is what becomes of a life when someone else believes and supports and nurtures it through World Vision Canada. This is What Becomes of Sponsored Children in Colombia. And this too is quite simply what a child can do given the chance to dream.

Please keep reading all my stories from the trip with World Vision Canada.

You can read more:

Part 1: The Briefing

For More Details About World Vision Canada:

For more information visit the main World Vision site.
You can also follow World Vision on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/worldvisioncan/
and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WorldVisionCan
I travelled with World Vision Canada as a guest so I could tell these stories. I am sharing more stories this week and next. Join us for a twitter party with World Vision Canada on November 19th at 8 p.m. EST. We are talking about the World Vision gift catalogue. Ask me how you can schedule a sponsored chat or twitter party. 

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Margarita Ibbott

    As always I am forever touched by your posts about Columbia. I live this one in particular as you can see the end result of sponsoring a child. It truly is building a stronger Colombia.

    • Paula

      Thank you my friend. The personal stories of what the children become after they are grownup really amazed me. The young women in particular had me in tears. I am still processing that.

  • Sandy

    It’s simply amazing to read where Johan came from and where he is today in his life. I love seeing how an organization like World Vision actually helps people. I mean, we see examples on tv all the time but, I think many of us often wonder if the help truly gets to the people who need it most. Your post shows it most definitely does! Great work, Paula!

  • Jessica

    I totally followed along on your entire trip to Columbia and read most of your posts. Until I read all about your trip and World Vision, I honestly thought it was just another money making racket. It is nice to know that the money we send really does make a difference and gets to where it is supposed to go.

  • Terry

    I would never donate to causes like this because I had heard that the money never reaches the kids. It is so nice to know that that wasn’t the truth.

  • Pam

    I always worry that I am donating to causes that spend most of the money on marketing or internal things, but it’s nice to hear it isn’t like that with World Vision. I really enjoyed reading about your experience with them.

  • Fariha

    World Vision does some really amazing work. It’s always a concern of mine how much money goes to the children themselves but I’m really glad to read this.

  • Jennifer Williams

    What a beautiful story. You often wonder when you make donations to help others exactly how it is helping others – if it is the ones that need it or if it is someone taking advantage. I love to see how much good is being done.

  • Sonja Hadley

    I have very much enjoyed all your articles about World Vision in Colombia. I sponsor 10 children through World Vision, and one of the dearest children is in Cali, Colombia. She is a beautiful, giving child and I very much enjoy helping her and her family. Wondering whether you plan on including Cali World Vision ADP in your future blogs. Would be very much interested in your impressions.

    • Paula

      Sonja: I will touch on things that we saw in the area and I thank you so very much for your commitment and your comment here as well. Ten children have lives that are changed because of you! That’s incredible! We did not visit ADPs in Cali. We flew to Cali and we stayed there overnight and it was home for just that one evening. I believe the ADPs in Cali have had a great deal of success. I understand also that the university sponsorship program there is doing very well and is such an impressive program in itself. It picks up where child sponsorship ends and helps sponsored children finish their studies. I will try to find out more for you but we did not visit any ADPs in Cali.

      • Sonja Hadley

        Paula, Thanks so much for the information. The university sponsorship program very much interests me. How does that work? How does the child qualify for this sponsorship and who administers it? My child is doing very well at school and wants to be a vet. She just turned 13. I had always wanted to help her realize her dream and this would mean university for her. So any information you can give me re this program would be very helpful as I can then enquire further on her behalf. If you know who to contact about this (at World Vision?), that would be helpful as well. Thanks again!

          • Sonja Hadley

            Hi Paula, Did you find out anything more about the university bursary program through World Vision Colombia? You had said you would check and let me know. I am still interested in any information you have. Thanks and hear from you soon.

  • Pam

    It is really nice to see where money has gone and how it helps real people with real stories. Your blog post really brought this story to life for me and is really motivates me to donate to this cause.

  • Ann Bacciaglia

    World vision is such a great organization. It is great to read about some of the kids that were helped.

  • Danielle

    This is great! I love seeing the end result and how sponsoring a child can really help the child and seeing the child grow up into a successful adult.

  • amanda mcmahon

    I used to do sponsorship for SOS children village, as well as a few other types of sponsorships. It is great to know it really does matter.

  • Lee-Ann S

    I’ve loved all of your post on your Columbia trip and am amazed how many of the young people you met are now working for World Vision in Columbia trying to make lives easier for the children who come after them.

  • Cathy C

    What an incredible story. I love when you see the impact giving back kindness and charity has. It is also inspiring to see the success stories and that it inspired Jonan and others like him to keep that giving going in a very real and active way.

  • SueSueper

    This was very interesting. I will go on and read the related article. What a difference sponsorship makes. <3

  • Jenn

    Wow, great post. When I read about Espinosa being so thankful for even the bunk beds, I almost teared up for them… and for those currently without proper beds, or even a safe place to sleep for that matter. It is so nice to hear how World Vision changed a lot for them, and it’s wonderful to know that World Vision is still going strong and trying to make more positive changes in many more lives.

  • Judy Cowan

    Wow, what a great post! You always see the ads asking for donations but you never see the end result. It is great to read that the donations DO make a difference. Thanks for sharing!


    I have always wondered about World Vision and sponsorship but as of yet I have not sponsored anyone. My sister has for many years and still receives letters and pictures.

    I think it is now time to re-evaluate my stance after reading your article, thank you for providing the information in your post

  • Megan Shea

    We are thinking about sponsoring as a Christmas gift for the kids. The stories are so moving. We are all striving for a better world, but here we can forget how basic necessities can make such a giant impact for a small child. Thank you for your work!

    • Paula

      Megan: I am so glad you are reading the stories about World Vision and the trip to Colombia. It was amazing. My kids really kind of think it’s cool that we sponsored a boy Ainsley’s age in an area of Colombia where the opportunities are not what they are here. We have started writing to him already and are eagerly waiting more details. I thought it spokes volumes that Payton wanted to help decide who to sponsor and that Ainsley took one of the pictures to her room already and put it there as if this person is family to her already. That made me happy as a Mom.

  • Angela Mitchell

    When I was a child my family sponsored a child for many years. I’ve always what happened to her and I still think of her and have some of the letters. It’s really neat to read this story to see how just one child was impacted by sponsorship.

  • sarah w

    What a truly inspirational and beautiful story. I have always wondered how child sponsorship really works and this was a really moving account. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  • Florence C

    What a great Story. My mother-in-law always sponsored a child. Now that she is no longer with us. My sister-in-law sponsors one.

  • Lee-Ann

    Thank you for sharing your story. I think when people can put as close to a personal touch to something they see the value in it more.

  • krista miller

    As a parent, this story is heartwrenching… I can’t imagine that type of life for my children. Gangs, drugs, crime.. it is simply unimagineable. We are so blessed as Canadians, and have a wonderful organization in World Vision. And kudos to people like Espinosa who lived this life but grew up to be a leader against these cruelties.

  • Melissa Smith

    It truly is so nice to read a story of what comes of these children. We all hope the best for them, but to find out that they come out on top in more ways than one, it really makes all the difference.

  • jenny

    A very moving post! I love reading about how a sponsored person really took advantage of the help from World Vision such that he became a LEADER in his community. It’s a wonderful rippling effect!

  • Alayne Langford

    I totally love this heartwarming post. I hope there are more gentlemen who strive for greatness once given a chance by World Vision, a very important movement in today’s society. I hope Johan’s passion is contagious and he is able to help others, as he was helped. Much love xo

  • summer plewes

    This is a truly uplifting and inspirational story. I have never donated to world vision and have often wondered if the funds really make it to the children in need. This story proves that they do and that lives can change. Thank you for sharing.

  • Nicole

    What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it and letting us know the impact we can make by sponsoring a child.

  • Lindsay Cyr

    What a beautiful story. I’ve been sponsoring a little boy through World Vision for a few years now, and this story makes me realize how much it really does matter.

  • Lisa @ Fab Frugal Mama

    It is truly amazing to see what difference a small thing (like a bunk bed) can make in a child’s life. Such a touching story. 🙂

  • Carol M (Lushka S)

    What an inspirational story. My uncle sponsors children around the world and has visited a few of them.

  • Tabitha P

    A great story of success for this young man. And all the sponsored children who now work for World Vision. My husband works for Compassion Canada and he was in Bogota, Columbia in January of this year and it is truly amazing to see the changes in the children when they are sponsored and cared for. So amazing. Your trip sounds like it was really great and inspiring.

  • caryn s

    This is inspiring to see how far kids can come when they are sponsored and allowed to be kids and be free of worry!

  • Sonja Hadley

    Hi Paula,
    I had posted earlier and you said you would inquire and get back to me. Did you find out anything further about the Sponsorship University bursary program? Would appreciate any information you were able to find out, as you mentioned it on your blog. Thank you and hope to hear soon. Sonja

  • Lee-Ann S

    What I really like about Johan’s story is the fact that Johan is now giving back to his community thanks to what he was able do a a result of being sponsored as a child.

  • Holly

    I read this previously, and reading it again (and sharing!). This is such an amazing story. He’s an inspiration to everyone.

  • Anna W

    This is a very sweet story, as soon as we are financially able we will be sponsoring a child through World Vision.

  • Judy Cowan

    I have already read this but just read it is again, it is a very inspiring story and it is nice to see proof that your money does help!

  • Jonnie

    This story really shows how helping someone trickles down and becomes so much bigger. A small act of kindness is all it takes to kick start real change!

  • ginette4

    Great story..truly pulls on your heart strings…we have been helping a family for years in Bosnia..feels good to make a difference

  • nicolthepickle

    It really makes you think about how much opportunity we have here, and how much we can make a difference.

  • Darlene Schuller

    This is amazing, as are you. Thank you for sharing, as a new follower I think it’s important that people know what goes on when sponsoring.

    No child in the world should need food/water/shelter/clothing, or love.

  • sarah sar

    Ah, I remember commenting on this before, up there back when I was “Sarah W”. Good to revisit this inspirational story again!

  • mike k

    what a touching story. world vision has changed so many people’s lives like johan for the better, its remarkable. thanks for sharing this story!