I really feel I must have a guardian angel. The day we went to visit Adrian in his community was the only day in a two-week period of having a dose of Montezuma’s revenge – or whatever the Bolivian equivalent is called – when I felt well enough to travel over difficult roads with no prospect of a bathroom.
Our day should have started at 7.30 am but in true Latin American style, our departure was actually delayed by about an hour while the driver negotiated the heavy traffic and eventually found his way to our hotel. Fortunately, Jorge from the World Vision office was there on time and reassured us that everything would be ok. The road to Tacopaya was surprisingly better than I had anticipated – my sister and I had kept our travel sick bags from the aeroplane just in case – and we made good time. The scenery was spectacular through the Andes and we had an opportunity at one of the highest points to have a photo stop.
We then turned off the main road which is being widened, thanks to Chinese investment, to ease the traffic problems caused by the large number of lorries which use it. Progress after that was a bit slower but eventually we made it to the World Vision offices in Adrian's community. The original schedule had included a tour of the offices and an explanation of WV’s work in the area prior to visiting Adrian and his community but we were running late and the teachers at the school wanted to get home. So we set off almost immediately after a quick drink and some lovely fruit. This journey took us along the dry river bed but to Renan, the programme’s leader and our driver, this caused no problems in his 4x4.
Our arrival in the village was heralded by the school band, made up of a group of young 16 and 17-year-olds, who started playing as soon as we stepped out of the car. Adrian was also waiting for us there but he looked very shy. I was slightly cheered by the fact that he had a pair of earphones leading to his pocket so like most teenagers, he was listening to music at the same time!
We were then escorted through the streets, still accompanied by the band, passing people who came out to shake our hands and say 'Buenos Dias'. On arrival at the school playground, we were invited to sit on three chairs (for myself, my sister and Adrian) to watch the ensuing dancing display put on by some of the youngsters from the school, the majority of them not much older than about 4 years old. It was so amazing to think that they had practised and rehearsed the dances for our benefit.
I was invited to address the village and tell them a bit about myself and why we were there. Fortunately I speak Spanish and was able to tell them how delighted we were to be there, how proud I felt of Adrian and how emotional the whole visit made me feel. Indeed, I was almost in tears at the end of my speech!
For the next part of our tour we were taken to visit a small guinea pig farm – an enterprise that World Vision have supported and encouraged the village to undertake – in order to provide a more varied diet. It seemed strange to see what for us are family pets but for them are wild animals only reared for food. We were then invited to taste the guinea pig. However, this wasn’t just like wine tasting where you had one swig and spat it out, this was a full-blown meal with a whole guinea pig laid out like a spatchcock chicken on top of potatoes, rice and vegetables. We were then intently watched to see how we enjoyed the food. The meat tasted a bit like a rather mature chicken and I hope we ate enough to be polite.
Our visit then took us to Adrian’s family home. It was like going to a livestock smallholding with emphasis on the word 'small' as it consisted of two bulls and a donkey. We were invited to sit in the interior courtyard of their home – the house was built around three sides of the courtyard – and were introduced to Jorge and Rosenda, Adrian’s parents, his younger brother Efronio and a very shy 3-year-old cousin, Samuel. Arminda, Adrian’s sister, had to be coaxed out of her room but did join us eventually.
Rosenda seemed quite flustered by our visit and was scurrying around getting everything organised. It turned out that she was in the middle of preparing another generous plate of food: mutton, omelette, rice, potatoes and broad beans which was offered to everyone in the party, including all the members of the band who had reappeared. We were then dressed up in traditional dress, including the typical hats which because of the size of our heads, only perched on the top of my and my sister’s heads. Very comical! The band then struck up their only tune again and we were invited to dance. I danced with Adrian’s dad, and Linda danced with Adrian. For a 13-year-old boy to have to dance with a woman in her 60's whom he’d never met before must have been pretty mortifying and Adrian was surely hoping that the music would stop soon. However, the band just kept on playing!
It was soon going to be time for us to leave but not before I was asked to make another speech to thank the family for their generosity and hospitality and for me to offer the presents that I had been carrying around in my suitcase for the past two weeks, making my suitcase so heavy that one of our drivers asked me if I had brought rocks from London! I hope that the gifts were appreciated – I think the three footballs that I had taken probably were – but it was hard to tell from their reaction what they really thought. The family didn’t smile much, whereas I was grinning from ear to ear most of the time!
I felt very sad to be leaving but honoured to have been so incredibly warmly welcomed and made to feel so special
We were then accompanied back to the car by the band but this time not musically accompanied. A couple of the girls and I were chatting on the way back – all the young people seemed very motivated to work hard at school and most of the teenagers had an idea of what they wanted to do after they had left school. Thanks to World Vision they have the opportunity to stay at school beyond the third year and go on to boarding school.
I consider it a rare privilege that, in an age when there is so much criticism of charities and the way in which they spend their donors’ money, I was able see with my own eyes how well my money is being spent and what enormous benefits it is bringing to the whole community, not only Adrian and his family.
I feel incredibly privileged to have been in a position to be able to go and visit my sponsored child and to see at first hand the way he and his community live. By some quirk of destiny and luck, I was born in a developed country where we have so much, a lot of which we take for granted, and my visit helped put a lot of things into perspective and make me a lot more appreciative of what we have here in this country: free education; free health care, etc.
Long may World Vision’s good work continue.
When the programme comes to an end in 2020, I really feel that World Vision will have successfully left the community able to stand on its own feet and that the benefits of what they have been taught will be far-reaching and longstanding