The fatherless epidemic

The fatherless epidemic in Bolivia can't be fixed overnight. But World Vision is working toward change — through education, counseling, and much more.

World Vision blogger Matthew Paul Turner traveled to Bolivia last August to experience the work of World Vision and the impact of child sponsorship. Here, he shares one of his encounters from that trip — and how it changed his perspective on fatherhood.

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August’s winter sun blazed hard against the mountainous terrain on the afternoon of our fourth day in Bolivia. The warm air was dry and thin.

Fifteen of us — most of us writers — were packed on a bus, driving a dirt road about 45 miles outside of Cochabamba, on our way to visit one of World Vision’s afterschool programs. A few miles from our destination, the bus stopped. In order for the bus to drive over a steep, grassy hill, the driver needed us to get out and wait on the other side.

A camera around my neck, I looked around for something or someone to point my lens at. Three small Bolivian children stood a few feet away, watching me, their faces curious. I walked toward them, pointed at my camera, and butchered the Spanish word for “picture.”

The oldest child seemed to know what I meant. She nodded her head and smiled slightly. Then, as I knelt down and peered through my lens, her smile grew.

I snapped three pictures.

As I snapped the third picture, one of the kids jumped up and ran as fast as he could in the other direction. I felt a firm finger poking my shoulder. One of World Vision’s employees stood behind me, waving a hand at me.

“No hay fotografías!” she said. But I didn’t understand her.

Somebody from our group translated her words. “Stop taking pictures. The children’s father is coming. And I think he’s drunk.”

The children’s father stumbled toward them, his eyes bloodshot.

Our bus driver motioned for us to get back on the bus. Reluctantly, I boarded, still watching the kids and their father, fearful of what I might have instigated. I watched as the father and his daughter exchanged angry words.

As the bus pulled away, the father and daughter kept arguing. The father lifted his hand, and without hesitating, swiped it across his daughter’s face. His violent anger seemed to hardly faze her. She’s been hit before, I thought.

The fatherless epidemic in Bolivia can't be fixed overnight. But World Vision is working toward change — through education, counseling, and much more.
Children hold hands with their mother near Cochabamba, Bolivia. (©2011 photo courtesy of Matthew Paul Turner)

As our bus rounded a bend and I could no longer see the girl and her father, my heart sank.

Throughout our time in Bolivia, at nearly every stop we made, one of the themes that kept playing over and over again was this: Good fathers are becoming an endangered species. Nearly every family’s storyline was the same: “Our father abandoned us.”

And far too often, when a father was present, alcoholism or some other substance abuse made him a part of the problem. Domestic abuse is Bolivia’s unspoken epidemic. Child abuse is commonplace in many of Bolivia’s small towns and villages. And in some instances, fathers steal from their own families in order to support their addictions.

Father’s Day is just a few days away. And I must say, I’m looking forward to celebrating it with my wife and children. Chances are good that I’ll open a couple of cards and/or gifts; and I’ll no doubt give my own father a call, just to tell him how grateful I am to have his love and wisdom in my life.

The fatherless epidemic in Bolivia can't be fixed overnight. But World Vision is working toward change — through education, counseling, and much more.
Many mothers and children in Bolivia face the reality of fathers who are often absent or abusive. (©2011 photo courtesy of Matthew Paul Turner)

But as I celebrate fatherhood this Sunday, I’ll also be thinking of the families I met in Bolivia — the families in which the idea of fatherhood isn’t something to celebrate. Many of us can relate to that sentiment, because either we know what it’s like to be abandoned by our fathers, or we know what it’s like to have fathers whose presence brings feelings of fear, sadness, or pain.

The fatherless epidemic happening right now in Bolivia isn’t something that can be fixed overnight. World Vision is working toward change — through education, counseling, and other means — but Bolivia’s “daddy issues” are rooted in its culture, economy, and the psyche of its people, so change will be slow.

Thankfully, World Vision is also seeking to fill the current needs — the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs — that so many of Bolivia’s fatherless children are experiencing right now. For many of these kids, child sponsorship through World Vision is their only hope of breaking the cycle, their only hope of not repeating the mistakes of their fathers.

While it’s impossible for World Vision to replace the presence and impact of a loving father in the life of a child, Bolivia’s child sponsorship program is helping to relieve the strains that absentee fathers leave behind.

The fatherless epidemic in Bolivia can't be fixed overnight. But World Vision is working toward change — through education, counseling, and much more.
A little girl stands wrapped in a blanket outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia. (©2011 photo courtesy of Matthew Paul Turner)

My hope is that you might consider celebrating your Father’s Day by sponsoring a child through World Vision — because sponsorship changes lives. I’ve seen with my own eyes the change that World Vision brings to the life of a kid. I’ve witnessed the hope that shines across the face of a child upon learning that he or she has been sponsored.

It’s a joy that’s difficult to describe — the kind that many fathers see shine across the faces of their children upon walking in the room, a limitless joy that seems to come from the depths of their soul. Like I said, child sponsorship isn’t the same as seeing Dad walk in the room, but when you don’t have a father, it’s pretty darn close.

Happy Father’s Day.

Want to show Dad your love and appreciation for his presence in your life?

This Father’s Day, honor him by sponsoring a child in Bolivia or another country of your choice. Your support will help bring physical support — like clean water, nutritious food, education, and medical care — as well as the emotional peace that a child experiences from knowing that he or she is cared for and loved.

Read more from Matthew on his blog.


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