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Our Visit with Ilsias

An 11-year-old Ilsias in 2005.
An 11-year-old Ilsias in 2005.
April 24, 2014

Eighteen months ago, our sponsored child in Guatemala, Ilsias Roberto, invited us to attend his high school graduation – quite a feat for a young man raised in a remote town and the son of a subsistence farmer. We are so proud of him, only the third person from his community to graduate from high school.

I am sure of one thing: without Plan and its help to the community of Anshigua, Guatemala, Ilsias would have had a vastly different life and future. I love that Plan gives each sponsor's money to the community rather than to the child. Plan provided his town with a school, a community center, a visiting nurse, batteries for the homes, and much more. He was such a serious – and sad – little boy when we began to sponsor him in the fall of 2004. Although he was almost 10 years old, Ilsias did not yet know how to write, so his first letter to me and my husband was six pictures, done with the help of his mother.

Tom and I began to sponsor Ilsias after seeing a movie starring Jack Nicholson advertising Plan and its work. The third of our three sons had just begun college, and I thought it would be fun to sponsor another "son." Each year we relied on sending letters to Ilsias. Although the letter writing/translation/delivery process is lengthy, it was always a treat to receive a letter from Ilsias, and I was usually able to write back quickly. Plan sent me a yearly report and two photos of Ilsias, along with his letters. I compiled a scrapbook of all of these items, and we were able to share them with Ilsias in October at graduation.

This was our second visit with Ilsias. Four years ago Tom and I vacationed in Guatemala and scheduled a half-day visit with Ilsias through Plan at the end of our trip. I remember how Ilsias, then 14, insisted on helping us as we walked the rough, hilly paths of Anshigua. He was telling us with this expression of affection of how important we were in his life. Each letter we wrote to Ilsias told him something that his daily life did not – that he is an important person, that he matters and has worth. And once we had met, the letters just got better.

I am a teacher, and I have always encouraged Ilsias to continue his education, to take advantage of every single educational opportunity that came his way. He went on to junior high even though it was a four-and-a-half mile walk to and from school each day. Then, thirsty to learn, Ilsias continued his education in high school. It was a huge sacrifice for his parents to send him to the nearest big town to study – they needed to pay for his room, board, and supplies.

In January of 2013, Ilsias turned 18 and graduated from Plan's sponsorship program. Geovany, the wonderful Plan representative whom we met in October, told us that he delivered two letters to Ilsias around that time – one to inform Ilsias that he had "graduated" from Plan, and the second a letter from us. As Ilsias sat on the curb to read the letters, Geovany told us, a single tear fell down his cheek. "So I won't be getting any more letters?" he asked. Such was the importance of these letters to him. And Geovany has become something of a mentor to Ilsias, a huge plus in Ilsias' life.

Much to our delight, Plan agreed to facilitate a graduation visit. The big day arrived in October of 2013...although the government changed the graduation date at the last moment, and we missed the actual ceremony. We had a half-day with the Plan staff and with Ilsias in the big town (Jalapa) until it was time for Ilsias to board the public bus and return to Anshigua to prepare for the celebration the following day.

Early the next morning Geovany and the driver drove us out to Anshigua. We shared the Plan scrapbook with Ilsias, talked with family members, were served breakfast, toured the community, and then participated in the graduation celebration. What an example this young man has become for his entire village – and it seemed as though the whole town showed up at the house to celebrate! His mom cried as she told us of Ilsias' babyhood. She had gotten a job as a maid and was allowed to bring little Ilsias, but she was not allowed to stop work to tend to him if he cried – and he apparently cried enough to break her heart. She worried for his happiness, she told us. She wanted the best for him. And now she was witnessing her son’s amazing accomplishments. Geovany gave a speech and took over 100 pictures for us. And Ilsias was so overcome by emotion that he could barely finish his speech. Geovany allowed us to stay for hours – what an honor to be a part of this all.

The story has not ended yet. In January of 2014, Ilsias will continue to follow his dreams by attending the University in Jalapa. He will be the first of his village to attend college, and his goal is to graduate as a teacher and go back to his little village to help them.

Thank you, Plan International. You make such a difference in the lives of children all over the world.

Written by Gayle Reese

Watch our slideshow to view Gayle's photos of Ilsias throughout the years: