Above is the first photo we saw of Yonalda,
followed by her photos for the next 12 years.
The last photo (below) I took myself when we finally got to visit her in person.
To get to her home, we drove 5 hours from the city of Santo Domingo, to the North side of the island of Hispañola. We visited briefly at Yonalda's school. The building was made of concrete. The power was out, which is common more often than not. I soon recognized that this school was the background for her photos I'd received over the past 12 years .
From her school in Puerto Plata, we drove through a large sugar cane field, and arrived at her home built on a hillside in a tropical forest.
This is her mother, father, and youngest brother. Dad is a big man!
He only looks angry, but wasn't. Culturally, men don't often smile for photos.
He was a kind-hearted man.
It was an amazing day. I had seen video on Compassion's web-site of well known Christian musicians visiting their sponsored children (Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Point of Grace, Jeremy Camp, Bebo Norman, Mercy Me). I had always been a bit dubious about those videos, thinking that because of their fame, they had access to their sponsored children, that I would not. I was very pleased to see how happy the Compassion staff was to help me visit my sponsored child.
Above, I am sitting with Yonalda's grandfather. Shortly after this photo was taken, he walked into the jungle, and returned with a bunch of banana, offering me one.
Below is Yonalda's grandmother. I think you can see the family resemblance.
The above photo is Yonalda's great-grandmother.
Sadly, she has since passed away, but I am honored to have met her.
I was able to meet cousins, aunts & uncles, nieces & nephews. We laughed together, and talked about our families, and visited her church. We walked to the river, where they collect their drinking water, wash clothes, and swim.
Yonalda's sister Yenifer seemed to especially enjoy the visit, and younger brother Yordy
(the "Y" sounds like "J" in their names)
really enjoyed the candy I brought with me.
Our 4 hours together went by way too fast. Before I left, I took the below photo of Yonalda and her siblings in front of the school she attended through 8th grade. School was going on inside, and we created quite a disturbance with all of the children wanting to see the funny looking guy who had come to visit.
I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to my next trip to visit with Yonalda. She is on schedule to graduate in October, 2009. In February, 2007, Yonalda asked if I would come to her graduation, and honor her by presenting her with her diploma. I asked her if she wouldn't prefer to have her father do that. She told me, "no - it was his idea that you do it."
It was then I realized how much our sponsorship means to this family. No one in his family had ever had the opportunity to get an education. Poverty means that often times, children must work so the family can have barely enough food to survive.
Yonalda's father has offered to step aside during the moment of his daughter's graduation, in order to express his gratitude for the little help we offered.