Child Sponsorship

Sponsorship Success Story

The Boy Who Dreamed

What happens when you sponsor a child? Just ask Carlos Aparicio. He grew up in a home in Colombia made from paper and cans. Today, he’s an accomplished academic and athlete. He credits his determined optimism, his family’s love and Louise Miller, his Plan International sponsor, for 'inspiring' him to dream big.

Words by Jenny Bertrand
Reading time: 8 minutes


An old two-tone photo of a young boy wearing a suit next to a current-day photo of the man the boy grew up to be
A picture of Carlos that was taken when he signed up for sponsorship (left) at age five and Carlos today (right).

Life-defining moments: We all have them. It’s what we do with them that matters. Carlos Aparicio will always remember when he met his Plan International child sponsor, Louise Miller.

“All my life, I wanted to hug her, to thank her for all her support over so many years,” says Aparicio, now 59.

That reunion happened three decades ago when Carlos was 25. As a young student, he took out a bank loan to make the 7,700-kilometre journey to Canada*. When he arrived at the Vancouver airport, he says he instantly spotted Louise in the crowd.

Two old photographs of a young man and an older woman beside each other
Aparicio met his sponsor, Miller, in British Columbia when he was 25.

“Our relationship was that strong,” he says. The two then travelled by ferry to her home in Sooke, a small community on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

“When I got to her house, I thought it was my house. There were pictures of me all over,” he recalls, his eyes tearing up.

She remembered exactly what happened in every year of my life. ” – Carlos Aparicio

History of Child Sponsorship

Plan International created the Child Sponsorship program in 1937 to support children orphaned in the Spanish Civil War.

More than 1.1 million children participate in the program in more than 15,670 communities across 50 countries.

In Canada, more than 108,000 sponsors support 147,000 children and their families worldwide. Entire communities benefit from sponsorship, as funds are used to develop community-wide programs and services that help tackle poverty and inequality, like improving schools or family income sources through savings and loan groups or agricultural and vocational training.

Sponsors can create a personal connection with a child through shared letters while supporting that child’s entire community.

Children in sponsored communities are more likely to have access to nutritious food and to be registered at birth through our programs. Those who receive letters from sponsors report greater health, happiness and confidence.

Humble Beginnings

Aparicio grew up in La Florida, Colombia, an informal settlement community outside the capital of Bogotá.

His father had a Grade 3 education and worked as a labourer. His mother cared for Carlos and his four younger siblings.

Their home was humble, to say the least. “My father built something similar to a house with old paper and cans – whatever materials he could find,” says Aparicio.

“[We had] no electricity, water or medical services. The situation was very hard.”

Two old photos (one in black and white) of the five Aparicio children. One photo shows them wearing traditional Colombian clothes.
Though Carlos was the only one of his siblings who was sponsored, sponsorship helped them all lead better lives.

Helping Change Lives

In 1969, when Aparicio was five, he joined Plan International’s Child Sponsorship program and was connected with Miller, a math teacher.

At first, Aparicio’s mother would help him write letters and read the monthly letters he received from Miller.

“My life and the life of my family changed completely through this relationship,” says Aparicio. “I was living in extreme poverty in one reality, and she told me about the world.”

In her letters, Miller wrote about her home, the changing seasons in Canada and her travels to Australia and the United States.

A pile of letters
Some of the letters that Aparicio has kept from his sponsor, Louise Miller, all these years.

Building Bonds and Communities

While Aparicio and Miller built their bond, Plan built a new, much-needed, fully staffed and stocked medical centre in his community, which is located 2,600 metres above sea level.

Due to the altitude and the hardscrabble condition of his house, Aparicio had developed chronic bronchitis and had been told he’d never be able to run. But after receiving care at the new medical centre, he was finally treated.

“I started to walk, to run fast, to be better,” he says.

He started to run so well that one of his secondary school teachers encouraged him to join the school’s running team. He did and later was accepted into the Colombian Athletics Federation, where he represented his state of Cundinamarca in the marathon at the Villavicencio National Games in 1985. He placed 87th out of 220.

That was my first marathon, but nobody knew the whole story behind my crossing that finish line. I achieved a dream I had since childhood that Plan helped me achieve.”– Carlos Aparicio

Off to the Races

A photo of a man running in a marathon
Carlos ran the Life Time Miami Marathon in February 2020.

Aparicio has run marathons in New York City and Miami. Next year, he plans to cross the finish line of the Vancouver marathon, thinking about the woman from British Columbia who helped him become who he is today.

“She’s with me in my heart,” he says.

Dedication to Education

In addition to the letters of encouragement from Miller, Aparicio also participated in youth leadership and vocational training offered by Plan International Colombia through its partnership with the Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje (the National Training Service).

“I became the best student in my high school,” says Aparicio.

And he became the first person in his family to complete secondary education.

Passing the Torch

As with all sponsorships, Aparicio’s official connection with Miller ended when he turned 18 in 1983. However, the two remained in contact and exchanged addresses.*

As always, Miller inspired him to continue with his studies. He went on to get a doctorate in education and innovation and is a certified public accountant. He has worked with the Colombian Ministry of Education and taught and been a director at several universities.

Given his own childhood experience, Aparicio has helped establish scholarships and grants for at-risk students in Colombia and continues to advocate at all levels, including at the United Nations, for inclusive quality education for all.

“It’s what I love to do and will continue doing in the future,” he says. “Education is the way to transform.”

Aparicio was recently recognized for his contributions to education by the ambassador and permanent observer of the International Youth Organization for Latin America to the UN at the Andean Parliament.

Full Circle

Today, Plan International also benefits from Aparicio’s passion and commitment to championing children’s rights and equality for girls. As a member of Plan International’s board of directors, Aparicio has travelled to 24 countries throughout Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Aparicio stands in the middle of a group of young people participating in a Plan activity.
Aparicio is still very involved with Plan’s projects for young people in Colombia.

When he visits communities that remind him of the one he was brought up in, he has one powerful piece of advice that he shares with the children: “I say, ‘You are living this life. I also lived this life, but you can transform.’”

Love Letters:

How Carlos Met Nina

One photo of a man and a woman on a date with bright lights behind them
Carlos and Nina Aparicio, both former sponsored children, have been married for 33 years and have renewed their vows twice.

Carlos’ love for Nina, who was also a sponsored child in their community, goes back as far as he can remember.

When he was young, he was too shy to speak to her because of his chronic illness.

When he got better, he devised a plan.

When he picked up his letters from Miller at the Plan office every month, he would ask the staff if Nina had received anything and then drop it off to her.

That’s how they started talking, and they’ve never looked back.

“When I was 18, I asked her to be my girlfriend,” says Aparicio. “Now she’s my wife.”

Nina has a master’s degree in neuropsychology and education and works with university foundations in Colombia to support students. Carlos and Nina have two children: a son who is a systems engineer and a daughter who is about to complete her master’s degree at a university in Seoul, South Korea.

*Disclaimer: For privacy and protection purposes, Plan International no longer facilitates communication between children and their sponsors after children graduate from the sponsorship program. Aparicio and Miller were in correspondence before this policy was updated, and they arranged their visit on their own accord, without Plan’s assistance.

Learn More About Child Sponsorship

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More than 40 children participating in sponsorship welcome you to their homes and communities around the world.

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