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A closeup photo of a man in a blue shirt stands in front of corrugated metal wall

Leonardo: The impact of child sponsorship

Providing clean water to his community

Meet Leonardo Regalado. He grew up in the rural San Julian area in the middle of El Salvador's bloody civil war with no reliable water supply.

His father was a farmer, growing corn and beans to feed his family and sell at market. Dena, his mother, sold fruit from their trees to help get enough food for their family to eat. Often it wasn't enough. 

Leonardo was seven when he became a sponsored child. "I thought it was good because it meant I could go to school," he remembers. Because child sponsorship funded his school supplies, shoes, and uniform, his family could spend their limited income on food and water, and he could still attend school.

Child sponsorship also helped Leonardo’s family with food and child nutritional education for his mom to keep the children growing strong.

"It was a blessing from God that people cared so much to help us," said Dena, Leonardo's mother.

Leonardo was always bothered that there were fresh, clean, natural springs coming from the mountains near his home, but they never flowed consistently to his community. Instead, they had to walk to buy water in town, or risk getting it from the polluted river nearby.

Man walks in front of blue wall with reddish pants and a blue shirt
Leonardo was born in the middle of El Salvador’s bloody civil war. The rural San Julian area where he was born had few opportunities beyond farming, and didn’t even have a reliable water supply,

Growing up, Leonardo spent half his time at school and half his time in the fields helping his dad. "He was always a hard worker," remembers his mom. He worked jobs on other farms to support his family, picking bananas, oranges, mangoes and corn.

His mom remembers the day he came back bug-bitten and exhausted, resolving that he would not grow up to be a farmer. He was going to be a professional.

Leonardo is the type of person who doesn’t give up on his dreams. And it was with World Vision child sponsorship that he discovered his potential.

A man on left with reddish pants and a blue shirt smiles with his parents on the right.
Leonardo has broken the cycle of poverty

Determined to fight injustice

He remembers how powerless he felt as a young person to make changes like bringing reliable clean water to his community. Fifteen years later, now he’s a leader making that change.

He’s grateful for his sponsor. The sacrifice of his sponsor motivated him to give back and become a community leader. Kids who didn’t have a sponsor often didn’t finish school and chose lives of crime or tried to migrate.

Leonardo has lost friends to the gang violence that has gripped El Salvador, but the lessons and values he learned from World Vision have set a different path for him. He calls World Vision "his second school." Their training taught him a culture of peace, service and integrity, and values essential to the person he is today. It’s what he teaches young people. It’s what he lives every day.

As he grew, he spent more and more time with World Vision. At age 14, he took World Vision’s community leadership training for young people to recognise community problems and learn how to organize the community to solve them.

As a teenager he served as President of the Child and Youth Board of San Julian. He taught other children to dream bigger for themselves and their communities, and to take the practical steps to make it happen. He encouraged other kids to stay in school.

Leonardo volunteered with World Vision

At age 17, he volunteered with World Vision to monitor and evaluate their programs, working his way through university to gain his bachelor’s degree. He knew he wanted to become someone who could help his community in practical ways.

Leonardo has broken the cycle of poverty.

"For years before I got this job, I would ask the former water manager why they couldn’t fix my community’s pipes to access clean water. He told me that they just didn’t have the budget," said Leonardo.

Now, as manager for the water utility, he has found efficiencies within the same budget to make sure the pipes and pumping station get clean water out to all communities. No one should have to go without clean water.

"It’s been my dream that my children would be respected and useful to society," says Dena. Leonardo is recognized throughout San Julian for the work he’s done to make the community better.

As Dena reflects on how proud she is of her son, tears well up in her eyes and spill down her face. "These are tears of joy," she says.

Leonardo’s dad has been unable to speak since a stroke 13 years ago. But as his mom speaks, a tear runs down his dad’s cheek. It speaks volumes of how proud he is of Leonardo.

Man just off-center turns a large mechanical wheel to release water on the right in a green wooded area
Leonardo teaches other children to dream bigger

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