The following post includes reflections from Judith Bautista, coordinator of Unbound’s program in Bogota, Colombia, on meeting Florelia Delgado, the first person sponsored through Unbound. It also includes excerpts from an interview Judith and members of her team conducted with Florelia. The interview served as the basis for a story in our 35th anniversary edition of Living Unbound.
Her name evokes flowers. Florelia Delgado is a woman born in Bogota, Colombia. She’s intelligent, brave, creative, sweet and inspiring. She’s a mother, daughter, sister, friend and worker. But for Unbound, she also represents the beginning of sponsorship.
Florelia, almost 35 years ago, was selected to initiate a program that today has a presence in 20 countries, and has more than 310,000 sponsored around the world and more than 260,000 sponsors. She was the first person sponsored in the Unbound world, and her sponsors were Robert [Bob] Hentzen, the late co-founder of Unbound, and his wife, Cristina.
Being the 35th anniversary of the birth of Unbound, we in the Bogota project felt inspired and motivated to work on finding the first sponsored girl. We thought it would be lovely to be able to contact her, especially since the first project that opened was precisely in Bogota.
We knew that contacting Florelia would not be an easy task. We didn’t have records, physical or electronic, dating back that far. We thought about turning to news outlets and to local radio stations; however, we were drawn to the virtual world. Staff members in the central office took on the task to try to find her. We wrote several times without receiving a response, and we were waiting in suspense. Then, after several days, we finally received a response.
Yes, it was her! She confirmed to us in writing that her full name was Florelia Delgado and that she had been sponsored by the Partners of the Child and Aging Foundation, the initial name of the Bogota project.
We got in touch and coordinated a meeting in her house with her family and also at her workplace. As is the custom for families in Bogota, we were joyfully received and met with a delicious, hot cup of Colombian coffee.
It’s important to note that we were very excited and had high hopes about meeting and listening to the first girl sponsored by Unbound. We talked about how important she is for the organization, since destiny chose her to pave the way for sponsorship around the world.
I told her, “You can’t possibly imagine all of the generations to come after you. You are very strong, Florelia. … History could have been different, but it worked with you, with much strength and light.”
She couldn’t have imagined the path that sponsorship has taken in the world.
We began our meeting listening to Florelia speak about how she became sponsored.
“I studied in the school Agustín Fernández, that was where they chose us,” she said. “I had the privilege of being a good girl with good grades. They chose about five girls and God must have inspired the principal, Gloria de Ángel, to choose me. I’m not sure what she saw in me, my smile, my character, I don’t know, my spirit. I’m not sure why, because there were many boys and girls and I had the opportunity to be the privileged one. … At that time, I didn’t understand why they called me … but everyone was happy, so I was happy, too.
“As I said, at that time I didn’t understand, but they always made me feel good so that caused me to have more love for everything and for going there to write letters, because we were required to write letters. Everything came from the heart.”
We asked Florelia about the relationship with her sponsors.
“My sponsors wrote to me and they always told me to behave myself, to keep moving forward, that God loved me very much — they always told me that, that God loved me very much,” she said. “I realize now that I am still special. When my sponsor Roberto wrote that God had beautiful plans for me, I thought, ‘What is that plan that God has for me? Why does he say that?’
“Now I understand why, why it was special, why it was important to receive that help. … At that time I saw the photos, the distribution of gifts, the distribution of groceries, the distribution of vouchers to purchase notebooks; I saw all of that excitement.
“But my mom saw it differently. Those groceries were super important for her. Now, as a mother, I understand just how important.”
We asked Florelia if she remembered being visited by Bob.
“Yes, I had the opportunity to meet him once,” she said. … “I have the photos of that day that he visited us; we were there with the translator. There was something special about him. You could see just by looking at him how special he was. He brought me a gift, a typewriter that became a part of the family. It has been passed on through most of my nieces and nephews.”
We asked what receiving letters from her sponsors meant to her.
“They were very special because they motivated me,” Florelia said. “Many of my friends at that time didn’t meet their sponsors, but for many those words were a kind of motivation from people that we didn’t even know, but they believed in us. They said that the help was small, but for us it was a lot. …
“And those beautiful words that they wrote us, that we keep pushing ahead, that we behave ourselves, that we be exceptional. All of those words fill a person to really believe that they are special, that they are important, that they can achieve great things.”
We asked Florelia to tell us about her family.
“My family is very special,” she said. “I live with my mother and my two children. My son Juan Guillermo is 20 years old … and there’s my girl, Laura Ximena, she’s 12 years old.”
Juan Guillermo said, “It’s so special that someone would help you in difficult circumstances. Seeing you battle with the day-to-day, that another person would lend you a helping hand, that’s huge.”
We asked Florelia to tell us about a normal day in her life.
“We get up very early,” she said. “The first to leave the house is my daughter to go to school. Then Juan Guillermo leaves to go to work and then I go to work at the restaurant. Thank God my mother is with me and she takes care of my daughter before I get home from work in the evening.”
We said to Florelia, “Your words are very valuable, would you like to give a message to those reading this interview?”
“For those who are being sponsored, take full advantage of it,” she said. “If you have the opportunity to be close with your sponsor, do it. Open your hearts, love your families. The things you are receiving, whether it’s material, gifts, vouchers, whatever the help you’re given or how it’s delivered, take full advantage of it.
“If you’re receiving a scholarship to study, guys, you have to take full advantage of it; you don’t realize how important that is. …
“As for those who are willing to sponsor someone, it must be amazing to have such a beautiful heart. How lovely to be able to help another person, to share with that person. To be able to give, the human part as much as the economic part, is beautiful.
“Those who want to sponsor can add something special to their daily lives by giving wholeheartedly, receiving wholeheartedly and always being grateful to God; that’s the greatest gift.”
It has been an honor for the Bogota project to meet Florelia. May her words ring across the world.
Experience the blessings of giving and receiving. Sponsor a child or elder today.