Children Incorporated staff members flip through Roberto’s art portfolio – a stunning collection of photo-realistic, surrealistic, and abstract works – in awe, while the artist himself looks on with humble delight.Simple child-art drawings – his earliest masterpieces – occupy the first few pages.

“Art wasn’t always a part of my life,” Roberto confesses in soft-spoken Spanish as he stands in the small office in Richmond, Virginia – miles away from home, and yet among surrogate family.  “In fact, I didn’t really start drawing until right around the time I got sponsored.”

Roberto’s artwork on display in his home studio in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Once a child in Children Incorporated’s sponsorship program, Roberto Carlos Andrade Jijena is now an adult – and an accomplished artist. Several pieces of his art are currently on exhibit in the Jadite Galleries in New York City. The curator there, Marta Sossi, was so impressed by the artwork she saw on Roberto’s website that she had invited him to fly from Bolivia to New York to participate in a group exhibition featuring a select handful of Latin American artists.  Our International Programs Director, Luis Bourdet, joined Roberto and his wife, Verónica, in New York for the exhibit’s Opening Reception this past Tuesday. During his brief stay in the United States, Roberto had requested to visit Richmond.  When Luis asked what Roberto wanted to see here, the artist simply replied, “Children Incorporated.”

Roberto and Verónica recently spent a day at the Children Incorporated office, meeting some staff members for the first time and reuniting with others as though with family or long-lost friends. Now, Roberto addresses the small staff as a whole. He starts by telling how it all began.

Roberto was first enrolled in Children Incorporated’s sponsorship program at our Colegio Don Bosco project in Sucre, Bolivia, when he was eight years old.

“I was so excited,” he reflects.  “I couldn’t wait to have a padrino [a Spanish word meaning both ‘sponsor’ and ‘godparent’].  But I waited for a sponsor for a long time – several years.”

“I will always be grateful to Children Incorporated,” Roberto concludes.  “No matter how famous I may get, how valuable my artwork becomes, I will always donate some of my work to Children Incorporated, to help them continue to help children. It’s my way of giving back and saying ‘thank you’.”
– Roberto

That all changed when Dr. James Wheeler read about Children Incorporated in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, Ph.D. In 1998, Dr. Wheeler contacted Children Incorporated to begin sponsoring with us. One of the children assigned to him was Roberto.

“When I heard I had a sponsor,” Roberto recalls, “I was so happy. I feel like, when you’re younger, you don’t really appreciate the true value of things; but I had waited so long to be sponsored that I understood – I understood how wonderful and beautiful it is, knowing that someone from somewhere you’ve never been – someone you’ve never met – is helping you.  That knowledge really motivated me.”

Dr. Wheeler continued to sponsor Roberto until the latter graduated from high school and the sponsorship program. Subsequently, Children Incorporated was able to help Roberto attend college.  He graduated with a degree in architecture (after much debate about whether to major in art, architecture, or medicine).  At the time, he reasoned that art and architecture go hand in hand – he could do both.  Eventually, however, he returned to his first love: art.

“It beckoned me,” he explains with a whimsical smile.

His decision to solely pursue art, he adds, has opened so many doors – including today’s serendipitous meeting. But he attributes one of the most significant open doors of opportunity in his life to Children Incorporated.

“A lot of people think that an organization like Children Incorporated is about giving money – giving from one person’s pocket to someone else’s pocket,” Roberto explains.  “But really, it’s about giving of the heart – from one heart to another. That’s what I’ve learned from my sponsor and from Children Incorporated.  What he and CI have done for me has inspired me to give of myself.”

Indeed, Roberto has already donated twenty pieces of his art over the years for Children Incorporated to sell. The proceeds have been used to assist children enrolled in our program.

“I will always be grateful to Children Incorporated,” Roberto concludes.  “No matter how famous I may get, how valuable my artwork becomes, I will always donate some of my work to Children Incorporated, to help them continue to help children. It’s my way of giving back and saying ‘thank you’.

“Because the happiest people in life aren’t the ones who have everything; the happiest people are those who share everything.”

To view Roberto’s art, visit his website: http://www.bolivianet.com/arte/robertoandrade/

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN BOLIVIA?

You can sponsor a child in Bolivia in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Bolivia that is available for sponsorship.