"When I see a child crying, that affects me.” Joel, 22, is pursuing his big dream of being a painter in Peru.
Having been a child worker, Joel understands that life better than most. That's why his college thesis is a series of paintings depicting child workers.
See how his life transformed from a laborer to an artist!
The first of Joel's drawings I saw was a tree. He'd sketched it in pencil on the back of his notebook, the roots almost as big as the trunk and branches. Even under the harsh glare of fluorescent light, I knew it was special. Over the next few days as I spent more time with him, I realized Joel was a lot like that tree—flourishing vibrantly thanks to deep roots.
I met Joel Quispe Diaz last month in Huanta, a small city of about 30,000 in the mountains of southwest Peru. I was there to help with a story for World Vision magazine about World Vision’s work among the people of Peru. Joel, 22, studies fine art at a university in Ayacucho, a larger city an hour’s drive away. He returns to his hometown on weekends to see family, go to church, and serve as an adviser for a World Vision-run group for children and teenagers.
Huanta is where Joel’s roots are planted. His parents fled from their village in the 1980s to escape the violent organization Shining Path. Joel’s father abandoned the family when he was 3; to help make ends meet, Joel worked as a child in the city’s market carrying customers’ parcels and selling food.
World Vision was a bright spot amid an unpleasant childhood—a place for roots to grow deep and the tree to take shape. He was sponsored by an American when he was 8, and later he helped start a group to advocate for the rights of child workers like himself. Joel’s sponsor and World Vision staff encouraged him to pursue what I believe is his God-given talent and passion: art.
From an early age, Joel found solace in his sketchbook. “I have always been making drawings,” he told me. He even drew landscapes in the letters he sent to his sponsor. Years ago, a World Vision staff member asked a group of kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. “I said artist,” Joel remembers. “And now I’m fulfilling my dreams.”
Like the many teenagers I met in Huanta who had been sponsored, Joel finished high school and went on to college in Ayacucho. When I visited him there, the campus buzzed with creativity as students soaked up classes on art history, theory, and painting and drawing. College attendance is now normal and expected for sponsored kids in Huanta—even ones like Joel who come from a broken home. He seemed right at home on there, talking with ease about Picasso’s early work and expressionism. “I can express my feelings through my pictures—it’s like making a poem but with colors,” he told me.
At his studio, watercolors and oil paintings cover every wall. A small desk is crowded with jars of paintbrushes, pens, and other tools, and a large easel holds his latest work, still in progress. Joel’s roots and the plight of working children have stayed with him: The half-finished painting is part of his thesis project, a series of paintings depicting child workers. “That’s my priority,” he says. “When I see these children, I see myself reflected in them. When I see a child crying, that affects me.”
Joel told me one of his favorite stories in the Bible is the parable of the sower. Thanks to World Vision sponsorship, the ground in Huanta was tilled for a seed like Joel. And as his roots reached deeper and his branches wider, he is helping other children discover and follow their dreams, too.
Plant the roots of a full life for a child in need. Sponsor a child in Peru today!