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Difference Maker

Bob Hentzen walks to help poor children across Latin America

Bob Hentzen is walking nearly 8,000 miles across Latin America to find sponsors for needy kids and the elderly.

By Sara Shahriari/ Correspondent / May 2, 2011

President of the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging Bob Hentzen completes a portion of his 16-month walk near Cartago, Costa Rica. The CFCA sponsors more than 300,000 needy children and elderly around the world. Mr. Hentzen’s walk aims to recruit sponsors for an additional 8,000.

Mayela Lopez/AFP/Newscom

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El Alto, Bolivia

Bob Hentzen has 7,000 miles behind him and has about 600 left to go. He began walking 18 months ago in Guatemala and is now making his way across the desert of northern Chile toward Valparaíso on the Pacific coast.

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Mr. Hentzen heads the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA), a Kansas City-based nonprofit group that sponsors more than 300,000 needy children and elderly people from diverse religious backgrounds around the world. Sponsors, mainly living in the United States, provide food, education, and health care to people living in some of the world's poorest communities.

The walk began in December 2009 when Hentzen set out with his wife, Cristina, to cross much of Central and South America on foot. His goal is to raise awareness of children living in poverty and recruit sponsors for an additional 8,000 children.

This isn't the first time Hentzen has hit the road. In 1996 he walked from Kansas City to Guatemala in eight months. He's lived in Guatemala ever since.

Beyond material assistance CFCA offers something else: hope. "One of the things we can give to these families is this idea: This is a hopeful situation, a powerful worldwide movement, and I belong to it. And I can make changes," Hentzen says.

On a Sunday in El Alto, Bolivia, a city of about 1 million, Hentzen and Cristina receive a hero's welcome at a church. Many families in El Alto live on less than $200 a month. CFCA sponsors close to 1,500 children and elderly people across the city.

The Ventura Alarcon family received Hentzen into their simple home. Three of the family's 10 children have been sponsored by CFCA.

Alicia Ventura Alarcon is 25 years old. When she was a small child in the 1980s her father lost his job at a rural mine and the family moved to El Alto in search of a way to survive. For a year they lived in a tent on what was then the outskirts of the growing city. The $30 per month a sponsor pays made a huge difference not just to Ms. Ventura, but to the entire family.

Hentzen, a wiry, suntanned man with a shock of frizzy hair kept tamed under a baseball cap, sits in the family's living room listening to her story.

"There were so many of us, and we had nothing," Ventura says. "We didn't know the taste of meat; we ate yellow flour with grease and water." She opens a book where she has saved photographs and letters from the people who have sponsored her for more than 15 years. Today she is finishing a bachelor's degree in social work.

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