Discussion Starter: Child Sponsorship

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This newsletter from former East Africa director Davis Omanyo has started lots of discussion in the World Renew offices. Sharing it here so that others can weigh in.

If you could only choose to assist one of the four children in a family, who do you choose and why? Don’t they all have a right to such improvement? Doesn’t each one of them desire to lead a better life in future? Why plant hate and destroy a family? I know many have benefited from such individualized support, but few are aware of the destruction caused in the family. Only when you meet the parents or the guardians of the children and listen to their stories do you find out the nightmares they go through when they participate in a child sponsorship program. It is not bad to sponsor a child, but what have we to be aware of while getting involved in this — the funds committed to one child could do a lot in the entire family and ensure that other children also receive education.

Recently, I was involved in looking at the impact of a child sponsorship program of another organization. I interacted with both children and parents. I asked questions to the children who are sponsored and to those who aren’t — in the same household. I visited more than ten communities, meeting parents and children on the program. What I learned is what I want to share with you in my newsletter this month.

Sponsoring one child in a family more often leads to breaks in the family and plants seeds of hate that last a lifetime than it actually helps. Not all families but in most families. Please not this: Mama Wandera told me that she has struggled to watch over her son who is sponsored because the other children hate him. Wandera is now 12 years old and has lived a life of fear. He is known as the child of Mr. John, who sponsors him. He is no longer a child of the family, but “belongs” to Mr. John in the USA, who they have never known or met, and have no way of contacting because the support comes through an organization. I asked Mama Wandera what she would do if she met Mr. John. “I will tell him ‘Stop it! Stop it and keep your money, or give me the money and I will know how to take care of all my children and bring them together as one family I love.’” This is vastly different from supporting an individual child, which often removes that child from the family and hurts others and builds hate.

Some have benefited from such a help and have been able to return to support their families. The majority have benefited as individuals and have chosen to live away from their families. This defeats the African spirit of family and living together as brothers and sisters. Ninety-nine percent of the parents I interviewed told me that it is better for them to receive the funds as a loan or a grant to start businesses that will help the entire family rather than seeing only one child helped. Bringing children together as a family is what any parent wants to see. We may unknowingly be destroying families rather than helping if we are not careful when we make a decision to help one child among many in a family.

Helping the parents and offering business loans has been tried out and it is working. The children now also have their own businesses, which are managed by their parents. The children keep chicken and goats, and take care of them. It gives them skills and responsibility. They work together for the good of their families. This is what we love to promote. I thank God that World Renew is not a child sponsoring organization but looks at the development of family as a unity God created to worship Him.

This is a very challenging subject, but what I have seen in these situation has made it critical. What type of projects can we be involved with to bring change in the villages where these children live each day? How can we support health programs that protect them from disease? How can we assist the families in producing enough food to put on the table? How can we assist the parents or guardians to run businesses to support their own families? It is the pride of a child to see a parent that can work hard and provide for him or her. We can and should change the way we think, often, and support programs the benefit entire communities rather than selected individuals. World Renew has gained this experience over the last 23 years as they have worked in East Africa. We focus on family, work, and walk with families and communities for transformational development. You can not develop people, but people can develop themselves within their own environment. Let's learn from the communities and give them a chance to be engaged in their own development. Let us listen and understand where the people are hurting and seek intervention. Nobody just sits there. Each family in the communities is struggling to do something to make ends meet. Let us join them in developing their agenda.

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I was struck by this reality when visiting a sponsorship organization's school in Kibera back in 2002. Not only did it strike me as tragic that only one family member could attend the school, but it was heartbreaking to hear the children go around the room reciting their thanks to (relatively) wealthy North American Christians by name. The resulting sense of dependence on the support of sponsors could only serve to limit the child's self-confidence and complicate their relationship to their parents.

It was also difficult to see the meeting of one of these children with one of my North American traveling companions who happened to be the child's sponsor. My companion brought a slew of gifts: coloring books, stickers, small toys, etc. I could sense that this encounter not only reinforced that sense of limited self-worth and reliance, while also cultivating resentment among other children who had not been visited by their sponsors.

Lastly, I've read that the overhead costs of child sponsorship that involves direct contact between sponsor and student are enormous, especially when translation is involved. These costs come out of the monthly sponsorship donation, along with costs for promotional material and other administrative costs, resulting in an astonishingly small percentage of the actual donation going towards the student's educational needs.

I'm glad that CRWRC works towards supporting entire families, and wonder if there shouldn't be more education denomination-wide about the unseen costs of child sponsorship.

Children are used to attract the donations. People are hesiatent to give to adults.( Sad) Good article. We need to change this so the benefit is contextual to the culture.

Christian Reformed World Missions and Worldwide Christian Schools US are trying something new in order to respond to people's desire to see individual's lives changed while not creating the ill effects mentioned in this article.  Take a look at this article and see if you think it is an effective response. 

You guys want to hear a great story that happened a moments ago, The Holy Spirit spoke to me through this article. We support kid's abroad and it came to me that money should go to people that adopt orphans and remove them from their hardship. I called a freind who has adopted many kids. I offered our help just as she finnished converastion with her husband on adopting another child. They were praying wisdom and finacial help. I called at that moment of seeking for guidence by them on what to do You do the math!  Glory be to God

Guide

Adoption can be life changing for children. Of course, it is best when they can remain in their own communities. I've been privileged to be part of discussions with Bethany Christian Services, as they are working to support churches in developing countries to encourage adoption within their own church communities. They will be doing a training in Haiti this fall. We hope to share more information as it becomes available.

Guide

I'm not a community developer, so I can't speak to that specific program. What I do like is "If one child has received a sponsorship pledge, all of the children in that family will also receive support." My question is, how are the children chosen?

One of the approaches CRWRC takes is if people want to give to school fees, for example, a "board" is formed that includes teachers and parents, and any money is given to the board. They then decide who needs the help most and are also encouraged to contribute to it, building ownership. That way it's seen as a community effort and not something that is coming from the outside.

How children are chosen: I am pretty sure that it is the local school director that makes that decision.  I am the CRWM consultant to COCREF here, but I don't handle all the information.  Since the funding is coming through WWCS directly to COCREF, I am not in the pipeline. 

Steve Brauning

CRWM, Santo Domingo