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.