Child Sponsorship: Looking Behind the Picture on the Fridge

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Guest Blog by Henrietta Hunse (CRWRC)

Child sponsorship is a popular way of fundraising by a number of organizations. Many donors are attracted to the opportunity to select a specific child, post his or her picture on the fridge, and receive occasional progress reports.

But what is behind this picture on the fridge? I challenge you to reflect on some implications of child sponsorship by putting it in your own context. Imagine that you are considering running a sponsorship program in order to raise funds to do a Community Care program or Food Bank outreach in your town. How would you answer the following questions?

  • Would you propose using a child sponsorship approach in (fill in your hometown) in order to raise money for a community outreach project? Why/Why not?
  • More specifically, would you take pictures of all the children of the families in need, collect stories about them, and post them on the internet? How would that fit with their rights to privacy and with their sense of dignity?
  • If your program is not able to meet the needs of all the children (as is the case for most programs), what do you think will be the impact of those children that are not chosen to be helped?
  • How can you best help the needy children? Would it be limited to specific gifts/services for those who are chosen? What about the other children in any given family? How would you minister the family as a whole?
  • What do you imagine would be the administrative cost and complexities involved in developing an orderly system in order to get the names of needy children, take their pictures (what about the children who happened to not be available on the picture taking day?), acquire their stories (assume also that a number are recent immigrants and do not speak English), translate, format and print the stories, match them with the donors, send the stories to the donors, and every few months or a year later track down these children again in order to get updates, send them out, etc.? Imagine doing this for children living in remote communities barely accessible by road.
  • Should families/children in Africa be treated differently than those in your hometown? If so, why?

Many of the above questions have led CRWRC to decide against using child sponsorship as a fundraising approach. Instead, CRWRC offers the Free A Family© program. When you donate to Free A Family, you contribute to holistic development programs that help families in communities free themselves from chronic poverty. In return, every three months all donors to a particular region receive a progress update of the same representative family — a real-life illustration of how your gift makes a difference. Intrigued? For more information go to Free a Family.

Please note that some organizations which offer child sponsorship as a means of raising funds, use the donations received to carry out effective development programs that benefit families and whole communities. You are encouraged to check websites for a more in-depth understanding of their ministries.

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Thanks Steve, We woke upon hearing the negative affects of most child only missions. We shifted giving to alternate children and family missions. There are better ways as you have said and it makes a lot sense to listen close to what the family/community is asking for.

God bless you Steve for pointing this out.

Ken

It's all good.  CRWRC already has a group of committed givers.  Their target donors already have a heart and mind connection with their ministry.  Describing the specifics of an area of need will prompt their donors to give, and offer a specific focus for prayer and giving.

Para-church organizations have to use a different approach.  The face of a child captures the attention.  We were contacted by a well-known organization during the first year we were married, and agreed to support a child with a monthly donation (without seeing a picture).  Over the past 31 years, we have supported several different children and their individual communities.  It has been a privilege to pray for each child.  While some organizations may give out information, and seem to exploit the children they are trying to help, I believe that other organizations are very well-organized and do very well supporting the child/family/village, while using very little of the donation for overhead. 

I respect the approach that both organizations are using. 

Hello Grace

Thanks for reinforcing the fact that in making a decision as to what organization to support, it is right to look beyond a simple "Child Sponsorship or not" criterion.  It is worth the time to check out websites and annual reports to learn in more detail their fund raising methods and expenses, as well as the nature of the programming that is actually being carried out. 

Thanks Henrietta for a very well written and though provoking posting. Hopefully many people will check-out the organizations they are supporting with child sponsership type programs and see exactly how the program works and how the funds are used. Many do not and it is not all good.  I would say that at almost ever christian concert I have gone to the band promotes or there is a booth for some child sponsership program. The organization is hoping to use the event to "sell" sponserships and it works.
However the program works it is still wrong in my opinion to use children to sell any sponsership program or solicite funds for any type of aid work. Thankfully the CRC agencies have seen the light. Unfortunately many others have not.

Participant

You certainly have to be careful and aware of any particular child sponsorship organization.  Investigation is important.  My wife and I sponsor a child through an organization that has very little admin costs.  Most of the money goes to actually helping the child, the family and community.  And while we may question whether or not these organizations should post pictures of children to raise funds, I understand that the western culture needs to see those faces.

I read recently of a number of studies that showed a huge difference in charitable giving when relaying facts and numbers in comparison to showing faces and stories.  Facts and stats and figures do two things to many people in the west: 

  1. Numbers dehumanize the people in need which in turn causes many in the west to turn a blind eye.
  2. These figures then become overwhelming to most people causing them to think there is little they can do and their gift is barely a drop in the bucket.

Having a picture and a story causes people to more than double their charitable donations.  Putting a name and a face to a need motivates people's compassionate action to a higher level.  To them it becomes personal.  For some people, and I'm thinking also of the non-believing western world (they don't always think in the same world view terms as Christians do or,in particular as we do here in the CRC), this at least moves them to greater charity and awareness of the needs of the world.

I wonder too if those who are putting themselves up for sponsorship feel a loss of dignity in the process.  Is that a western way of thinking that we assume is the same way they view it?  Or do they see it as an avenue to help their children and their situation since for some, especially the orphaned there are little resources available?  After spending some time in Africa and getting to know the people there, I ponder these things as well.

You make some good points, Allen.  I fully agree that it is dangerous to make generalizations, and that one should do  some basic research about an organization to become informed as to its program activities, fund raising practices and expenses in making decisions about making donations.   Some facts and figures are helpful here.  You are also right in that donors need and want pictures and stories.  That is why CRWRC includes pictures and stories in its Free A Family program, in its Annual Report, on the web site, and in many other ways

Regarding whether or not families in Africa experience a loss of dignity in having the pictures of their children posted on the web site, it will not be easy to assess this accurately.  From my years in Africa, in their desire to be courteous and friendly to visitors, and to be cooperative with potential donors, I know that people will be very reluctant to give a negative response, and are highly unlikely to tell you that they do not appreciate this manner of fund raising -- if they thought they had any choice in the matter.  Does the rationale that they benefit through increased fund raising make it right, or might this be akin to justifying sweat shops because otherwise workers would have no job at all?

Participant

Henrietta,

I'm not saying that the rationale is right or wrong for raising funds.  I'm saying I'm uncertian at this point.

But I would say that I don't believe your comparitive arguement with sweatshops is fair when you consider there are two completely different elements here.  Sweatshops approach people as devalued and just pawns for someone elses to gain.   The employers don't care about their employees and their motivations are quite opposite of those who obviously  value for the other person and value an urgency in trying to help and better another person's life as best as they know how, IE sponsorship organizations. And while there may be some similarities they are minor in comparison to the overall issue.  They may both be fruit but there's a bit of a comparison of apples to oranges.  Sorry, that's my philosophy background coming through.

But I hear what you're trying to convey and understand your passion for it.  But I also can't help but wonder if God's common grace uses some of these means in a very positive way. 

I think we're just touching the tip of the iceberg in this discussion.

If you are interested in what the ethics columnist of the Toronto Star had to say on the subject, go to: http://www.thestar.com/living/article/907637--feeling-good-without-the-commitment-is-the-mantra-that-defines-our-times  

http://www.thestar.com/living/article/907637--feeling-good-without-the-commitment-is-the-mantra-that-defines-our-times .

The language is strong, and again, it is important to check out each organization individually.

Wow Henrietta you were correct, there was some strong language there. Good stuff though.

"If we cut off agencies using quasi-pornographic pictures of doe-eyed kids to raise money, we’d force them to wean off this exploitative fund raising, and focus on the real development work they claim they’d rather be doing."

Larry

Sometime this past year the corporation I work for gave $50,000 to Save the Children Canada for the work they were doing in Pakistan. The announcement that was on our company intranet site regarding this giving was accompanied by the picture of two young children, presumably a young Pakistani girl and her brother, looking dirty and sad. I was shocked that this picture was used along with this announcement and sent a message to the corporate department that posted this voicing my concerns. What bothered me was that these children, in their vunerability, were being used to try to make me feel good that I work for a company that did something good and helped these poor poor children.

This goes back to the question Henrietta alluded to in the original post. If you and your family were in a very vulnerable place due to circumstances beyond your control would you want your child photographed in this condition and used to illicit guilt in others so they would give money to help you?

Personally I would rather see pictures that document the stories of changed lives that are taking place in the places my funds are being used by the organisations I am supporting. This allows me to be a witness to the great work being done to restore people’s lives.

Sorry to join in so late, But I know that we don't understand the way they think about these issue's. When your starving you don;t care about pride in same way we would . The culture is entirely different, They think different because it'e survival. When your sick and suffering you don;t care where something positive comes from. The people that express concern about the method aren't the people suffering.

Nobody likes begging, but survival comes first. I wish better programs models existed to fill the gap but alas there isn't anything close to the required scope of the problem.

We switched to giving to local families in need, but I have no regrets about the support we use to give to World VisionThanks

Ken

Ken

You are correct when you say that I am not the one suffering. I have never felt the pains of hunger for days on end, neither have most of my children. I don't know what it is like to have to worry if I will be able to feed my children or myself or if someone will come and help me out of my misery. I don't have to try to give my children away to the nice white people coming through the village hoping that they will have a better life nor do I have to think about selling my daughters into prostitution to feed the rest of the family. I also don't have to have my child's picture taken to be put on the fridge of someone in North America because they are sponsering my children to go to school because I cannot aford it. For all of this I thank God. But just because I have not experainced what those suffering have does not mean that I cannot advocate for them.

Are these actions cultural or are these actions the end result of a desperate sitiuation? I don't think that this is a cultural thing, and if it has become a cultural thing we (the white people with the power) have imposed that on another culture by our action or inaction.

The other thing I am sure of is that the ways some of those who are suffering in the world are being exploited to raise money for their care is not the way God intended life to be for them. He loves them and cares for them and wants to see their lives restored so they can be what he has made them to be. God also wants us to treat all people with dignity and respect because like us they are broken people who need Jesus and his love to sanctify us and restore us to new life.

 

 

Hi Larry, Sounds good to be advocate and that is what God requires when He says love our neighbor. The point I am trying to point out  how you think in crisis. I am suffering and sick. You think different because of the desire for relief. You are correct about what we are to do and think to help with one caveat. Sometimes God's plan in you life isn't physical restoration but how you use the wisdom imparted from suffering to His glory. His grace is suffecient but it's difficult. Larry, I can tell you are man of God seeking what you think is His will. Most of us have every good intention, but as a suffering person I'm struck how nobody asks what you think as the victiim. Lots of people will tell you what they think you shouild do or tell you they know someone with your type of illness. Which is usually followed by they tried this and are doing great or they died. No questions though. I don't think people understand what 10 yrs of suffering does to you and they don't want to find out. Anyway Larry sorry for the rant, I don;t want to discourage you because at least you are trying, For that I am very gratefull and I sure the hungering in Africa are too if they knew.

God bless you

Ken

Ken: You hit the proverbial nail on the head with this statement "I'm struck how nobody asks what you think as the victim". That is exactly what concerns me. Have those in poverty been asked if it is alright for their children to hang on someone’s fridge as the poster child for poverty? And if they have been asked do they understand the implications to their own dignity and that of their child’s in doing this? I had that conversation with someone the other day. Does the concept of child sponsorship and how the global north looks upon these sponsored children register with the families who have sponsored children. The differences between our cultures are so different and what we might think is a good fix to what we perceive is their problem is not what is best or might not even be a problem as they see it.

Asking the victim what they think a very good place to start. Thanks Ken for putting that out there.

Larry