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Why I Sponsor a Child
How Child Sponsorship Benefits Children
The concept of child sponsorship was pioneered in the 1930's by three (now defunct) charities. Since then, the idea has grown in popularity and remains an excellent revenue source for relief and development non-profits. Child sponsorship pairs a child in the developing world with a sponsor who makes monthly or yearly contributions to that child's education, food security or general welfare. Different non-profits charge different amounts to become a sponsor; some ask for monthly contributions and some for yearly amounts. While the details vary, the concept remains the same.
How does child sponsorship benefit a child in the developing world? First, child sponsorship typically benefits the child's entire family. Aid workers (many times nationals instead of ex-pats) evaluate the needs of the family and determine how best to help. For example, if a child's parents are subsistence farmers who barely produce enough to feed their family, the sponsorhip money may go toward agricultural training for the parents to increase their crop yield. Sponsorship money may also fund a project that would benefit the child's whole community. For example, in an African village without easy access to clean water, a well may be built and villagers trained to operate and repair the well.
Probably the most common critique of the child sponsorship development model is that the money never actually makes it to the child. In the most specific sense, this is true. The child or the child's parents are not handed a wad of cash each month. However, the goal of improving the lives of children is often accomplished by improving the child's whole community. Things like medical clinics, wells and job education indirectly benefit the child by creating safer and healthier living conditions. Improving the life of individual children is a bit short-sighted when the needs of the community are ignored. The two are intertwined; stronger communities provide better opportunities for children.
As far as the money is concerned, we don't have to be as trusting as we used to be. Rather than wondering whether the money ever gets to the child or if it all gets burned up in administration, salaries and advertising, we can verify the truthfulness of a non-profit's claims by visiting one of several websites that rate charities' use of funds. Two of the most popular are www.charitynavigator.org and www.charitywatch.org . Additionally, many organizations that do child sponsorship offer donors the chance to visit their sponsor kids. If you want to see for yourself, then by all means, book a plane ticket and see how your dollars are being put to work.
Sponsorship money does often help an individual child in a very personal way. For example, let's suppose an 8 year old boy in Mali is eligible for school but his parents can't afford the uniform and school supplies he would need. His sponsor's donation could buy those things and give him the opportunity to attend school. With an education, that boy's opportunities are multiplied exponentially. Educating children disrupts the cycle of poverty; it provides a chance at earning a living through a skilled trade.
Another common critique is that child sponsorship perpetuates negative stereotypes about people in the developing world- that they are helpless and need to be rescued. I would counter that the best way to change stereotypes about a group is to engage directly with that group. Providing a first world sponsor with a personal connection to a third world child at the very least provides an opportunity for the sponsor to learn more about the child's context. Many times the relationship with the sponsored child is a catalyst for a first world sponsor learning more about the child's country and the challenges there. All of a sudden the sponsor has an interest in land grabs in Cambodia or government corruption in Mexico. The personal connection to the child creates an interest that may not have been aroused otherwise.
It seems to me that the basic premise of child sponsorship defies the notion that people in the developing world are helpless. On the contrary, the sponsor sees the child's potential and is willing to dole out a little cash each month to ensure that the child has every chance to succeed. The world is not a level playing field. My children have an astronomically higher chance of going to college, getting great jobs and retiring with money in the bank than a kid born in a slum. Child sponsorship is a way of saying "I believe in you" to a kid who was born the underdog. Child sponsorship says, "I believe you are worth educating. I believe you will succeed. I believe you will grow up and improve your circumstances." It's putting our money where our mouths are when it comes to social reform.
The success of child sponsorship campaigns comes down to the fact that donors want a personal connection; they want to hear a story. Donors are moved by the stories of individual children's lives being changed for the better, not by lists of statistics about malnutrition or lack of medical care. Stories move people to act. What better way to engage a first world donor in development work than to allow her to become part of one child's story?
While child sponsorship benefits kids, it's also worthwhile and rewarding for donors, especially the children of donors. I sponsor a five year old little girl in Cambodia and my family writes letters and sends small packages regularly. My two and four year old have learned what houses look like in Cambodia, that it's hot there almost all of the time, that Cambodians eat a lot of rice and that our sponsor kid doesn't live in a big house with her own room full of toys. They're learning that they are privileged, that most children in the world do not have as many toys and clothes and opportunities as they have. Most importantly, they're learning compassion and becoming global citizens. They're thinking beyond their neighborhood, beyond their school, beyond their circle of friends; at a young age they're already engaging with the world.
If I've piqued your interest, I would encourage you to do your own research and consider sponsoring a child. There are several non-profits that offer child sponsorship. Two of the biggest are World Vision and Compassion International. Both are transparent with their financial practices and both offer sponsorships in many different countries. If you already sponsor a child, I would love to hear about your experience in the "Comments" section.