According to BBC News, over nine billion children are sponsored each year through donations totaling over three billion dollars, making child sponsorship organizations one of the most popular types of charities benefiting impoverished children. Such programs have mobilized the middle class to become involved in efforts to fight poverty around the world through unique stories of individual children who need help.
Individual Sponsorship Programs
Perhaps the most familiar type of child sponsorship organization is the individual child model. Organizations collect a monthly donation from each sponsor, who is paired up with a specific child. Donations are typically used toward a combination of education, housing, nutrition, clothing, and other resources for the individual child and even his or her family. Strong bonds between the sponsor and his or her child often form through many years of letters, gifts, and even visits.
Compassion International operates with this approach, believing that empowerment starts with fostering the potential in every individual child. For $38 per month, a sponsor provides funds for education, health care, hygiene training, and a nurturing environment to help the child develop leadership and social skills. The organization, which is rooted in Christian beliefs, partners with local churches to offer Christian teachings to each sponsored child. It also encourages communication between sponsors and children through letters and visits by the sponsors.
Child Foundation offers a more secular approach to individual sponsorship. This organization helps over 4,000 children in Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and the U.S. Through a $20 to $60 donation each month, sponsors provide educational resources to high-achieving, yet severely impoverished children who are often living on under a dollar per day. This financial support helps children stay in school and improves their chances of succeeding down the road.
Sponsorship Programs That Benefit Communities
As noted by BBC News, critics argue that individual sponsorship only addresses symptoms instead of the root causes of poverty in a community. Many child sponsorship agencies have thus adopted a broader community focus to help end the cycle of poverty on a bigger scale. These organizations may still offer individual child sponsorship but also apply some portion of donations toward community programs. How funds are allocated varies from organization to organization.
Children International is an organization that connects sponsors with individual children, who receive health and dental care, nutritional support, clothing and shoes, and supplies for school. Sponsors and their children exchange several letters per year, and sponsors can arrange trips to visit their children. The organization also develops youth programs that help nurture confidence and leadership at over 80 community centers in 11 countries. Sponsored children enter into these programs at age 12, but the centers are also a way to more broadly transform underprivileged communities. Children International discourages physical gifts from sponsors to children, so as not to dishearten other children in the family or community who are not sponsored. The organization boasts that 82 percent of donated funds go toward programs and activities for sponsored children.
Unbound is a much newer organization with an individual child sponsorship program that also enriches the lives of families and the wider community. Funds go directly toward sponsored children or elders and their families, with a focus on empowerment and developing economic security. Families are given the tools they need to become independent, self-sustaining units and eventual role models for the community. While the program is mostly oriented toward the individual, it helps create spaces for marginalized groups to work for justice and gives sponsored families resources to build their own programs that strengthen their communities.
World Vision, a faith-based aid agency, renovates wells, provides teacher training, and improves access to health care clinics and vaccinations. Sponsors are, however, allowed to make extra donations or give small gifts to their sponsored children, who are already benefiting from community projects.
Plan International is another organization that pools funds to build up economic security, water and sanitation, education, and health care in communities. In 2008, the organization commissioned a study that found that children who didn't receive letters or gifts from their sponsors experienced anxiety and disappointment. The organization has since abolished gifts and only requires children to write if their sponsors write to them.
Choosing an Organization
Every child sponsorship program offers its own unique approach to tackling the cycle of poverty, from empowering individuals to spreading resources throughout a town or village. When deciding where you want to donate to help a child or children in need, first find out the model the organizations you're considering. Ask who the beneficiaries of funding are and how funds are allocated toward individuals and communities as well as what benefits are guaranteed to be covered.
Another consideration is what level of involvement you'll be granted with your child: will you be able to write, visit, or send gifts to your child, and are these all important to you? Ensure that the organization you choose is compatible with your personal beliefs. Lastly, find out what demonstrated, measurable results the organizations have achieved. It is crucial that beneficiaries are empowered and not simply dependent on sponsorship to get by, as that is how communities are changed for the better. Once you make a decision, you're ready to visit the organization's website and get signed up with a credit card and a few quick clicks!