A Skeptic's View on Child Sponsorship
By Evan Davies
May 12, 2010
Do you ever wonder what happens to that $35 you donate every month to a child sponsorship organization? Are you a little skeptical that the money you give is actually going to sponsoring a child instead of a mismanaged nonprofit? If that’s you, I’m with you. A couple years ago, I had convinced myself the money I was giving each month wasn’t actually reaching the child whose picture I had picked out years earlier, so I canceled my sponsorship. It turns out I was wrong, and it hit me like a ton of bricks two years later.
Our headmaster sauntered into the staff lounge, announcing to all the teachers that it’s time to round up school fees. Our school is in major debt once again, and this time the people who supply the food have threatened to stop providing their services. This seems to be just another day in rural Rwanda. Nobody seemed too worried by this predicament other than me. The announcement by the headmaster was immediately followed by the bursar passing out class lists with detailed figures of how much money each student owes. Each teacher is responsible for one class and has to kick out any students who haven’t paid school fees. I hate this part of the job, telling students they can’t stay in my class or, worse yet, they may have to leave school which means no shelter and no food. This is especially heartbreaking living in Rwanda, which has the highest number of orphans in the world. So there’s a fair chance the kid I might be kicking out of my classroom doesn’t have another place to go.
As I scanned the list of names, I realized almost half of my kids hadn’t paid. But this list was different from ones I had received in the past. I saw a new column added to the document, titled “sponsorship.” Under this title appeared the word “Compassion” and the names of several other sponsorship organizations. It had never dawned on me before, but many of my student’s school fees were paid for by people like you. The pieces were starting to come together: I can remember back to my first day in class when a student eagerly approached me to ask if I knew Jane and Bob Smith from Colorado. I answered with a puzzled “no” and the student quietly sat down. What I thought was an awkward question never entered my mind again until now.
The gap between the rural Rwandan village I work in and the empire of America had just gotten a lot closer. I had felt a million miles away from my old American life, but it seems the two just collided to a large degree. I know countless people who faithfully send in their $35 a month to support children all across the globe from Bolivia to Bosnia, and now I teach some of them.
I was intrigued by this strong connection of past and present life and wanted to know more about how this whole sponsorship deal really works. So I went directly to the source and asked some of my kids. Every single student I spoke to knew the names of their sponsors and one even had a tacky Christmas card picture of the family that sponsored her. Some students had a working relationship with their sponsor family and knew exactly where they lived, what church they attended and what their pets’ names were. Other students just knew the names of their sponsor family and knew they had to go to their organization’s office every couple of months to write an obligatory letter expressing their appreciation for the sponsorship. There aren’t any common trends among students who are sponsored. They’re normal high school kids: some do extremely well in school while others dodge my class and don’t do their homework.
Some of the students sponsored by Compassion told me they had a local branch just a couple kilometers toward town, so I decided to check it out. It was here that I met a man named Emmy who described the work of Compassion in the area I live in. In each town, Compassion teams up with a local church and works with different members of the church to find families with the greatest needs and then offers sponsorship to their children. As Emmy continued to describe his work at Compassion and how he helps turn what are written promises into an implementation of Jesus’ love, all I could think was, Wow that’s it, how wonderfully simple, how hands and feet of them.
So I can’t tell you that all the money you give to child sponsorship organizations is being properly used from your hands to a child’s mouth, but I can tell you the money that is getting here is being used to bring a slice of heaven on earth. Families stuck in the worst circumstances are able to give their kids all the opportunities the world has to offer thanks to people like you.
For those of you who already sponsor children, thank you. Thank you for letting many of my students go to school. Thank you for giving a portion of your earnings to bring God’s kingdom one step closer to earth. I will ask you to take it one step further and not just contribute your money but to contribute your heart and your time. Meeting children of God in their trials and tribulations can bring even greater fruit and transformation to your life.
For those of you who are skeptical like me and maybe lost hope in distant charity, don’t lose hope. Continue to poke and prod—nonprofits need people like you to make them better. Better transparency is something all nonprofits should strive for. Look at nonprofits’ 990 forms for greater detail on how they spend money and if they are using God’s money correctly. But don’t let your skepticism paralyze you. God’s kingdom can come in many forms—ask God to help you find where you fit in His plan and move forward.
My recent revelation of seeing the other end of sponsorship has restored my hope in some child sponsorship organizations, but don’t take my word for it. They’re just one part of God’s plan. Take whatever steps you need to kick down any walls that stand between you and God’s plan for you to bring His kingdom on earth.