Contributed by Laura Walls
When I started as a child ambassador about six years ago, I remember struggling to understand and articulate World Vision's child sponsorship and community development model to prospective donors. I was regularly asked things like: "Does my money go directly to the child?" Or "How, exactly, does the child benefit by being sponsored?" I was fortunate, as a new CA, because I was able to work closely with my regional team leader, Jo Carlson, who had been on many Vision Trips and could help me to understand and share about what sponsorship looks like in the field. It made it so much easier to explain things through her firsthand experience! I've since had the opportunity to travel to two different countries with World Vision and I'll humbly share with you what I've learned so far so that you, too, can feel confident sharing about the impact of sponsorship!
The ultimate goal of World Vision child sponsorship is to create a better world for children by helping their families and their communities to become self-sustaining. This model of community development through the vehicle of child sponsorship is a unique benefit to their sponsorship program. But how exactly does that work in the field? Is there a difference between children who are sponsored and children who are not sponsored? To answer those questions, I'll explain a little of World Vision's development model and some of the things I witnessed while visiting some of World Vision's programs in Nicaragua and Cambodia.
The first thing I learned about World Vision's work, is that it is very individualized. When World Vision is invited into a community, it doesn't come in with a cookie-cutter approach. They sit down with community leaders, do a tremendous amount of listening, and come up with a plan together. Because each Area Development Program (ADP) has its own unique needs and strengths, and because each program is tailored specifically for that ADP by their community leaders and local World Vision staff, then each Area Development Program is going to look a little different, even within the same country.
When we visited Cambodia, we had the opportunity to see a Stage One community that was brand new to World VIsion's work. Mongkol Borei ADP had been operating in the region for about 18 months. They were coming out of the early assessment stage and were now offering child sponsorship and designing a program that was meeting the needs of the children and families in their community.
As part of that assessment period, World Vision staff looked for ways to identify and reach out to the most vulnerable families (MVF's) in their community. Most of the MVF's in that area did not have children who were sponsored yet but World Vision was still working with the families to meet their needs and help their children. Among the families that we met, we saw that World Vision had already helped provide clean water, assisted families to find sustainable incomes to help pay for their children's school fees, listened and counseled a family on possible solutions for their complex needs, and were working to create a safe space for a woman who was suffering from domestic abuse. And all of that was done for families who did not yet have a sponsor.
In the World Vision development model, the most vulnerable children and families in the community are identified and helped even though their children are not yet sponsored. (Photos: Laura Walls)
In keeping with that thought, one of the things that came across from both of the Vision Trips that I went on, is that World Vision communities see sponsorship as a network of caring people from the United States (and possibly other World Vision International countries). They feel that their whole community is sponsored, in a sense. All of the families benefit. All of the children benefit as a result of sponsorship. Programs are created, schools are strengthened, churches are given outreach opportunities, parents learn that children have rights and should not be abused, men learn not to abuse their wives, and women have the opportunity to have a voice in their homes and in their community. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. We also saw small businesses being created, vocational training taking place, and youth being empowered to speak out and become leaders and protectors in their community. It's honestly quite breathtaking to witness! And it happens because of child sponsorship!!!
So, what about the individual child? How do they benefit from being sponsored when the donations are being pooled, rather than going only to that specific child?
Sponsorship impacts a child deeply. They feel that the sponsor has chosen them and the implications of that, even if the sponsor doesn't write a lot, are deep. As Angelica, a former sponsored child described it, "The sponsor feels like a family member. Someone you are close to." Just knowing that someone knows your name, cares about you, and believes you are special makes a deep impact on a child in poverty. That alone can be life-changing! At conference one year, we had a speaker, Moses Pulei, tell us about the deep impact his sponsor, Julie, made on his life through encouraging him that he could be a leader someday. "Me? A leader?" Moses laughed, "I had never thought of such a thing before."
Sponsorship is also an encouragement to the whole family. A family generally sees the sponsor as a sponsor for the whole family, not just the sponsored child. The idea that they are not alone and that someone is praying for them and cares for them helps lift the heaviness of the burden of poverty. The sponsor can also encourage the parents to keep the child in school - this is especially powerful in societies where early marriage is common and keeping a daughter in high school is unusual. Additionally, the sponsor can send small gifts or, in some areas, can send a special gift of money through World Vision to meet some additional needs of the family. This, too, can make a huge difference in the life of that family!
There are times when World Vision may determine that a specific sponsored child is in need of extra assistance that the family, community, or government is unable to provide. At that time, they'll step in to help the family create a sustainable solution for their need. The goal is always to empower the family to meet their needs, not to create dependency but rather, to give them freedom. You can read more about this on World Vision's FAQ page.
All in all, the scope of work that is accomplished through child sponsorship is truly beautiful to witness! Child sponsorship is both personal and deep while also being holistic and inclusive. It's an incredible opportunity for people in the United States to be missionaries in their own homes and truly change the life of a child in need while doing so in a way that impacts not just that child but also their whole community. As I always tell new sponsors, their dollars are truly multiplied like fishes and loaves and will do so much more than they ever dreamed possible!
"And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."
Greater Together is a collaborative blog written by volunteer child ambassadors for World Vision.