The Facts

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SPONSORSHIP[image, unknown] The Facts

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It is hardly surprising that the sponsorship agencies choose children to be the focus of attention. Young children produce instant sympathy and a ready response. This may come largely from sentimentality, but there are sound practical reasons too why a society should watch carefully over its children. Ninety per cent of the growth of the human brain and fifty per cent of that of the body occur during the first five years of life. Yet during these vulnerable years the children themselves are relatively powerless, with neither physical strength nor economic muscle.
Someone needs to look after their interests. But it is clear that the majority of the world's children are not getting the protection they deserve.
This is why a million or so people in the West feel that they should step in and help children through sponsorship schemes. And there are between twenty and thirty organizations which will channel their funds in this way; most of them are based in the United States and have some religious affiliation. On the right we profile five of the most significant.

Of the 125 million children born this year, twelve million will die before their first birthday and another five million before their fifth.


About one thousand million children live in countries where: -

• One child in four suffers from malnutrition
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• Four out of five children have no modern health care
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• Two out of five 6-11 year olds do not go to school
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• 4 out of 5 children in rural areas do not have adequate water or sanitation.
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Development progress is a jigsaw of mutually reinforcing improvements. so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

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When parts of this puzzle are broken or missing it is the children who feel it first - and when improvements are made it is they who have most to gain. The Third World's infant mortality rate is a very sensitive indicator of the well-being of mothers and children. It fell steadily during the 1960s but during the last five years it has barely flickered. And average life expectancy, which increased by seven or eight months a year in the 1960s and early 1970s is now increasing by only two or three months a year.

The developing world's infant mortality is still ten times higher than in the industrialised world and its life expectancy at 59 years is fifteen years less. And now it is clear that in some nations at least development is drifting backwards.

In the 1980s there are many millions of parents whose power to protect and provide for their children has been eroded or washed away by unemployment or landlessness, by poverty or by lack of knowledge, by oppression or demoralization. The tasks facing both national and international communities is to find realistic ways of restoring that power to their parents.

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“Development has become becalmed. Not in a generation have hopes for an end to life-denying poverty been at such a low ebb” – UNICEF


Children sponsored 270,000

Headquarters The international centre is in Monrovia, California. But there are also thriving operations in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, West Germany, Scandinavia and South Africa. They have recently opened an office in the UK.

Operating countries 15 countries around the world.

World Vision began in 1950 out of the concern of a baptist missionary in Korea to help war orphans. His philosophy of: 'You can't do everything but you can do something' has helped turn it into one of the world's biggest and most controversial voluntary agencies - dedicated, as their publicity puts it, 'to serving God through childcare, emergency relief, community development evangelism, Christian leadership training and mission challenge'.

The controversy stems not just from the missionary element but also from its political alignment: World Vision is one of the most right-wing of all the international voluntary agencies.

Since most of the Third World countries where poverty is at its most acute also have very conservative regimes, this gives World Vision something of an advantage over the other agencies. In 1973, for example, while fellow Christians were being persecuted by South Korea's repressive government. World Vision had a South Korean stamp issued in its honour.

But it is at times of war that the arguments about World Vision have reached their peak - though these have been concerned with their emergency relief programmes rather than sponsorship. During the Vietnam war there was the feeling that they were co-operating more than a humanitarian organisation should with the US military. And now, in the El Salvador crisis, World Vision's role in the refugee camps in Honduras has brought it back into the headlines. They had on their staff at one point exiled Cubans and Nicaraguans and there have been accusations that they have a closer than necessary relationship with the military in Central America.


Save the Children

Children sponsored 59,000

Headquarters There are autonomous organisations in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, South Africa and the UK.

Operating countries Worldwide

Though the US Save the Children Federation bills itself as 'the original child sponsorship agency', it is getting a bit left behind in terms of total numbers. Save the Children, however, does not confine itself to sponsorship and also has many non-sponsoring projects in all aspects of child welfare, generally through day-centres and health clinics.



Children sponsored 200,000

Headquarters International headquarters are in Warwick, Rhode Island, USA with additional donor country offices in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the UK.

Operating countries 23 developing countries

Although it has only just opened up in the UK, Foster Parents Plan was actually started by two Englishmen - in order to help children during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

Like most of the sponsoring agencies, Foster Parents Plan has moved into community development. But the starting point is the individual family which, they say, has 'needs and priorities which require special attention'. The family does indeed become the object of a good deal of attention and 'with the help of local social workers' each family draws up its own long and short-term objectives.

Their publicity sets the aim as: 'to change the world one child at a time'.


Christian Children's Fund, Inc.

Children sponsored 231,000

Headquarters Richmond, Virginia, USA

Operating countries Fifteen Third World nations and the United States

The Christian Children's Fund was founded back in 1938 as the China Children's Fund by a Presbyterian minister in Richmond, Virginia. The aim was to help refugee children who were victims of Japanese aggression in China. Now it has grown to a $40m operation with 900 projects worldwide. The aid is given through local organisations. These must employ extra qualified staff to 'screen' the children and monitor their progress before the agencies can qualify as 'affiliates' and receive aid from the Fund.

They describe their sponsorship programme as providing a relationship 'in which sponsor and child can relate to each other as real human beings'.



Children sponsored 60,000

Headquarters United Kingdom

Operating countries India, Kenya, Burundi and the Gambia

Action Aid was set up in 1972 as an offshoot of Help-the-Aged by the late Cecil Jackson-Cole, the rather idiosyncratic head of a successful estate agency. Both organisations have operated slightly apart from the network of British voluntary agencies.

Action Aid say they are: 'totally convinced that child sponsorship, provided that it is administered in the right way, is one of the most effective methods of helping to solve that enormous problem of world poverty'.

Their publicity claims that there are no deductions for Headquarters expenses and that all the money you give goes to their office in the country concerned. Most of the expenses are actually covered by the British system of tax recovery through 'covenants', so this means that those who have taken the trouble to sign a covenant are subsidising the donations of those who have not.

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New Internationalist issue 111 magazine cover This article is from the May 1982 issue of New Internationalist.
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