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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 4, January/February 2005

Thinking of sponsoring a child?

Read this before you decide.

by Pat Clarke

The tsunami catastrophe in South Asia may have many classes, schools, and school districts considering child-sponsorship programs through agencies such as Plan and World Vision. Before a decision is made to undertake that approach to disaster relief, consider the following.

The well-known international agency Save the Children (SCF) did have a child-sponsorship program for many years. That organization has over the past several years withdrawn from child-sponsorship and has joined other international organizations such as Oxfam and UNICEF in discouraging that form of international assistance. The reasons for doing so are instructive and provide an insight into some of the problems with child sponsorship or, as it is sometimes described, "direct aid."

1. Save the Children discovered that too often sponsored children were resented in their communities and sometimes in their families. Sponsored children quickly achieve a position of privilege while surrounded by disadvantaged people. SCF found that sponsorship funds were often the cause of envy and sometimes conflict.

2. The agency also realized that child sponsorship has high administrative costs. Child-sponsorship agencies have administrative costs that are twice as high as other international organizations. A larger number of administrative staff are required in addition to publicity and advertising carried out by sponsorship agencies. One dramatic example of SCF’s costs is that one photograph of a child involving processing, mailing, and staff time was $24, more than the child actually received for a month.

3. The greatest concern was the cycle of dependency that sponsorship could induce. Funds to individual children are not used to develop self-sufficient communities. They create a group of children dependent on charity for basic needs. In other words sponsorship is short term and ineffective, and it does not alleviate any of the real problems that cause poverty in developing countries.

In the case of the tsunami disaster, the primary concern will be the reconstruction of whole communities. Over the long term, the well-being of affected children will be ensured through stable, self-sufficient communities. While child sponsorship may offer our students a certain lesson in empathy, a longer lasting more meaningful lesson is the significance and value of community. Canada has many excellent international agencies dedicated to sustainable, equitable community development in the developing south. UNICEF, Oxfam, and Save the Children are well known, but others such as Inter Pares, CUSO, and USC also have community-based programs in tsunami-affected countries. Any of these, and other organizations offer worthy alternatives to child sponsorship.

Pat Clarke is director of the BCTF’s Professional and Social Issues Division. He was on the board of directors of Save the Children BC from 1992 to1995 and worked for CUSO from 1986 to 1989.

Tsunami relief initiative

Teachers across B.C. are devastated by the impact of the South Asian disaster. In an effort to co-ordinate the BCTF response to the situation, we are developing a comprehensive Tsunami Relief Initiative in consultation with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and Education International.

Our response will focus on providing victims with immediate financial relief followed by longer term relief for children and their communities. Read more at bctf.ca/SchoolStaffAlert/Archive/2004-05/2005-01-05.html.

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