Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why Compassion?

Someone asked me recently why we sponsor children through Compassion. Let me say right at the outset that there are other wonderful organisations doing great stuff - World Vision and Tear just to name two - and so what I'm going to go on to say is not meant to suggest that Compassion are the only ones doing great things. But why Compassion? Here's my thoughts:

Locally based
Compassion works across the globe to support thousands of children but they do it through local churches. A local church, surrounded by poverty, puts their hand up and says, "We want to do something but we don't have the resources." And Compassion comes in and partners with them so that they can reach out to their own community. It's not about a big international aid agency sweeping in and demanding that everyone do things their way. There are lots of aspects of the Compassion project that are common to all centres, but Compassion also understands that the best people to decide exactly how the program will be best implemented are the people inside those communities themselves. Compassion country offices and individual projects are able to tailor their programs to fit with the needs in their community. When you support a child through Compassion, you are enabling a local church to care for those in need.

Financial integrity
Compassion is audited externally and carries out internal audits of its individual projects several times a year. The charity watchdog, Charity Navigator, has given them it's top 4-star rating, eleven years in a row now. I could wax lyrical about how careful they are to be transparent and trustworthy but I'll leave you to follow up more on this by clicking here if you need more information.

Actually works
Not much point in us all running and around and looking busy if it doesn't work. Recent research on Compassion's ministry points to long-term impact in the lives of sponsored children.
"Two researchers and I recently carried out a study (sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development) on the long-term impacts of Compassion International's child sponsorship program. The study, gathering data from over 10,000 individuals in six countries, found substantial impact on adult life outcomes for children who were sponsored through Compassion's program during the 1980s and '90s. We statistically compared formerly sponsored children to older siblings who were too old for sponsorship when the program started in their village. In adulthood, formerly sponsored children were far more likely to complete secondary school and had a much higher chance of having a white-collar job. They married and had children later in life, were more likely to be church and community leaders, were less likely to live in a home with a dirt floor and more likely to live in a home with electricity."
Read the full article which also rated the impact of various strategies for helping the poor here.

The final push for me to sponsor with Compassion was talking with my sister-in-law who had gone to meet one of her sponsored children in India.  When she could look me in the eye and tell me they were the real deal, I was in.  Now, four years on, I can see the changes and opportunities in the life of our first sponsored child for myself.

Child development
Not all child sponsorship programs are the same.  In fact, to distance themselves somewhat, Compassion calls its model "child development" not child sponsorship.  The reason for this is that some organisations, including World Vision, Save the Children and Plan, use child sponsorship to fund projects for a village, rather than services being delivered to the individual child.  The child then benefits from improvements being made for the whole community.  The children of the village are enrolled, and the personal relationship between sponsor and child is created, to make the funding of the larger project - building a school, providing clean water etc - more attractive to the donor.  Child sponsorship has proved to be very effective in getting people to sign on for a long-term commitment to a charity.  Rather than sporadic one-off donations, child sponsorship provides a charity with a regular flow of funds.  That's fine, as long as you understand that is what you are funding and your happy to build a relationship with your sponsored child on that basis.

Compassion, on the other hand does things the other way around.  They invest holistically in the lives of individual children.  They seek to meet each child's specific needs - medical care, food, schooling, tutoring, play, safety, self-esteem and spiritual growth.  The child regularly (varies between once a week to daily) attends their local Compassion project and their growth, progress and health is carefully monitored alongside the delivery of a range of different interventions and opportunities.  This doesn't mean the child's family or community don't benefit at all.  The effects of the care for one child ripple out through the family (e.g. now freed up to send a second child to school because the sponsored child's fees are paid) and to the community as the project provides jobs and stimulates the local economy.  But the focus is on one child at a time.

And then there's the letters
And the chance to build a relationship. I give more, I pray more and I care more because I have a chance to know these young people and be part of their journey. Yes, child sponsorship is used as a neat trick by some organizations to get long-term commitment from people who might otherwise only give once or twice.  That's not always a bad thing - I don't know too many of us who would say we couldn't do with a bit of a push to be more generous not less.  When you connect with people, instead of causes, giving becomes a joy and a privilege.  Our kids don't think of us as "giving to help the poor".  They use names when they talk about sharing with those in need. We read books about their home countries, we try international food, we send drawings, we read letters aloud and each night we pray - by name - for those special friends so far away. And four years down the track, we find that we are the receivers not just the givers.  I was humbled a few weeks back when our child in Tanzania told me how she is praying for our family.

What if I'm wrong?
What if child sponsorship turns out to be useless or a sham?  What if I'm investing money and time in building a relationship that doesn't really mean anything and I'm just fooling myself to make my little Western self feel better about the next latte I buy?  All I can say is, "What a glorious way to be wrong!"  I'm not saying it doesn't matter what you do so long as your intentions are good.  There's been much documented evidence of international aid that's done more harm than good.  But as far as I can research myself, I believe Compassion to be a sound organisation and I'm not going to let the possibility that someone, somewhere, is not as credible as they should be stop me from doing my duty of caring for those in need.  At some point, you've got to jump in the water.

Soon I'm going to post on tips for building a relationship with your sponsored child and also some letter writing ideas to get the fingers typing or the pen moving.  If you have any questions about Compassion or child sponsorship, bring them on!  If I don't know, I'll try to find out.

And if you are interested in sponsoring a child in extreme poverty who needs encouragement and a helping hand up, check out Compassion Australia if you are in Australia, Compassion International for US readers or Compassion UK for readers in the United Kingdom. 

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