They come up on our social media feeds, at religious gatherings, and even on the pages of newspapers and magazines—commercials, ads, and brochures calling us to help a boy or girl through child sponsorship. The big eyes of tiny children living half a world away meet ours, and for a moment everything stops.
If your reaction is anything like mine, it’s often two-fold. First, guilt seizes you as you’re reminded that millions of children around the world are trapped in poverty. Then, the guilt quickly flips to cynicism as you question the validity and effectiveness of the organization’s claims. Child sponsorship sounds nice in theory, but you’re not convinced it really works.
What if I told you it has been proven through academic research that child sponsorship significantly improves the lives of sponsored children? What if I told you economists have collected and analyzed data on this very topic which has affirmed its effectiveness in the majority world?1 What if I told you child sponsorship really works?
Bruce Wydick, a Professor of Economics at University of San Francisco, also wondered about the impact of child sponsorship. Until he came on the scene, there were no studies showing if the five billion dollars per year channeled to the nine million sponsored children worldwide were affecting individual lives. Under Wydick’s guidance, two graduate students began researching the topic. They started with a field study in Uganda—comparing data on adults who were sponsored as children versus ones who were not. The results were thrilling. No matter how the data was analyzed, there was a substantial impact on the educational outcomes of the sponsored children. The research was expanded to include data from Guatemala, the Philippines, India, Kenya, Bolivia and Indonesia. Below is just a sampling of what the research revealed:
-Sponsored children were 27-40% more likely to complete a secondary education.
-Sponsored children were 35% more likely to get a white-collar job as adults.
-Sponsored children had significantly higher expectations for their own schooling and future employment than their unsponsored peers.
This, my friends, is awesome news! We can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the billions of dollars being invested in child sponsorship each year are truly having an impact.
But one question remains—what is it about child sponsorship that makes it so effective? While this isn’t a question we can fully unpack in a blog post, Wess Stafford, the former CEO of a well-respected child sponsorship organization, puts it like this:
“The big difference that sponsorship makes is that it expands children’s views about their own possibilities. Many of these children don’t think they are capable of much. We help them realize that they are each given special gifts from God to benefit their communities, and we try to help them develop aspirations for their future.”2
Stafford’s words remind me of a well-known verse from the book of Jeremiah. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT) To our heavenly Father, every single child on this planet is precious and has a role in His plan.
Through Christ-centered child sponsorship programs, millions of children are coming to realize they have value and potential in the eyes of the Lord, and that their future can be one hallmarked by hope instead of despair.
Does child sponsorship really work? The answer is a resounding “yes!” If you aren’t already, I invite you to sponsor a child. If you already sponsor a child, I encourage you to invite others to join you. Child sponsorship might just change the world. In fact, Bruce Wydick and his colleagues have shown us, it already has.
1”Majority world” is a term used to refer to what used to be called the “developing world” in order to move away from stereotypes that countries must “develop” to be more like the West.
2To read the full academic paper Does International Child Sponsorship Work? A Six-Country Study of Impacts on Adult Life Outcomes, visit http://usf.usfca.edu/fac_staff/wydick/csp.pdf. For a shorter summary, read Want to Change the Word? Sponsor a Child by Bruce Wydick in the June 2013 edition of Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/june/want-to-change-world-sponsor-child.html.