Several weeks ago, my Dad's cousin went for dinner at our house in Ottawa, and they ended up talking about the fact that I am in Peru, about the type of work that I am doing, etc. My Dad's cousin (Rod) told my Dad that he was actually sponsoring a child through Compassion Canada, and that she lives on the outskirts of Lima. In the days following that supper meeting, emails were exchanged, and the topic of visiting the sponsor child came up. I offered to go meet her (much to Rod's delight), thus starting a 2-month process to get everything organized and put into place.
At the beginning of March, I had a business trip to Cajamarca with one of my colleagues as a part of the pilot project and implementation of the National Pollutant Release Inventory in Peru. On our flight to Cajamarca, the topic of sponsor children came up - without me even mentioning the fact that I might be visiting one too, that our family used to sponsor a child in Bolivia, and that I know of many others who also send money abroad on a monthly basis. He brought up the case of a few organizations that work in Peru, go into certain communities, snap pictures of children, and then post them on the web for all to see in the hopes of receiving more donations. But then, where does most of the money go? Printing costs, administration, visits, phone calls, mailing documents, etc..... and perhaps very little of it actually reaches the child and the family that the funds are directed to. Some organizations are better than others he said (and some flat out don't deliver what they promise), but it is still not a very effective way to reach out to others in his opinion.
The World Vision website says that 5% of their operation expenses go towards management and 'general', 9% to fundraising, and that the remaining 86% goes toward programs (from the 2011 financial review). I wonder how much of this 'programs' funding gets spent on field staff and offices, and to what extent the money that gets sent on a monthly basis actually affects the lives of children all over the world. My family used to sponsor a child through World Vision, until we received a letter a few years ago saying that they had lost contact with our sponsored child and didn't know where she was or what had happened (and would we like to sponsor another child instead?). We decided not to renew our donation, and I remember being personally put off by the whole idea of sponsoring a child, if she can 'go missing' so easily.
Where do I stand in the whole scheme of things? I'm not quite sure. In recent years I have preferred to give my money to micro-financing institutions, but this isn't necessarily a better solution. Every organization has overhead costs; the way that they are managed, however, differs widely from one place to the next. I will finally get to meet Rod's sponsored child this Saturday, March 24th, and I am really looking forward to actually meeting her family, seeing what conditions she lives in, and talking with her and her parents to see what direct impact the sponsorship is having on their lives. After we started the coordination for the visit, I was informed that the little girl suffers from malnutrition and anemia, and that her father is an alcoholic and spends all of his money on drinking. She and her mother sell candies at bus stops to earn a minimal income for the family (and she also has a brother, I am not sure of his role in the family). Does she go to school? What does she like doing? Will she be shy? The plan for the day is to go visit a project that is funded by Compassion, then go visit the house where they live, and take them out for lunch (or another activity).
After this visit, I hope to have a better understanding of the impacts of sponsoring children, and I wonder how this will change my view on things. I will be sure to write back next week to let you know how things have gone. Until then, I hope you are all doing well. Stay tuned for more updates!!