Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Loving, not loving. (or: Why I no longer have a sponsor child)

I thought that maybe I should share something about my experience with child sponsorship. Basically, I was really moved by a presentation about volunteering overseas and I wanted to make a difference in a child's life. I decided I would use some of my paycheck as a tithe for child sponsorship way back in 2007. I sponsored a little boy, who was 5 at the time, from Thailand. We wrote letters every few months and I had intended on visiting him once I had finished uni and could make some real money.

Things stopped being so nice in 2010. Basically, my post office box was chockas with Spam from this particular organization, asking me to give more money for a whole of bunch of things (birthdays, Christmas, natural disasters, an inventory of things to choose from for my sponsor child's family). There were five page letters in huge print and too many spaces. I got tired of the administration and the constant fundraising effort tripping out my emotions to make me feel compelled to give. And then I received a letter, and then another, and another from my sponsor child who asked me to pray for his grandmother's gambling addiction.

After making contact with a Supporter Engagement Officer (?!) and requesting some find of investigation into what was actually happening in my sponsor child's life, here is what I receieved:

Dear Lisa,

Thank you for taking a few minutes to speak with me today. I DO hope that you were not late for your appointment.

Shown below is a copy of the information that I received back from Thailand in regards to ____. You will notice that the staff have written a response under each of my questions..

As I mentioned, I actually found it quite a positive response despite some of the sadness in Beem’s life. It very caring of the staff from the Compassion Project and the Church to visit his home on such a regular basis to encourage ____ and pray for the grandmother. It is unfortunate that his mother moved away to work as a labourer overseas to help the family, and I hope that she is not taken advantage of as can happen to many foreign workers.

I know that you had some hesitation and concerns about how your monthly support was benefitting ____, but please be assured that he is definitely much better off being a Compassion sponsored child.

Blessings to you.

Mrs Support Ladyskippy_corp_sig
Supporter Engagement Centre


Regarding sponsor’s concerns, kindly find my feedback as below:

      Can you tell us how many people live in the same house as ____ and how they are related to him?
I checked with the PF and found out that there are 6 people living together in the same house. They are grandma (mother’s), his older brother, his uncle and auntie and their son and himself.

2.       Can you confirm who is currently considered as his guardian or guardians?
At present his guardian is his grandma. His mother is not living at the house anymore. She moved to live in Israel for Laboring.
By this case, we will make a child revision of child’s guardians from grandma and mother to the grandma.

3.     We realise that this is a sensitive issue, but Is the project aware that the grandmother may possibly have problem (gambling)?
Yes, the project is aware of grandma’s behaviour.

4.      If she does have a problem, does it cause troubles for ____ and the rest of the family?
The project said that it affects  ____ obviously that he tends to spend almost of his free time playing computer games. The project goes to visit them often and encouraged grandma that gambling is not good thing to do and suggested ____ to value this spare time by playing music and doing some sports other than playing computer games. At present he attends the project regularly because he loves playing guitar and he joins the agriculture club as well. He reduced time to play games now.

5.       Has anyone from the church been able to minister to the grandmother?
Yes, the project and the church visit the house often and pray for grandma and family.

I hope this information helps. For further information needed, please let me know.

I was really unhappy with this response.

Here were my questions, most of which went unanswered.

1. If my sponsor child is of the "poorest of the poor" (as staff at the supporter night a local church in my town sponsored kept reminding us), why does his grandmother have money to gamble? How is he playing computer games during most of his free time? 

2. Is my money being used to support this habit?
(Support Engagement Officer said no because the money gets used by the local churches to pay for things just for the sponsor children or the whole community.)

3. So, other than prayer, what else is being done?

I had a chat with my family and decided that I could no longer give to my sponsor child with a "giving heart". Support Engagement Officer Lady told me I was punishing my sponsor child for his grandmother's addiction. I don't know whether she was right or not, and her last email said they would be finding someone new to sponsor him soon.

So, that's all I am? A supporter with a number? Sheesh.

But I do think about my sponsor child... often. I wonder about how he is doing and whether he is back with his mum again. And I pray of course.

I don't have enough answers, and now days I would rather give to a project rather than a charity who uses children's profiles to generate funds. I have been challenged though in my tithing and generosity - after all, I was punishing my sponsor child by not giving him money, right? Fortunately I am from a family who was into putting coins into the Guide Dog boxes and doing things for a cause. I guess my money is spent... well, elsewhere, on other people's children mostly, through buying Guide biscuits and helping support sporting clubs. It may not be what I had intended when I wanted to make a difference, but while I was sponsoring a child I often would limit my charity donations due to the $44 I was coughing up a month. I don't spend that on donations now, but I also see time as money, and as a Guide leader and someone who volunteers for things at the drop of a hat, I have well paid my little volunteers dues through my sweet time.

I mostly wrote this because I needed to get it off my chest. But also because I think it's okay to stand up and say no when you see see something that just doesn't sit right with you. To me, giving money to a family struggling with gambling addiction was unethical. If anything, I would have loved to have seen some kind of support program set up, but this was not an option, and if it had been, maybe the Supporter Engagement lady could have engaged me a bit better.

 I fully support those who sponsor children - it is a wonderful way to support those in need. My only advice is that you should always seek information should you become concerned with something you hear, read or see. Stand up for what is right in your heart. You'll sleep better at night, trust me.

PS- I didn't name the charity I supported. You can ask me about this privately, but I felt it was unnecessary to name them publicly. Of course, my sponsor child's name has been left as ____ to protect his privacy. I have also removed details about where he lives.