A lot has changed since we started our child sponsorship programme over 15 years ago. Free primary education was introduced in Kenya, making school much more accessible for children from poorer communities. Attitudes towards charity and international development have changed both in Kenya and the UK where the majority of our sponsors are located.
In recent years, we have been reviewing the child sponsorship programme, the way it operates and the benefits and downfalls. We understand that different sponsors have different needs and expectations of the programme. Some enjoy the relationship that they build through correspondence and even send additional gifts or funds that can be used to buy items their sponsored child requires. Others are simply happy to know that they are sponsoring a child and are not as interested in updates.
When we switched over from postal to email updates, we were surprised to find out that very few sponsors actually clicked through to read their individual update after opening the main email…and yet people didn’t stop sponsoring! Given the time and expense involved in collecting and sending all these individual updates, we were forced to question the value that sponsors place on them if they are not being opened.
We then looked at the impact of the sponsorship programme in the communities in which we work. In situations where some children in a class are sponsored and others aren’t, it can lead to a feeling of “why not me?” when those who are sponsored are asked to write an update or receive a gift from their sponsor. Our team member who co-ordinates the programme in Kenya has also been challenged by parents within the communities. Those whose children are sponsored often develop a sense of dependency and don’t see why they should to contribute anything to the school because their child is sponsored. Those whose children are not sponsored, want to know why.
Our goal is to achieve equality for children and for them all to feel equally as valued. Does a sponsorship programme that singles children out make this happen or deepen the divide?
We have also found that sponsors can get frustrated when the child they have been sponsoring leaves the programme. Unfortunately, due to the nature of our work and the children supported by the projects we partner with, we often see the children changing schools or moving to live with other family members who don’t stay close enough to the project for them to remain enrolled there.
Having taken all of these factors in to consideration, a decision has been made by the UK Board that going forward, we will transition to offering sponsorship of programme areas rather than specific children. This means that future sponsors will select from Education, Seed of Hope, Special Needs or Vulnerable Child Support. Funds will be directed where they are most needed within these areas. Sponsors will continue to receive regular updates about the programme area with stories of individual children included to show the impact of sponsorship.
Those who are sponsors of our Seed of Hope project will be aware that we switched from student-specific sponsorship to programme sponsorship a couple of years ago. This was due to changes at Seed of Hope which meant some students were enrolling for much shorter courses and there was a greater turnover of students.
This change to the sponsorship was a great success. We had increased flexibility in how the funds could be directed, reduced burden on staff to provide the individual updates and students who weren’t sponsored didn’t feel left out. When we notified sponsors of the changes, we had no responses saying they were against the move and the project has continued to enjoy great support through the sponsorship programme.
We hope that we will see the same success as we transition the remaining three programme areas over the coming months and years. Those who already sponsor specific children will continue to do so but as children leave projects, we hope that we can encourage sponsors to switch to programme sponsorship going forward.
The income received from our sponsorship programme is what keeps Vision Africa going and enables us to support our partner projects. We value each and every sponsor and hope that the changes proposed will be embraced and we can continue to work together to give children a brighter future.