Children from a Salvation Army centre in Quito, Ecuador
A group of children from Cayembe Day Care Centre, Ecuador
Girls from La Chimba, Bolivia, enjoy a meal
Children from the Leontine Gorska Children’s Home, Latvia, on an outing
Group Sponsorship – Better by Far
by Berith Ståhl
Since the mid-1980s The Salvation Army in Sweden has organised child sponsorship in different parts of the world. The sponsorship programme began with children in parts of South America where Swedish officers had been working for many years.
They had seen first-hand the poverty and the need for help and realised the benefits of regular donations – and so child sponsorship became an integral part of The Salvation Army in Sweden’s mission in South America. Soon the scheme was expanded to include countries in Asia, where there were Swedish personnel, and now there are groups in Africa and even Europe that receive sponsorship through Sweden.
The rapid changes that many developing countries experience can affect children most. Children need security, care and education in order to develop and be able to make use of their natural abilities.
Unfortunately, all too many children are treated without respect and many live in dreadful poverty, some even being abused. By becoming sponsors, individual people and groups can give children in poor countries vital support and a dignified lifestyle.
All the children sponsored through the Sweden and Latvia Territory live in Salvation Army institutions such as children’s homes. Others benefit from different types of day care. Sponsorship donations go towards expenses for a place at the institution, school fees and school materials or other essentials and some of the less-essential things that help brighten a child’s life.
During all the years that The Salvation Army has run sponsorship programmes it has been possible to be a sponsor for one individual child or for a group. Although group sponsorship has increased during recent years, individual sponsorship has also been requested as many people like the idea of having one person who is special to them. It’s a very natural way to go about things.
However, times change. On my journeys all over the world I have seen the advantages and disadvantages of both types of sponsorship. However, it’s obvious to me that group sponsorship is by far the better option.
The Salvation Army has an extensive international ministry and all mission support is coordinated through International Headquarters in London. During recent years, sponsorship routines have been examined, above all because of requests for changes that have arisen in the receiver countries. Their foremost request has been that we should prioritise group sponsorship.
One of the main reasons why group sponsorship works well is that children who live together can be treated fairly. I remember a visit I made to a children’s home some years ago. I had with me a package from a sponsor for a certain child. With eager fingers the boy opened his package while the other children looked on, wide-eyed. They didn’t say anything but you could see what they were thinking: ‘Why isn’t there anything for me?’
Sadly, with individual sponsorship programmes, not all children get presents. Those who receive are happy, those who do not are sad. For the personnel working in an institution this can be a problem. This particular situation was solved because in my handbag I had some sweets which I shared with the children and staff, and everyone was satisfied. Group sponsorship lessens the risk of siblings and other children in the institution being treated differently. It is important that the children feel they are all worth the same, and that some children do not get more money or attention than others do.
Something that’s not widely known is that sponsorship of an individual child actually demands more personnel – more work is needed in Sweden and in the receiving country. Administrative routines for one child are time-consuming. At some homes, for instance, children move in and out frequently because of social circumstances. Even local authorities change policy and this can result in the Army being allowed to take care of pre-school children only. The continued allocation of ‘new’ children is not good for sponsors either.
Consequently, group sponsorship is better and more sustainable. Personnel resources can be released to give more information about the project, how the children are getting on and how the money is spent.
The Salvation Army in Sweden has therefore decided to gradually go over completely to group sponsorship. It is our experience that if we explain our motives clearly people continue to sponsor even if we change our routines. The children still need support and help.
Being a sponsor means stretching out a hand to children somewhere in the world – to children who need to feel someone cares about them.