BY WENDY RIPMEESTER, GUEST BLOGGER
Ever been in a long distance relationship? How did it work out for you?
Did yours meet the same demise of roughly 40% of most long distance relationships and end with a break-up?
Or did you – against the odds – hang in there, writing letters and sending gifts every month?
If you were steadfast, were you plagued by doubt? Did you wonder if your encouraging words and support made a difference – or if it even arrived at its destination at all?
Maybe you questioned whether the photo on your fridge was “for real”? Or whether it was a crafty cover story meant to tug at your heart strings, loosen your grip on your wallet, and feed a faceless bureaucracy instead of the face on your freezer?
If you’re thinking this doesn’t sound like your typical long distance relationship, you’re right. This isn’t about romance; it’s about child sponsorship.
And the truth is most people don’t set their expectations too high when they sponsor a child.
Sure it’s a good thing to do, and it sounds like a great idea “in theory”. Yet you still might wonder… Does child sponsorship really work?
Is your money really going to help the child in the photo, or are you naive to think so? Is it realistic to think a menial monthly stipend makes a difference, or is that a silly notion? Can you really form a deep bond with someone you’ve never met – without the help of social media – or is that wishful thinking?
Sure, it’s nice to dream your donation is changing a life, but maybe you wonder if it’s just that: a dream. Because dreams don’t come true, do they? Especially not for children living in extreme poverty. Right?
And if you stick with me a few minutes, I’ll show you: long distance love can make dreams come true.
But first, let me tell you a story …
How NOT To Sponsor A Child
In 2004, I fell in love with 4 kids from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
I was studying Spanish at a language school, and one day my teacher and I ventured out of the compound – allegedly for exposure to new scenery and the new vocabulary that would accompany it.
But really, we went to check on her children; home alone because there was no school during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Both parents had to work, and the woman who normally watched the baby with her own brood had left to spend the holiday with family in the countryside.
When we arrived, I suppressed a gasp, taking in the dingy room with iron-barred window and tattered curtain; “Home Sweet Home” to this family of 6.
Beyond the flotsam of clothing and articles strewn about the floor, a hot plate on a rickety table, a dresser, and two double beds were the room’s only furnishings. On one of the beds, the youngest child – a 7 month old infant – lay gurgling with arms and legs flailing; happily oblivious to her surroundings and the life sentence of poverty to which, in my mind, she was most certainly condemned.
I had to help her – help them.
Love makes you do “crazy things”, they say. Or in my case, “dumb things”.
For the next year or so, I sent cash in the mail. Three to five crisp American 20 dollar bills folded into a letter sent every couple of months to an address my teacher said was her uncle’s.
I didn’t know if the money ever made it to her, if it was being intercepted by sticky-fingered post office workers – or perhaps her uncle.
And even if the money ended up in my teacher’s hands, how could I know what she spent it on? How much went to buy the children food, clothes, school supplies or medicine?
Without a regular way to stay in touch and hear how the children were doing, I found it hard to keep the idea alive that my good, though ill-executed intentions, were making the lives of those kids any better.
Besides, how long could I keep sending money into a black hole?
I decided my version of child sponsorship wasn’t sustainable.
So I stopped.
And what bugged me most isn’t just that this was a long distance break up; it was the fact that I was the deadbeat who walked out on four little kids.
Feeling guilty and helpless, I went on a hiatus from child sponsorship (if you could call random money-mailings “sponsorship”) … until I started guest blogging for Food for the Hungry Canada (FH).
And I decided child sponsorship deserved another look. Here’s what I found…
Long Distance Love Works
According to clinical psychologistDr. Ben Michaelis, four factors improve the staying power of long distance relationships – if you’re willing to put in the effort:
- Put your relationship first and make it a priority in your thoughts and in your life;
- Commit to investing the time and energy to keep in regular contact – the more the better;
- Share what’s going on in your “world” – your community – for a deeper connection;
- Plan where the relationship is going in the future and how to get there.
Sure, you might say, Dr. Michaelis is talking about “romantic” relationships. But these factors apply to child sponsorship, too. Let me explain.
Remember my little story? Here’s why my solo sponsorship effort was a big “fail”:
- My giving wasn’t deliberate, it was random. I sent cash only when I thought of it, and when the guilt pangs moved into the high decibel range.
- I was disconnected from my teacher and her kids. Without regular communication I didn’t know what was going on in their lives or their world, or how my gifts were making a difference.
- There was no foreseeable end to my giving. I could give until the cows came home and the circumstances of those kids could stay the same – or maybe get worse.
No prioritization, no commitment, no sharing, no planning = one serving of burnt relationship “toast”.
Thankfully, what I found is the experience of giving through a sponsorship program is totally different. It hits the mark on all four criteria on Michaelis’ checklist – with amazing results, I might add.
In a study of sponsored children in 5 countries, University of Minnesota Development Economist, Dr. Bruce Wydick found that sponsored children were:
- 27-40% more likely to finish secondary school;
- 50-80% more likely to finish university;
- 14-18% more likely to get a salaried job – with 35% more likely to get a white collar job; and
- overall more likely to become community or church leaders.
In families with several children, evidence showed that sponsorship of one child had positive ripple effects on unsponsored siblings.
Wydick also discovered an important clue to a sponsored child’s success – one we could add to Michaelis’ list of success factors.
In Christianity Today, Wydick quotes child advocate and author, Wess Stafford, who describes the “secret sauce” of child sponsorship success 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 they are given special gifts from God to benefit their communities, and we help them try to develop aspirations for their future.
Wydick calls this “The Hope Hypothesis”. But the real life experiences of sponsored children show it’s a proven one. Just check out the video, “Amalia’s Story”, about a former FH sponsored child, and you’ll see what I mean.
So how does a child sponsorship program pull this off? Let’s take a look at how it works at FH. (HINT: Keep Michaelis’ list of long distance relationship success factors handy):
- When you sign up to sponsor a child with FH, you’ve made an important decision that needs to be backed by time and money to work – you’ve made it a priority. Displaying your child’s photo in a high traffic area – like on the fridge in your kitchen – keeps them in sight and top of mind.
- There’s a monthly commitment of $38 that goes along with child sponsorship – not a lot when you consider that’s $1.27/day. But the purchasing power of your pocket change goes a long way to covering school costs, providing public health education, and supporting community projects and programs focused on agriculture, nutrition, income generation, and clean water supply.
- A big part of FH’s program is sharing. Your child will write to you, and you’ll get status reports from FH about their personal growth and development, health, schooling, and community projects. It’s easy to see the emotional – and practical – impacts of your investment.
- Finally, at FH, sponsorship fits into a bigger 10-year plan to move communities from “stuck” to self-sustaining. Unlike my story of love lost, FH child sponsorship has a happy ending. Your support continues until your child finishes school, moves away, or their community “graduates”.
…now let’s review our list: Priority (check), Commitment (check), Sharing (check), and Planning (check).
Awesome. Long distance love through child sponsorship WORKS!
And here’s how you can get started…
The RIGHT Way To Sponsor A Child
As the classic Linda Ronstadt song goes, “It’s so easy to fall in love…” Here’s how in 3 simple steps:
- Get in the mood – a joyful one, that is! Witness the joy sponsorship brings to children and sponsors alike by watching singer, FH advocate and child sponsor Jon Neufeld’s video.
- Fall in love. It could be love at first sight as you look through the photos of eligible children. But if it’s hard to decide, choose a child: that shares your birthday month, an interest or a hobby; or that is the same age as your own child. Every one is precious. Punch the “Sponsor Me” button, fill in the form, and watch your mailbox for your sponsor’s welcome package.
- Exchange love notes. You’ll hear through your child’s letters how your support has ignited a tiny spark that will grow into a burning beacon of hope. If you’d like to write back, use the on-line form.
Do you see how amazing long distance love is?
Through sponsorship, you show AND tell your sponsored child, their parents and their community, that the life of a child has value in your eyes – and more importantly – in God’s eyes.
And in doing so, you confer on them the confidence that helps them help themselves out of poverty.
Normally these children might waste away in some forgotten rural backwater with little hope of escaping the cycle of poverty. But someone – YOU – can show them they are capable of so much more.
When you believe in them, they come to believe in themselves.
So, to answer any of your lingering questions…
- “Is there a real child behind the photo on my fridge?” YES!
- “Can my love transcend the distance to touch a heart thousands of kilometers away?” YES!
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to take your relationship to the next level…
Sponsor a child with FH and make a commitment to long distance love this Valentine’s Day!
Do you sponsor a child? Tell me your long distance love story in the comments.
Do you sponsor a child? Tell me your long distance love story in the comments.
Wendy Ripmeester is a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant for socially and environmentally conscious companies and nonprofits. Connect with Wendy on Linked In at https://ca.linkedin.com/in/sustainabilitycopywriter or on Twitter @WRipmeester.