Do child sponsorship programs really work?


By Andrea Edwards and Reed Hewitt, STCH Ministries

After 10 years in the Dominican Republic, STCH Ministries can attest to the results.

Food. Water. Shelter. All things that most of us would agree are at the most basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Yet many people spend their lives without the assurance of these necessities. It is no secret that multitudes around the world are living below the poverty level—about 700 million, according to the World Bank. For them, it is a struggle to get adequate food and clothing, let alone medical care and an education.

When parents are unable to supply their children with the most basic essentials of life, those children suffer not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually, and the resulting cycle of poverty becomes entrenched for generations. The sheer scale of global need is staggering, but there are ways for the typical American family to make a difference, such as international child sponsorship programs like Samuel’s Fund, operated by STCH Ministries.

The idea is simple: an individual or family in a relatively affluent country like America gives a monthly contribution to support a child in poverty overseas. The gift is scarcely a burden to most household budgets, but has life-changing value to the child. Beyond this basic principle, child sponsorship comes in many shapes and sizes.

STCH Ministries, a Texas Baptists organization, has been operating Samuel’s Fund in the Dominican Republic for 10 years. Inspired by the Old Testament prophet who heard and answered God’s call as a child, Samuel’s Fund was created to give the children of the Dominican Republic hope and a future, and to help them develop a personal relationship with God.

To meet these goals, Samuel’s Fund must be managed with laser-like focus. Joanna Berry, STCH Ministries Vice President of Family and International Ministries, puts it like this: “We have a teaspoon of resources for an ocean of need.”

To ensure that that “teaspoon” is administered in the place where it will do the most good, there are two criteria that all children must meet to be accepted into the program:

  1. Does the child have a need?

  2. Does the child have potential?

The first is a resounding yes in nearly all circumstances. These children desperately need food, clothing, shoes, and access to quality education, at the very least. The second is based on whether or not they have enough support in their social environment—family, for example—to make sure they are able to get to school and have encouragement to succeed. The child must also belong to some form of a Christian ministry where they can grow spiritually and fulfill the roles which God intended. And lastly, they must have stability in their home environment.

There are currently more than 200 children sponsored through Samuel’s Fund in the Dominican Republic, where STCH Ministries also brings short-term mission teams. This fact provides a way for many sponsors to meet their sponsored child and his or her family while taking part in a mission trip.

STCH Ministries partners with local churches, orphanages, and Christian schools, creating a network of local support that compliments the organization’s own full-time Dominican team members. Collectively, this ecosystem of support drastically improves the odds that sponsorship will translate into lasting change.

For STCH Ministries, accountability for sponsorship dollars is just as important before they reach the Dominican Republic. When someone steps forward to sponsor a child, Berry says, “One hundred percent of the $35 per month they donate goes directly to the needs of the child, with zero going toward administrative costs.”

When additional costs for medical care and educational supplies arise, STCH Ministries frequently covers the cost out of its operating budget, which is funded by private donations and the Texas Baptist Cooperative Program. When a family faces a critical need for food, groceries are provided through the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.

So, does child sponsorship work? For the children of Samuel’s Fund, the evidence is visible every day. It can be seen in homework assignments proudly pinned on a palm board wall, or the healthy smile of a child who now has regular medical checkups. It can even be seen in the man who gives those checkups, Dr. Francisco Paredes, who was once a Samuel’s Fund child and returned after medical school to work for STCH Ministries.

“Our goal is to help them become Christian leaders, become self-supporting, and to give back to their community,” says Berry.

In the past ten years, many children have graduated from the program and gone on to do exactly that, now playing the part of Christian role models for young children. Through the support of sponsors from thousands of miles away, a new generational cycle has taken root, replacing poverty with hope.

For more information about Samuel’s Fund, visit www.STCHM.org/SF.

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