Starfish 101: Back to Basics

christianitytodayIn the final days leading up to our 6th annual mission trip to the Dominican Republic…I must confess – I wasn’t feeling up to the task. After celebrating Starfish’s 5th anniversary last year and enjoying all of the excitement surrounding that milestone – our 6th year had begun to feel like somewhat of a letdown. For the first time in 5 years, our fundraising was down from the previous year. This would mean turning away some kids that were helped last year.  I was disappointed in our efforts and felt like we had let the children down.  I was discouraged, and even began to second guess the work that we do.  After 6 years of equipping these children for school…I began to wonder – are we really making a difference?

Shortly before leaving the country, I stumbled upon the latest issue of Christianity Today – whose cover read “Does Child Sponsorship Work?”  The lead article was written by a top economist and it highlighted a study on the impact of child sponsorship.  Although I feared the results of the study, my prayer was that the article would validate what Starfish had been doing over the past 6 years and hopefully be a source of encouragement at a time when I really needed it…and it was!

Here are some excerpts from the article:

  • Child sponsorship makes sense.  By focusing on youth instead of adults, it aims to nip poverty in the bud, providing children in the developing world access to education, health services and, in some programs, spiritual guidance.
  • Child sponsorship results in better educational outcomes for children.  Overall, sponsorship makes children 27-40% more likely to complete secondary school, and 50-80% more likely to complete a university education.
  • Child sponsorship means that when the child grows up, he is 14-18% more likely to obtain a salaried job, and 35% more likely to obtain a white-collar job.  We found some evidence that they are more likely to grow up to be both community leaders and church leaders.
  • Poverty causes children to have very low self-esteem, low aspirations.  Sponsorships expand children’s views about their own possibilities.  Many of these children don’t think they are capable of much.  (Sponsorships) help them realize that they are each given special gifts from God to benefit their communities and help them develop aspirations for their future.
  • While some interventions can be helpful in the right context, mere provision fails to address the root of poverty:  the behaviors, social systems, and mindset that are created by poverty.  The key to ending poverty resides in the capacity of human beings – and their view of their own capacity – to facilitate positive change.
  • Along with providing some basic resources that allow children to progress farther in school, the child-development approach appears to get under the hood of human beings to instill aspirations, character formation, and spiritual direction.  In short, it trains people to be givers instead of receivers.

So the answer to the question “Does Child Sponsorship Work?” is a resounding “Yes!”  Similar to child sponsorships, the work of Starfish is also a “child-centered approach” in that we are investing in these children directly.  We are not just giving them a “hand out”, but rather we are inspiring hope for a future and better quality of life by giving them not only access to education, but instilling aspirations, building their self-esteem and reinforcing the importance of a relationship with God.

Also, while I was in the Dominican Republic this year, the Associated Press published the results of a study conducted by UNICEF on childhood poverty in the Dominican Republic. The study found that ½ of Dominicans under the age 18 live in poverty – struggling to get enough food, access to safe drinking water and adequate housing. The study also found that only 30% of kids finish primary school while only 18% finish secondary school on time – and those schools are in poor shape.  Nearly 50% of the schools have no drinking water and nearly 60% have no toilets.

So…from these two studies alone, God reminded me that:

1) there is definitely a need in the Dominican Republic

2) the work of Starfish is indeed making a difference. This really fired me up!

The “post 5th anniversary” blues subsided and our decreased funding mattered not. It was going to be another great year serving God in the Dominican Republic as we continue to do our best to make a difference…one child at a time!

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