By Kelly Little – Executive Director, Light Up Hope
I read an interesting article this year on child sponsorship. It was the cover of the June issue of Christianity Today: “Does Child Sponsorship Work?…a top economist answers”. I was literally frozen with fear when I saw the cover, we had just met with a web developer to talk about adding child sponsorship to the new website launching later this year and we have people asking us all the time if they can sponsor a Light Up Hope child, I thought to myself “can this be all wrong”? The article was on the cover of Christianity Today and the two best known child sponsorship programs in the world (Compassion International and World Vision) are both Christian organizations so I told myself there must be good news in here – or a public relations hurricane is about to hit this magazine!
I learned two things from this economic study. First, Compassion International is doing great things for 1.2 million children across the world. Second, the approach our Kenyan partners have taught me through their interactions with children is a statistically proven way to fight poverty: children growing up in poverty need PEOPLE to give them HOPE. As Wess Stafford, founder of Compassion International put it, “poverty causes children to have very low self-esteem, low aspirations. The big difference that sponsorship makes is that it expands children’s views about their own possibilities”.
Compassion International and World Vision are both great organizations and they are doing wonderful things to help children in this world. They are able to broadly help a lot of children. We are doing the same thing with Light Up Hope, but we aren’t trying to help 1.2 million children a little bit. We are trying to help a small number of children A WHOLE LOT.
As the study outlines, knowing someone cares about you is the first step towards success. We cannot simply throw microfinance, job and educational opportunities at adults to break the cycle of poverty and give people hope. To be a productive adult member of society a person must FEEL LOVED AND LOVEABLE in childhood, and those feelings aren’t learned in books, they are taught through relationship. A child must be taught that the world is a safe place and that having relationships with people in the world means you can trust and should therefore also be trustworthy.
From the time of birth we need mutually beneficial relationships with other human beings. The very first relationship any person is meant to have is with their mother. The baby needs food, protection and warmth. The mother provides it and there is a chemical released in the mother’s body that causes her to CRAVE that closeness with her child, and the child to CRAVE closeness with the mother. The chemical is called oxytocin – the “bonding hormone”. As we experience positive relationships, oxytocin is released. This powerful hormone solidifies relationships, increases trust and reduces fear and anxiety. From the minute we are born, we are born into relationships and designed to depend on each other to thrive. This is why humans interact in community.
Success in marriage, success in parenting, success in friendships, success at a job is determined by your ability to form positive relationships with the people around you and to understand how you are one piece of a larger system – be that the family unit, your community, the job market or the political environment.
All children living outside their family unit have experienced a disruption in their trust in relationships and a decrease in oxytocin, making them less trusting and more fearful. Whether their mother has died, their family has abandoned or rejected them, or because they are completely alone in the world, surviving on the streets, they will experience a chemical and emotional change in regards to relationships with other people. Which leads us to wonder, if a child’s trust in relationships with people has been broken will that child be able to positively participate in and contribute to the communities of this world?
Picture an orphan growing up alone, surviving on the streets. This child is taught that the world is a dangerous place, the child is taught to steal, beg and grab at what they need to survive with no understanding of how these actions can hurt another person or hurt themselves. They learn selfishness because the relationships they have experienced in the world have pushed them outside of society, left alone to depend only on themselves. They are not invited into mutually beneficial relationships, because much of society does not see a street child as having any VALUE. Therefore, they do not learn how to receive the benefits of being in a relationship with other people.
Now picture this same child as an adult. Give them an education, give them a small business loan, give them a job, give them a position in society of power or influence. I ask you – what is the likelihood that this child, now an adult, will make a positive influence in society? Will this businessman know how to form working relationships? Will this politician look out for the common good or only for their own selfish ambition? Will this mother know how nurture her child?
It was not the orphan’s choice to grow up knowing survivalism and fear rather than dependence and trust any more than it is was your choice to be born into the family you were born into. If you grew up in a loving home – that was not because you formed it of your free will or effort. It was a gift to you from your family.
THIS IS THE VERY SAME GIFT WE ARE TRYING TO GIVE TO THE LIGHT UP HOPE CHILDREN. WE WANT TO STEP INTO THEIR LIVES AND PROVIDE A SAFE PLACE AND SAFE PEOPLE TO OFFER THE GIFT OF HEALING, LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, PROVISION AND GUIDANCE SO THAT THEY CAN BE PREPARED TO ENTER ADULTHOOD WITH A SPIRIT OF TRUST NOT FEAR.
We believe this gift can heal hearts and be the foundation from which a person is given a chance at breaking the cycle of poverty.
And you can participate in this gift. Just as these children need people in their lives to share their life with, Light Up Hope needs people to share in the our vision to help children. We welcome you to join Light Up Hope in our efforts to help heal the wounds of orphans in Kenya.
This December, we will launch our child sponsorship program and you and your family can write letters to a child and speak affirmations into his or her life.
You can provide space and money to put in place strong mentors and transitional programs at Hope Children’s Home to help the children make the leap into adulthood – prepared and confident. You can help not only children in need – but also the mothers and fathers out there who are right now wondering if they should relinquish their son or daughter for no reason other than overwhelming poverty that denies them the ability to care for the child they deeply love.
Let’s look back on our lives with confidence that we each used what we had in our power, to ease the suffering of another human being.
“Want to Change the World? Sponsor a Child. A top economist shares the astounding news about that little picture hanging on our refrigerator” Wydick, Bruce. Christianity Today. June 2013
The Trust Molecule” Zak, Paul J. The Wall Street Journal Online. April 2012