5 ways the pandemic is making poverty worse


Summer 2021 will look wildly different, depending on where you live. While the United States is hitting vaccination milestones, watching COVID-19 infections drop and relaxing restrictions, most developing countries are still struggling with the pandemic — with no clear end in sight. Vulnerable communities (like the ones Children International serves) are bearing the brunt of COVID-19’s long-term burden:

  • The World Bank predicts the coronavirus pandemic will push an additional 150 million people into extreme poverty by this year.
  • UNICEF warns that the pandemic’s impact on disadvantaged children could last their entire lives.
  • Pew Research estimates the global poverty rate will rise to 10.4% this year.

Beyond the obvious risks of COVID-19 itself, the pandemic has created new roadblocks to all four of the key outcomes Children International programs address: Healthy, educated, empowered and employed.

The pandemic is creating complex problems for children and youth — but sponsorship provides solutions. Sponsorship makes a difference now and later. Sponsorship provides immediate, direct aid to children, youth and their families. Child sponsorship also provides health care, educational and empowerment opportunities, and employment assistance — the things we know help children break free from poverty over time.

The fight against COVID-19 is far from over for people living in poverty. Here’s how …

PROBLEM: Food insecurity 

The pandemic disrupted all parts of the food supply chain and crashed local economies. The result was disastrous for families already living on the edge of hunger. The UN’s World Food Programme estimates that in 2021, 271.8 million people in the countries they serve will be “acutely food insecure” because of the multilayered impacts of COVID-19.

Global acute food insecurity



million people



million people

Source: wfp.org



million people (projected)




Sponsorship Solution: Direct Assistance

In 2020, Children International agencies saw shutdowns create financial emergencies for families. They sprung into action. All sponsored families received a minimum of two direct assistance packages in 2020. Families spent this money on their most urgent needs, including groceries. In the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, Children International and its sponsors delivered more than $4 million of assistance — cash transfers, store vouchers, food baskets and health kits — directly to families in need. Sponsorship will help deliver two more packages to each family this year.

PROBLEM: Limited Health Care

Even before the pandemic, communities living in poverty didn’t have many available (or affordable!) services: Globally, 50% of people lack access to essential health care. When pandemic shutdowns started in 2020, in-person medical and dental care was even harder to find. As governments and clinics poured resources into the COVID-19 emergency, preventive, poverty-busting care often went by the wayside.

Global access to health care

Source: worldbank.org



Sponsorship Solution: Telehealth & Referrals

In 2020, Children International medical and dental teams shifted from in-person care to connecting sponsored families to telehealth visits (more than 34,000 this past year) and referring — and paying for — treatments at local clinics that remained open. Child sponsorship will help families continue to access both remote and in-person care this year.

PROBLEM: Disrupted Education

When the pandemic shutdowns closed schools and slowed economies worldwide, vulnerable families struggled to pay school fees on reduced incomes. Students had to figure out how to attend online classes with limited technology and stay in school despite mounting stress and responsibilities at home. Because of these challenges, The World Bank’s Learning Poverty rate — the percentage of students who can’t read by age 10 — is expected to jump from 53% to 63% post-pandemic in low- and middle-income countries.

Students who can't read by age 10
from low- and middle-income countries

Source: worldbank.org

Problem: Disrupted


Sponsorship Solution: Scholarships, Tech Help & Remote Programming

In 2020, Children International’s education program teams quickly shifted to supporting students’ transition to online classes. Scholarships and grants (for elementary, high school, college and vocational school) kept students in school. Despite limited technology infrastructure and lack of access to reliable internet connections and mobile devices, local staff found creative ways to help families secure data plans and phones and tablets. Tutoring, technology, English and other education programs continued online, helping thousands of students keep learning during the shutdowns. Some families used their direct assistance packages to pay for school fees, data plans and devices needed for online classes. Sponsorship helps continue to fight the pandemic learning gap with these financial, technological and programming interventions.

PROBLEM: Limited Mental Health Services

The Lancet Psychiatry reports COVID-19 has increased levels of mental health distress in low- to middle-income countries, which also lack wide access to mental health services. Globally, 80% of people with mental health conditions don’t get the care they need, and the pandemic has interrupted what services did exist. Even without a global pandemic, living in poverty causes stress and emotional strain. In past research, Children International found 60% of the 6-year-olds we serve had under-developed coping skills when it came to negative emotions and stress.

People with mental health conditions

Source: apps.who.int



Sponsorship Solution: Emotional Well-Being Program

Children International has been piloting a program that teaches resilience skills to children and youth in Mexico and India. After seeing how much students needed this mental health support during the pandemic, Children International is bringing the program to all of its children and youth in 2021. Sponsorship will help thousands of children and youth learn how to identify emotions, self-care and self-calm this year.


PROBLEM: Fewer Job Opportunities

A reliable job with a fair wage is one of the last hurdles to leaving poverty behind, but 2020 found jobs disappearing in the wake of the pandemic. The global labor market lost 114 million jobs, and women, young people and low-wage and/or low-skilled workers were hardest hit. In fact, the International Labour Organization reported that many young people in low- and middle-income countries who were ready to get jobs in 2020 just stopped trying: Many countries saw rising numbers of youth who were not employed, getting educated or in any kind of job training.

Global pandemic employment losses in 2020

Source: ilo.org



Sponsorship Solution: Employment Programming

Children International’s employment programs transitioned to online programming in 2020 when shutdowns began and responded to quickly changing local job markets. Despite all the challenges — closed businesses, hiring freezes, recessions — Children International helped thousands of young people start their careers during a global pandemic. Sponsorship will help young people continue to build their employment skills, find jobs and start small businesses in 2021.

How has the pandemic changed the way you think about sponsorship?

Leave a comment below.


Aug 10, 2021

I have an ever-present level of anxiety about the welfare and future of the 22 CI children and youths (and their families) that I help and love. The nature of pinching poverty allows no other mindset -- but when pandemic lockdowns were ordered in the Spring of 2020, my anxiety became chilling dread. My head was full of worse-case scenarios. What calmed me was the instant inventiveness of CI employees and volunteers. Immediately, they found ways to still make good things happen. In my eyes and in my heart CI employees and volunteers are people of continuous courageous action.

Aug 29, 2021

The pandemic environment has challenged CI and others to explore new ways of delivering sponsorship benefits, including staying us connected with children. We all are affected by it, but I felt that continuation of my sponsorship during this time has been more pressing than ever before.

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