We’ve all felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, we are slowly moving toward post-pandemic life and beginning to process the changes and losses we experienced.
But pandemic dangers still exist in many of our sponsored children and youth’s communities. Families living in poverty continue to struggle with loss of income and lack of jobs. Many families don’t know when their children will be able to go back to school ... or when things will get better. Unequal vaccine distribution and lack of public resources make it hard for low-income countries to control the virus and recover from economic setbacks. Experts are warning of a “two-track pandemic,” where the poor will be left struggling for years while richer nations get “back to normal.”
The global community is working to ensure vaccines get to everyone. In the meantime, Children International sponsors are providing a much-needed safety net for children and youth living in poverty.
During the pandemic, sponsorship has become even more powerful — and necessary. Why? Because sponsorship delivers what children and youth need to survive today and the tools they need for a brighter future tomorrow. In moments of crisis during the pandemic, sponsored children and youth have someone to turn to. Whether their family needs help buying groceries or they need help accessing their online classes, they know they aren’t facing these challenges alone.
Here are 5 ways child sponsorship is making an immediate, essential impact:
Many of the communities we serve have limited access to medical, dental and mental health services to begin with. The pandemic put added pressure on those limited resources, making it even harder for families to get the care they need. Sponsorship closes the health care gap. Local medical and dental clinics provide essential telehealth and (when possible) in-person appointments, refer families to outside specialists, help pay for services, and educate families on healthy behaviors. Sponsorship also provides access to mental health supports, including therapy and emotional well-being programs that teach resiliency skills — important as children and youth continue to live with significant pandemic stress.
Erick hurt his toe playing soccer in the fall of 2020. He and his mother tried to treat the injury at home, but the toe kept getting more and more inflamed and eventually developed a lump. Erick was in a lot of pain and having trouble walking. His local government health service was overwhelmed by the pandemic, so it was hard to get an appointment.
Through his sponsorship, Erick was able to get a consultation with a Children International physician, who referred him to a dermatologist to remove the lump. Sponsorship ensured Erick’s treatment — and the tests needed to confirm the lump was not cancerous — came at no cost to his family. Within a month, his toe was fully healed, and Erick was back to playing.
Erick, 14, Sponsored youth
In 2020, sponsorship helped provide two direct assistance packages for sponsored families. This money was given without requirements; families could use it to meet whatever their most pressing need was at the time — groceries, rent, remote school costs and more. While the pandemic persists, every Children International family will continue to receive two direct assistance gifts a year to help them weather ongoing economic hardships.
When his parents lost their jobs because of the pandemic, Mutale started collecting discarded plastic bottles in the street to sell for grocery money.
“I had no option but to help my parents look for money,” Mutale says. “I used to feel bad that I couldn’t stay at home like the other neighborhood children. At times I used to get scared that I might contract the disease.”
Through his sponsorship, Mutale and his family received a grocery gift card, soap and shoes. This emergency assistance helped Mutale’s parents get back on their feet; they opened up a small vegetable kiosk business that is now covering their basic needs.
Mutale, 14, Sponsored youth
Education is key to leaving poverty behind, but the pandemic has added to the challenges vulnerable students face. Stay-at-home orders forced classes online, but many of the families we work with lack access to reliable internet connections and mobile devices. Parents who lost jobs because of the pandemic have trouble paying for school fees and supplies, let alone internet packages. Some children quit school to find work to support their families. Through the support of sponsors, our local teams have connected students to scholarships, remote learning technology and other educational materials. Virtual tutoring sessions and other online learning opportunities are helping children and youth stay on top of their studies. Local staff also took empowering programs online, so children and youth could continue to develop life skills through sports, arts, music, leadership and more.
Pawan is known for being an attentive, serious student, but when school shut-downs began, he had to find new ways to learn. Pawan misses seeing his friends at school and being able to ask his teachers questions in-person. He has been participating in virtual group tutoring, made possible by his sponsorship.
“To keep the momentum, I studied at home myself and through Children International’s tasks that I received via WhatsApp,” Pawan explains. “Group tutoring helped me with my studies. Now all schools are shut, but once they start, I will be able to follow the syllabus.”
Both of his parents lost their jobs because of the pandemic; Pawan’s father began selling masks to make ends meet. Sometimes Pawan steps in to help. His family has received direct assistance from Children International — another benefit of sponsorship.
Pawan Das, 13, Sponsored youth
A team of skilled local staff and volunteers is at the heart of every Children International community. When the pandemic began, these teams not only had to figure out how to keep providing existing programs and services remotely, but they also had to develop entirely new responses to COVID-19’s new challenges. All of our locations created task forces to coordinate with local governments and other NGOs to meet our children and youth’s pandemic-related needs. And all of our teams also began proactive efforts to stay in regular communication with sponsored families. These calls became lifelines during shutdowns and uncertain times; teams will continue to regularly check-in with families as the pandemic drags on.
Agency Director - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Sofía Betances’s team of staff and volunteers in Santo Domingo knew they needed to stay in touch with sponsored children and youth when the pandemic forced their community centers to close.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we did not have the telephones of all the sponsored families nor any way to contact them that wasn’t in person or through the volunteers,” Sofía explains.
Her team jumped into action, creating strategies to keep two-way communication going despite the lockdowns. They helped get data plans and mobile devices to families without internet access. They identified apps and programs that could help the team communicate and continue their programming online. And they set up regular calls and virtual groups to keep families connected with both Children International and each other.
“All of the above required us to reinvent ourselves and reallocate our resources, establishing new priorities, and being much more effective,” Sofía says. None of that on-the-ground work would be possible without the support of sponsors.
Sofía Betances, agency director
SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Finally, sponsorship offers the most powerful gift of all: Hope. Over and over again, sponsored children, youth and their families have told us support and encouragement from their sponsors has meant the world to them during this ongoing crisis. Knowing there is someone out there not only helping meet their concrete needs but cheering them on — that’s a powerful thing. Sponsors are a source of hope to children living in poverty — and tangible proof that they matter.
In addition to the education help she’s received, Litzy says the best thing about being sponsored is the letters she gets to trade with her sponsor, “Mr. Jeremy.”
“He is the best thing that has happened to me being here,” Litzy says. “Even though I don’t know him, I feel that he is with me .... He has helped me with everything.”
During the pandemic, Jeremy’s sponsorship has given Litzy economic assistance for groceries, mental health sessions, and an educational grant for school supplies.
“When we had to buy school supplies, we didn’t have much money,” Litzy remembers. When her educational grant came through, she and her mom were surprised and relieved. “We went to buy the missing supplies, and I cried so much that day. I could not believe how much he helped me at that moment when I needed it so much.”
Litzy says Jeremy encourages her to keep studying in his letters, which her whole family looks forward to reading. She hopes she gets to meet him in person one day.
Litzy, 13, Sponsored youth