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Unique organization sponsors seniors, not just children

The biblical call to help the poor and oppressed is clear, which for one world relief organization involves more than collecting donations and giving handouts.

Unique organization sponsors seniors, not just children

Esteban, a sponsored elder in Guatemala, enjoys playing with his dogs.

The biblical call to help the poor and oppressed is clear, which for one world relief organization involves more than collecting donations and giving handouts.

    

Maria, 68, and her husband Jose, 66, make school uniforms in their community in El Salvador.

    

Members of a mothers group in Guatemala sit in front of baskets they produce to generate income. Pictured are Ana (foreground) and (in back, from left) Maria, Dora and Maria Eva.

In 1981, five men and women used their Christmas card lists to request financial support for impoverished families overseas. This was the beginning of the Christian Foundation for Children, renamed the Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging a few years later.

Today, this organization is called “Unbound.” The 2014 name change reflects their mission of helping people set themselves free from the bindings of poverty. Larry Livingston, one of Unbound’s writers, says that “from the beginning, the founders of Unbound believed it was essential that they not impose solutions but listen to the families, learn about their realities and rely on their talents and ideas to develop their own solutions.”

The result is an organization grounded in Catholic social teaching that sends over $100 million per year to the developing world based almost entirely on individual, $36 monthly donations. To learn more, I spoke with Andrew Kling, Unbound’s Community Outreach and Media Relations Director, and Pritha Hariharan, Unbound’s Regional Program Director for Africa and Asia.

Prioritizing people
Unbound’s guiding principle is to partner with people on the ground. “No matter how smart, well-educated or well-intentioned I may be,” Andrew explained, “I will never know more about what it takes to overcome poverty in Bolivia than a mother there trying to give her daughter a better life. I’m going to invest in her expertise – our job is to be faithful partners along the way.”

They gave the example of handing out shoes. Appropriate footwear helps protect people’s feet from animals and infection, but this seemingly kind and beneficial handout could have devastating consequences. What happens to the local shoemaker in this scenario? He cannot compete with free shoes, so he sinks into a deeper level of poverty. This is why Unbound leaves it to individual families and communities to decide how to use the money they receive.

Pritha gave the example of a mother’s group that started in Hyderabad, India. A group of 15 to 20 mothers decided to pool a portion of their child sponsorship donations each month into a “lending fund.” As a result, each family now has a resource from which they can draw to pursue significant life improvements, like starting small businesses, completing house renovations, pursuing education or receiving aid during an emergency.

The mother’s group also built community since the mothers decided together how to distribute the group’s money, and they each held each other accountable to ensure the borrowers followed through on whatever project they borrowed money for. This initiative was so successful that many Unbound communities across the world now use a similar model.

An overlooked group
Like many world relief organizations, Unbound runs a child sponsorship program. As early as 1984, one Unbound community started using their donations to help an equally vulnerable group of people – the elderly. Since then, elder sponsorship has become a permanent part of Unbound’s mission.

The goal of child sponsorship is to break the cycle of poverty, whereas the goal of elder sponsorship is to break the cycle of isolation. Impoverished elders often disappear because they want to avoid further burdening their already struggling families. A $36 monthly donation helps pay for an elder’s medical costs, clothing and living expenses so they feel less pressure to leave.

For overseas sponsors, there’s the potential for rich dialogue and companionship. Young children may not have the writing ability or attention span to send detailed letters, but the elderly can more easily share their stories and wisdom with new friends across the world.  

While Unbound has a strong theological base, being a Christian is not a prerequisite to receiving (or sending) aid. The goal is to help people through partnership.

 “Everyone is a child of God,” Andrew explained, “created in the image of God, and our job is to honour the dignity of each person.”  



 

About the Author
Unique organization sponsors seniors, not just children

Brent Bonvanie

Brent Bonvanie is an English Masters grad turned freelance writer who blogs at shedthesundayschoolglasses.blogspot.ca.