Everyone has seen sponsor-a-child ads – a small, hopeless child, dotted with flies, looks up from the rickety background of the developing world, while representatives from a nonprofit organization ask for a small monthly donation to improve his or her living conditions.
But where does the money go? While the answer no doubt depends on the organization, a recent misunderstanding about the use of her monthly donations has led a Canadian sponsor to withdraw her assistance from World Vision, an international Christian relief and development organization operating in Costa Rica, which she had been supporting for the past five years.
Quebec resident Diane Schryer paid $31 per month during this time to sponsor a Costa Rican girl from 27 de abril, an impoverished neighborhood in Santa Cruz, in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
When she came to Costa Rica in February, Schryer visited Lorena Jiménez, 11, her sponsored child, and her family along with representatives from World Vision Costa Rica and discovered that her monthly donation was not going where she thought it was.
In an e-mail from Quebec, Schryer told The Tico Times she believed her money was going toward sponsoring Jiménez directly and assisting in 22 community projects including paying for school supplies, construction of an aqueduct to bring potable water to the community, and a community garden.
“I was told that I was sponsoring a child and some projects but nothing was done, no money went to the family, no money went to buy her clothes or school supplies or for anything. I was told that I was sponsoring a child – when I was there I was told that nothing goes to the family, because they don’t want them to be dependent,” she wrote in her e-mail to The Tico Times.
However, World Vision Costa Rica, and Jiménez’s mother, Deyanira Jiménez, who spoke to The Tico Times in a phone interview from World Vision offices in Santa Cruz, explained that non-financial assistance has been supplied both to the sponsored child and her community.
Jiménez said she could not explain what may have led to the misunderstanding with Schryer, adding that during her visit to Jimenez’s home, Schryer directed all her questions to her daughter, and never to her.
World Vision Costa Rica marketing director Carlos Simón said nowhere in the organization’s publicity is it specified that monetary donations go directly to the families of the sponsored children.
“We are not an organization that provides direct assistance. We promote development,” Simón said, adding that communities that receive direct assistance become dependent.
Instead of sending monthly donations directly to sponsored children, World Vision sponsorship entails making a child an ambassador for his or her community, which will benefit collectively from the assistance, Simón explained.
Within each of the almost 50 countries where the organization offers sponsorship opportunities, World Vision runs a study based on international development indicators to determine which are the communities in need. Once a community is selected, World Vision promotes development there for 10-15 years, Simón explained.
For example, if in a particular town, sponsored children’s parents lack job opportunities, World Vision seeks sources of employment for them, he said.
Lost in Translation
Karen Homer, public relations representative for World Vision Canada at their office in Mississauga, Ontario, told The Tico Times Schryer’s case is an exception and the problem may have resulted from communication difficulties with the francophone sponsor.
Of World Vision’s 320,000 Canadian sponsors, approximately 500 per year travel to visit their sponsored child and the vast majority are very pleased with the experience, she told The Tico Times in a phone interview from Canada.
Canadian sponsor and 2002 World Vision volunteer Lianne Pelletier said she is well pleased with her sponsorship experience.
“It’s a fantastic feeling that you’re helping this child develop,” Pelletier said in a phone interview from Ottawa, Canada.
The 23-year-old University of Ottawa graduate student said she has been sponsoring a now 10-year-old Romanian boy since 2003.
Pelletier pointed out that she was well informed through World Vision pamphlets, that her monthly donation of $30 does not go directly to her sponsored child, but to his community, and mentioned this is a “fantastic way of not favoring sponsored children over those who aren’t.”
In Schryer’s case, “some things may have been lost in translation,” Homer said.
For instance, she pointed out the former sponsor, who rejected World Vision’s offer to be flown to Costa Rica on another visit to her sponsored child to work out the misunderstanding, asked to see the community garden project she was funding with her donations.
However, instead of a garden, World Vision donated materials and assistance to build an orchard at Jiménez’s school, Escuela 27 de abril, which Schryer did not go to during her visit, Simón said.
As for the aqueduct, Simón explained that World Vision did not build one for 27 de abril, but for the neighboring community of San José de la Montaña (not to be confused with San José de la Montaña in the province of Heredia), which had not had an aqueduct for the past 100 years and was previously forced to draw water from 27 de abril.
However, Schryer was not informed of this during her visit, Simón said. Simón said the Canadian sponsor described her trip as excellent in a review form she filled out for World Vision Costa Rica, a comment that baffled them when Schryer voiced her complaints to World Vision Canada and francophone media after her return to Canada, according to Simón.
Deyanira Jiménez, a single mother who bakes bread and sweets to support her four children, confirmed that World Vision has helped her and her family for the past 11 years.
“I am really grateful to them for their help,” she told The Tico Times, listing school materials, clothes and 10 solar-powered ovens, one of which sits in her home, as some of the donations the organization has made to her community.
Simón said World Vision distributed 16,000 school packages in Guanacaste at the beginning of the school year in March, which included uniforms, shoes, and school supplies.
After the incident with Schryer, World Vision Costa Rica is considering modifying certain policies to avoid similar misunderstandings in the future, according to World Vision Costa Rica communications representative Heillen Sánchez.
An annual report mailed to sponsors, which includes general information about World Vision assistance, could be made more specific in the future. Personnel might be trained to standardize the process of sponsor visits to their sponsored children, she added.
World Vision, which recently began advertising on Costa Rican radio stations seeking new sponsors, was started in 1950 to help children orphaned during the Korean War, and now helps approximately 3 million sponsored children throughout the world, according to Homer.
For more information about the U.S.-based organization, visit its Web site at www.worldvision.org.