National Reading Month, literacy, child sponsorships tackle global poverty

By March 18, 2013

International (CMP/MNN) — March is National Reading Month in the United States.

In a developed country like this, literacy is assumed. However, it is estimated that the worldwide illiteracy rate is 21.6%. Many believe that education as a basic human right and that literacy unlocks the door to a life of learning. Higher literacy levels enable people to overcome the barriers of poverty, disease and fulfill their potential.

This is where Compassion International comes in. Their child sponsorship program provides the framework to address poverty, disease, and hope and community transformation. Compassion spokesman Tim Glenn says child sponsorship is a three billion dollar a year industry, and no one has ever done research to find out if it actually works…until now.

A new peer-reviewed, independent study on the viability of international child sponsorship led by Dr. Bruce Wydick, Professor of Economics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, reveals large and statistically significant impacts on life outcomes for children enrolled in Compassion International's Christian child sponsorship program.

"We were surprised to see that no one had ever done research to determine if international child sponsorship really works," said Wydick. "So we conducted a study of Compassion International's program in six countries we believed to be representative of its work around the globe. What we found was that Compassion's child-centered development approach to sponsorship has many strong, positive impacts on the adult life outcomes of these formerly sponsored children."

On the surface, Glenn explains, "Our program brings kids into the classroom, and we're also providing mentors, and tutors for after school programs to make sure that those literacy rates are up."

Then, he connects literacy to breaking the cycle of poverty. "For those who are literate, who are able to read or write, all of a sudden their employment opportunities jump. Their future potential jumps. The opportunity to complete secondary education, to complete university education increases dramatically."

Does that equal community development? It does, Glenn asserts. "They (the researchers) went into six countries where Compassion works. They looked back 20 years ago at kids who are in our program, who are adults now, to find out if our program made a difference in their lives, if their adult live outcomes had improved compared to kids who weren't in our program."

Key findings:
• Former Compassion sponsored children stay in school 1 to 1.5 years longer than their non-sponsored peers. (In Uganda, the numbers are much higher: 2.4 years.) An extra year of schooling could have long-lasting impact on a child's future employment possibilities as an adult.
• Former Compassion sponsored children were 27-40% more likely to finish secondary education than those who were not enrolled in the child sponsorship program.
• Former Compassion sponsored children were 50-80% more likely to complete a university education than non-sponsored children.
• As adults, former Compassion sponsored children were 14-18% more likely to have salaried employment than their non-sponsored peers.
• As adults, former Compassion sponsored children were roughly 35% more likely to secure white-collar employment than their non-sponsored peers.
• Former Compassion sponsored children were 30-75% more likely to become community leaders as adults than their non-sponsored peers.
• Former Compassion sponsored children were 40-70% more likely to become church leaders as adults than their non-sponsored peers.

The researchers found a model that works. Glenn explains their approach. "We don't build churches or create churches. We find churches that are in the communities that are evangelical Bible teaching churches. We find staff in those churches because they know the communities and they know the neediest families. They bring the kids into that church program, where they're fed, clothed and educated, but most importantly, they learn the gospel of Jesus Christ."

More specifically, their program has a long-term focus on community transformation. "When you're living in extreme poverty, opportunity doesn't come very often. When opportunity comes in the form of a program that provides education, life skills, that provides leadership skills, all of a sudden, you're not just changing the child, and you're changing a family. You're changing a family, then you're changing a community. When you're changing a community, that changes a nation."

Kids who have thrived through the Compassion sponsorship program often return home to effect change. Glenn clarifies, "We have kids in our program who are now national leaders in their countries and changing the laws and the scope of their countries because someone sponsored that child and gave them that opportunity. It all starts with one person saying ‘I want to speak into that life and give that child an opportunity'."

Wydick's team conducted their independent research over two years. In total, they studied over 1,850 formerly Compassion-sponsored children in six different countries where Compassion International offered child sponsorship programs between 1980 and 1992. In all, the team collected data on 10,144 people. The study was funded in part by USAID through BASIS, a development economics research center based at the University of California at Davis.

Wess Stafford, Compassion International president and CEO says, of the findings, "While we are immensely gratified with the statistical evidence that the Wydick study provides, we can humbly say that we are not surprised. We have seen God's blessing on this ministry since its inception. And, as hard as we work to rescue every little boy and girl from the grip of poverty, He deserves the glory for the results."

In light of this study, you could say that March is really "Community Transformation Month." The question is, are you part of it?

The full study is tentatively scheduled for publication in April 2013 issue of the Journal of Political Economy edited by the economics department at the University of Chicago. For more information and resources regarding the research, go to

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