April 10, 2023 | Child Sponsorship

Challenging Poverty With Child Sponsorship

How sponsorship unlocks opportunities for education, livelihoods and realizing potential

By Kati Burns Mallows

Yoser thinks he knows what he wants to be when he grows up.

He loves working the land, tending crops and taking care of animals. He hates studying mathematics in school but enjoys learning about the natural sciences. Growing up in Los Chiles in Costa Rica, farming is all that the 11-year-old has ever known, and he thinks one day he’ll be a farmer like his father, Antonio, and his grandparents.

Los Chiles, a “border town” only a few kilometers from Nicaragua, is an agriculture and sportfishing community. The seasonally tropical climate makes Costa Rica the world’s largest producer of pineapples and a main exporter of bananas, beans, beef, sugar and coffee, among other products. Fourteen percent of the labor force works in agriculture like Yoser’s family, but also like Yoser’s family, more than 1 million Costa Ricans live in poverty.

Yoser has only just begun to dream about his future, but his parents dream of something else for their son, as only parents do.

“I don’t want Yoser to be a farmer,” said Antonio, whose parents immigrated to Costa Rica from Nicaragua when he was a toddler. “One of my dreams is to see the two of them [Yoser and his younger brother, Yordi] at the university. … I want them to have a better life, and I am fighting to give it to them.”

When Yoser became sponsored through Unbound six years ago, the fight to help their sons realize their full potential never lessened for Antonio and his wife, Katherin, but instead became more methodical. With the right support and specific goals, they put their energy into building a sustainable future — one that is slowly leading their entire family up the path from poverty.

Their story is one of many about families overcoming poverty through the support of Unbound’s child sponsorship program.


Pictured left to right, Antonio, 31; Yoser, 11; Yordi, 5; and Katherin, 28, stand in front of the wooden cow corral on their farm in Costa Rica. United to move forward on a path out of poverty, the family has used part of their sons’ sponsorship funds to start several promising businesses.

Humanizing the challenge of global poverty

Since the early 1980s, Unbound has worked through child sponsorship to support people living on the margins of society in economically developing countries as they chart their own path to a better life. The personal attention and benefits provided over the lifetime of Unbound’s programs have allowed more than 900,000 children, youth and elders to live with dignity, achieve their inherent potential and participate fully in society.

Unbound served over 278,000 individuals in Africa, Asia and Latin America in 2022, and provided more than $105.8 million in aid via direct cash transfers and other benefits. But the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty was and will continue to be significant, and support is needed now more than ever.

According to the World Bank, an estimated 97 million people fell into poverty in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Global poverty rates rose from 7.8 percent to 9.1 percent, leading the World Bank to conclude in 2021 that three to four years of progress toward ending extreme poverty have been lost because of the pandemic.

Add to that the devastation of the fallout from the war in Ukraine, coupled with rising inflation worldwide, and it would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges and paralyzed from taking action because the problems seem too big for any single person to make a difference.

Unbound International Programs Director Dan Pearson said sponsorship is but one piece of a bigger mosaic of solutions to the world’s challenges.

“Sponsorship humanizes the scale of the challenge of global poverty and the scale of the solution,” Pearson said. “It is a critically important piece because it empowers each of us as individuals to make a difference — and in Unbound, it also empowers one family on the other side of the world to chart their own path out of poverty.”

For as little as $40 a month, sponsors partner one-on-one with a child in need. Sponsorship sets the wheels in motion for Unbound’s local staff to begin working with the child’s family to establish goals and priorities around how to best use their sponsorship funds. Combined with other household income, sponsorship funds help families reach goals related to better nutrition and health care, education and housing, and can even provide seed capital for a small business — with the resulting added income having the potential to make a long-term, lasting impact on a child’s opportunities to move beyond poverty.

Over the course of his 20 years as a sponsor through Unbound, Kansas resident Frank Franko came to realize the deep impact of child sponsorship on the lives of those who are sponsored. During a trip to Uganda, Franko met several alumni of Unbound’s child sponsorship and scholarship programs, each of whom were on their own track toward career success.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘My goodness, could this have happened without Unbound?’” said Franko, who sponsors three children with his wife, Linda. “Probably not. We give them a leg up. It’s not much for us here in the United States but it’s everything to them, giving them a chance for education, for nutrition. It makes a difference.”

Sponsorship humanizes the scale of the challenge of global poverty and the scale of the solution. It is a critically important piece because it empowers each of us as individuals to make a difference.

— Dan Pearson, Unbound International Programs Director

But no two families experience poverty the same way. Acknowledging the multi-dimensionality of poverty is one of the first steps in combating it effectively and is the approach Unbound is committed to.

In recent years, Unbound has introduced or strengthened aspects of its sponsorship program to better personalize the experience to the specific needs of the individuals and families sponsored. The introduction of direct cash transfers gives sponsored friends and their families better flexibility in how and when to use their sponsorship benefits, which simultaneously helps create greater economic stability for families. Since 2021, the organization has been rolling out a goal-based technology platform called Poverty Stoplight, an intervention model that enables people to develop practical solutions to overcome their unique challenges to poverty.

But, besides the external challenges families in poverty are faced with, Unbound staff often find that they experience internal challenges as well. Such challenges might include low self-esteem and loss of hope, but also overcoming internalized societal myths that they’re poor because they’re lazy or incapable.

“Becoming a member of the sponsorship program and attending small-group meetings in their communities [another benefit of sponsorship] can be the first step in taking the enormous risk of believing their futures could be better,” Pearson said.

Child sponsorship opens the door for a child in poverty to dream and for their entire family to find hope — what they do with their hopes and dreams doesn’t just change their world, but also the world around them.

Sponsorship can improve a family's livelihood and living situation

Unbound’s sponsorship programs are about listening to families and following their lead because they hold the best answers to improving their situations. The hope is that, over time, sponsorship would allow them the opportunity they need to rely less on sponsorship and more on their own income-generating activities.

“One of the beauties of the Unbound program is that families can make highly personalized choices in the use of the sponsorship funds according to their unique family goals,” Pearson said.

Trends in how families choose to use their sponsorship funds vary by country. For example, families in countries where educational costs are higher may choose to use more of their funds for their children’s education. In more rural areas, however, families may choose to invest more in livelihood-sustaining opportunities such as purchasing livestock, buying materials for a small business or improving their living environment.

In Guatemala, 10-year-old Ricardo’s parents have used his sponsorship funds in a variety of creative ways that are slowly helping the family get ahead. Ricardo’s mother, María, washes clothes for their neighbors, while his father, Antonio, is a day laborer, taking jobs as they come in agriculture and construction.

For the six years that Ricardo has been sponsored, María has regularly attended her Unbound mothers support group where she said she learned “how to be an enterprising woman.”

“That has helped me a lot to say, ‘I can go forward in everything that I face,’” María said. “If Unbound gave you the opportunity to enter the program, it is a great blessing, and we have to make the most of it. So, little by little each year, we did something different to [generate] money.”

With money saved from Ricardo’s sponsorship funds, María started a business raising and selling chickens. By saving the money she earned from this business, the family has been able to improve their living situation, which was dire.

Before, the family of eight lived in a one-room house with a dirt floor, and during the rainy season, the house flooded, turning the floors to mud. In addition, the unventilated kitchen inside the home regularly exposed the family to smoke from cooking.

Little by little, the family remodeled their home, expanding the footprint from one room to five, separating the kitchen from the other living spaces and updating the floor from dirt to ceramic.

“My dream is to keep moving forward with a business,” María said. “I know it will not be easy because all work is difficult, but maybe one day I will have less pressure. … I want to spend time with my children; they need it.”

In Guatemala, sponsored child Ricardo’s family used some of his sponsorship funds to buy and raise chickens which, in turn, has allowed them to make improvements and expand their one-room home. Pictured left to right in front of their home (front row) Nataly, 4; Ricardo, 10; and Dimas, 6; (back row) Oscar, 7; María, 39; and Clara, 16.

Sponsored child Ricardo (center) shoots marbles in the dirt with his brothers Dimas (left) and Oscar outside their home in Guatemala, while their mother, María, watches from the doorway.

Sponsorship helps education become a reality for children in poverty

Access to a good education is one of the keys to a person being able to lift themselves out of poverty. Education builds confidence while opening the doors to better-paying job opportunities. For these reasons, Unbound maintains a strong organizational focus on education, and school attendance is a requirement for children and youth in the sponsorship program.

So many times, parents living in poverty are forced to choose between sending their children to school or sending them to work at a young age to help support their families. Sponsorship means that students can stay in school longer — and they do.

With assistance from Unbound, 51% of sponsored children and youth are able to overcome barriers created by poverty and stay in school more than a year longer than their peers.

Sponsored youth Reinalyn in the Philippines is a prime example. Reinalyn, 16, was faced with having to leave school due to a hearing loss. 

Reinalyn was 11 when she suffered an ear infection from pool water. Because her family couldn’t afford medical treatment immediately, the situation worsened and Reinalyn lost most of the hearing in her right ear. Her hearing loss made learning in a classroom setting difficult.

With assistance from her sponsorship funds and Unbound’s Critical Needs Fund in 2020, Reinalyn was able to purchase a hearing aid, which allows her to hear at a normal level and continue her studies.

“[My sponsor] changed our life for the better,” Reinalyn said. “I would not be able to study without [my sponsor]. I will do good in my studies and, hopefully, I can reach my dreams in life.”

In Kisumu, Kenya, 24-year-old Eristole faced different obstacles to obtaining his education. Sponsored from the time he was 12, Eristole and his nine siblings used to sleep in the charcoal store where his father worked.

He remembers how he and his siblings were sent home from school frequently because his family couldn’t make the tuition payments, and the children often shared schoolbooks and uniforms.

When Eristole became sponsored, life changed. His school attendance became more consistent, and his family was able to move to a home of their own. Now also as a scholar in Unbound’s Scholarship Program, Eristole has been able to enroll in a university and is studying for a bachelor’s degree in commerce.

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, his sponsorship and scholarship funds enabled Eristole to purchase a laptop to keep up with his virtual classes.

Though opportunities for education and livelihood advancement are key benefits of child sponsorship, perhaps the most impactful benefit is its ability to unlock the potential that lies within individuals in poverty.

When sponsored youth Reinalyn, 16, suffered an ear infection that left her with hearing loss in her right ear, sponsorship funds helped her mother to purchase a hearing aid for her daughter so she could continue attending school lectures. Pictured, the now 10th-grader poses with a feline friend inside the family’s home in the Philippines.

Reinalyn’s family started a small variety store in their neighborhood with assistance from Unbound’s Critical Needs Fund. The variety store, along with Reinalyn’s sponsorship funds, has helped Reinalyn’s mother provide education for her seven children. Pictured, Reinalyn (center) stands with her mother, Thelma (far left), and siblings in front of their storefront. 

Sponsored youth and Unbound scholarship recipient, Eristole, completes his homework on a laptop in his family’s home in Kenya. With sponsorship and scholarship funds, Eristole was able to purchase a laptop that helped him stay on track with his university classes when the COVID-19 shutdown hit. When Eristole was 5 days old, he suffered burns on his fingers from a kerosene lamp, leaving his hands disfigured. Sponsorship funds helped him to attend special schools where he learned how to write and type despite his injuries. 

Child sponsorship unlocks potential

Families who are a part of Unbound’s programs aren’t lacking in skills or dreams, according to Pearson. They simply lack opportunities. Sponsorship through Unbound is not a handout, but rather, a hand up for people who are already working hard and have initiative and hope. Sponsorship unlocks their potential.

With the help of Unbound, people like Yoser, his brother, Yordi, and their parents, Antonio and Katherin, are feeding their own potential to pull themselves up out of poverty. They come one step closer every day to realizing the lives they dream of for themselves simply by taking advantage of various opportunities — and sponsorship has opened the door for them time and time again.

Yoser loved cows, so much so, that when he became sponsored, it seemed only natural to him to suggest to his parents that they save part of his sponsorship funds to one day purchase a cow. What started from a child’s love of animals, soon became one of his family’s main sources of income.

With the savings from sponsorship, they purchased their first cows which eventually reproduced, and now their herd has grown from a couple of cows to 11. Not only do they sell the cows when needed, but the milk from the cows provides income as well. From reading online, Katherin also taught herself how to make cheese from cow milk, which is another source of income.

“Unbound has been like that [energy drink] when you are tired,” said Antonio, who spends his weekends making improvements to their tiny farm. “Unbound is that for us. We have gotten our own things now, and it was all thanks to Unbound.”

The family is in the process of growing avocado trees and raising pigs. Before her children were sponsored, Katherin never dreamed they could one day have a business because their income could only cover their food and household expenses. Now, she dreams of how to be an even better entrepreneur and what that will mean for her children’s futures.

“I dream they can have a good future, that they can continue studying and have a better future than mine,” Katherin said.

Sponsored child Yoser greets one of his family’s cows, alongside his father, Antonio, on their farm in Costa Rica. One of Yoser’s responsibilities at home is to feed the cows daily and move them from paddock to paddock.

At just 11 years old, Yoser gave the idea to his parents of saving his sponsorship funds to buy a cow. Now the family’s herd has grown to 11 cows and is one of their main sources of income. To Yoser, Unbound means “family.”

Yoser helps his younger brother, Yordi, ride around on one of the cows in the pasture. Yordi is also sponsored through Unbound.

At 28 years old and with only a ninth-grade education, Katherin is the entrepreneur of the family. As part of her Unbound mothers group, she works to sell bread, tamales and meat pasties in her community. The mothers also raise chickens and split their earnings among themselves each year. For her own family, Katherin takes milk from the cows and makes cheeses. Her goal is to continue expanding the family’s herd and to build a sturdier cow pen.

Yoser (pictured left) reads a book to Yordi, 5, at their home in Costa Rica. With sponsorship through Unbound, both boys will be able to complete school, something their parents never had the opportunity to do. 

Find a child to sponsor today

When you sponsor a child, not only does your monthly contribution of $40 or more directly benefit the specific individual you sponsor to help them meet their basic needs, it also empowers their family with tools to achieve self-sufficiency. Sponsor a child in poverty today.

Unbound has been like that [energy drink] when you are tired. We have gotten our own things now, and it was all thanks to Unbound.

— Antonio, Father of sponsored child and farmer, Costa Rica