July 27, 2023 | Child Sponsorship

Empowering Youth

Unbound programs help prepare young people with awareness and confidence to defend against exploitation

By Larry Livingston

Leonil lives in the Philippines. He’s 21 and getting ready to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree in education. He wants to be a science teacher.

Leonil is also an Unbound scholarship recipient and has been sponsored through Unbound for eight years. His involvement in the scholarship and sponsorship programs has helped form him into a caring, committed young man with a strong sense of his own worth and a solid awareness of who his friends are.

Just as important is his awareness of those who aren’t friends.

“Being a part of the Unbound community has had a profound impact on fostering my confidence and fortifying my defenses against the exploitation that young people may encounter,” he said. “Through their engaging seminars, enlightening workshops and comprehensive educational programs, Unbound equips me with vital knowledge regarding the tactics employed by individuals seeking to exploit young individuals like myself.”


From left, social worker Mildred Garcia, former Unbound staff member Alex Agudelo and program coordinator Katherine Alvarez confer while visiting the Nueva Jerusalem community in Antioquia, Colombia. Visiting sponsored young people and their families in their homes is one way staff help promote the health and well-being of members of the Unbound community.  

The poor are most at risk

The United Nations has designated July 30 as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. This is an occasion to raise awareness of human trafficking, which, in the post-pandemic world, has become a greater threat than ever due to severe drops in international rates of both detection and conviction.

According to the U.N., “Those who lack legal status, live in poverty, have limited access to education, health care, or decent work, face discrimination, violence, or abuse, or come from marginalized communities are often the primary targets of traffickers.”

In other words, families like those served by Unbound are among the most susceptible to exploitation. That’s why, in Unbound communities around the world, young people are being prepared with assets that will help them avoid becoming victims.

“Children are born looking to us with love and hope, whether we deserve it or not,” said Mary Jane Carpio, a social worker with Unbound in Antipolo, Philippines. “When they are made vulnerable because they are poor, homeless, without family, hungry, abused, living in countries affected by war or discriminated [against] … they still look to us with hope that we will protect them and that somehow, somewhere they are cherished regardless of status or circumstances.”


Mary Jane Carpio is a social worker with Unbound's program in Antipolo, Philippines. She works with awareness training programs for sponsored youth and was, at one time, also sponsored. “During my time as a sponsored youth, I became a leader and advocate of human and child rights in our community through an Unbound youth group,” she said. 

Armed with knowledge

Traffickers prey on those without hope. In Unbound programs around the world, instilling hope in young people is one of the primary goals. The first and foremost way that happens is through sponsorship and the educational opportunities it provides.

Education is required for every sponsored child and youth. It can include academic education or vocational training. Families choose what works best for their circumstances.

Among the goals of Unbound’s educational requirement are to prepare young people to develop their talents, achieve their inherent potential and earn a sustainable living after they leave the program. But there’s an additional benefit to having marketable skills and the competencies that allow them to realize the human right and duty to participate in society. It also makes them less susceptible to exploitation.

For youth like Leonil, who show aptitude and a desire to continue their educations, sponsorship can continue to university and even post-graduate studies. Students who need additional support and have an interest in serving their communities — including those outside the sponsorship program — can apply for an Unbound scholarship.

Scholarships are available to help students with the cost of tuition or for books, supplies, transportation, clothing or incidental school expenses. They can also be used for computers and internet access.

“Sponsorship [and scholarship] with Unbound has been a life-changing opportunity that has had a significant impact on my life as a young person,” Leonil said. “I have benefited greatly from the financial assistance and guidance provided, which has allowed me to develop and thrive.”

Scholarship recipients are required to maintain good grades and serve their communities. Like many scholarship recipients, Leonil wants to provide other youth with the same kind of encouragement and formation he’s received.

“As a teacher, I aspire to be a role model, someone who not only imparts knowledge but also instills a sense of wonder, critical thinking and a passion for discovery,” he said. “I want to foster an inclusive and supportive classroom where every student feels valued and encouraged to reach their full potential.”


Leonil lives in Antipolo, Philippines. He’s an Unbound scholarship recipient and also sponsored through the organization. Soon he will graduate college. “Being part of the Unbound community has enabled me to identify and assert my rights as a youth,” he said. “Through workshops, discussions and advocacy opportunities, I have deepened my understanding of my rights and responsibilities.” 

The power of community

Some of the most effective ways young people gain the support and confidence that enables them to be more resistant to exploitation include organized group activities and community-building experiences.

Unbound’s program in Nairobi, Kenya, has a strong youth outreach directed by staff members Judita Ngumu and Michael Ndonye.

“We do a lot of empowerment through … the monthly meetings that we do, or [an] individual meeting where a youth is able to express themselves, and in case of any challenge, we are able to help them, we are able to give them advice,” Ngumu said.

The monthly meetings include social activities, sports and games that build community and keep young people positively involved.

“Instead of having that idle mind, they're usually engaged with physical activity, which helps them even when they go back to books; they are at least refreshed,” Ngumu said.

Katherine Alvarez is the coordinator of Unbound’s Antioquia program in Colombia, where the staff is dedicated to offering programs that nurture the talents and interests of young people in a holistic way.

“The Unbound programs are designed to accompany the sponsored members and their families, and scholarship holders, in the construction of their life plans, using their educational, sports and artistic talents to focus on their own goals,” she said.

“These activities allow them to create bonds with other youth with similar interests, reducing the time they could use for unsafe choices in their life and increasing the level of protection against any type of exploitation."


Peter Ndungo, coordinator of Unbound’s program in Nairobi, Kenya, meets with a group of young entrepreneurs. Training in best business practices is one of many initiatives for young people conducted through the Nairobi office.  

Shielded with confidence

Unbound communities throughout the world are models of support, where families help and encourage one another, and where young people are valued and safeguarded. Poverty is, of course, one of the defining elements of these communities, but far from the most important one. Mostly they are marked by the kind of self-assurance and hope that flows from confidence in proven ability. That confidence can be a powerful shield against exploitation.

“I cannot emphasize enough how much Unbound has positively impacted my life,” Leonil said. “Through their dedicated focus on enhancing skills and abilities, Unbound has played a pivotal role in building up my confidence and improving my social skills. Their youth sector programs provide a nurturing environment where young individuals like myself can flourish and unlock our full potential.”

Being part of the Unbound community has enabled me to identify and assert my rights as a youth. Through workshops, discussions and advocacy opportunities, I have deepened my understanding of my rights and responsibilities.

— Leonil, Unbound sponsored youth and scholarship student, Philippines

Tristan John Cabrera, Nickson Ateku and Carolina Pulgarin contributed photos and information for this story.