April 10, 2023 | Child Sponsorship

Understanding Obstacles of Poverty

Community groups participating in Unbound’s International Poverty Simulation learn what it takes for families to survive and thrive

By Loretta Shea Kline

For a quarter century, co-founder Bob Hentzen accompanied travelers on Unbound’s awareness trips to Africa, Asia and Latin America. In conversations on buses traveling over paved roads and dirt roads, on boats crossing vast lakes and on foot trekking up winding mountain paths, Hentzen listened and learned.

He learned, among other things, that people are “in their own search pattern.”

“They want to understand the world problem and what they can do,” he said in a 2009 interview. “And when they find this instrument, things begin to expand."

The “instrument” Hentzen referred to was Unbound sponsorship and the opportunity it provides to connect with a child and family overseas to support them on their path out of poverty.

“What I’m hoping and praying will happen is that more and more people will help us get the word out,” he said.

Hentzen passed away in 2013, but his dream to “get the word out” about child sponsorship and how it helps families chip away at poverty lives on.


A visitor learns about Unbound’s work at the organization’s international headquarters in Kansas City.

An interactive way to learn

One of the ways Hentzen’s dream is being accomplished is through Unbound’s new International Poverty Simulation, an interactive experience for businesses, civic organizations, faith communities, schools and other groups. The simulation was created to help people better understand the challenges families living in poverty face and the difficult decisions they must make to survive.

In the simulation, groups take on the role of a struggling family in Guatemala — home to Unbound’s largest program — and walk through scenarios that represent actual experiences and conditions. The challenges presented are like those that families participating in Unbound programs face daily. Resources available to the groups as they make decisions are true to families’ realities.

Groups are given a budget and asked to determine what they’ll prioritize with the family’s income, keeping in mind goals such as education for the children. For example, how much will they allocate for food, school fees, clean water, electricity, transportation, upgrading a dirt floor, access to technology and other basic needs?

What will they forgo because of limited resources? Will they have to cut back to two meals a day to cover school costs? Can they afford to save anything for the future?


A participant in Unbound’s International Poverty Simulation reviews depictions of living situations of families served by Unbound.

Making the hard choices

The lack of options available to families in impoverished circumstances can be heartbreaking.

“What you realize is the desperation and the really hard choices families are making in these communities,” participant Elizabeth McFadden of Novella Brandhouse in Kansas City said.

Participant Kevin Gabriel, of Compass Minerals in Kansas City, said he felt “a bit anxious” and “grateful” that he isn’t in a position to have to make such hard choices.

“You definitely do place yourself in the family’s shoes — doing what’s best for the family, for the children,” he said. “It was impactful, an immersive experience.”


Participants in the poverty simulation read family profiles of children waiting to be sponsored. Sponsorship gives families support to meet goals such as education for their children, improved living conditions, and access to capital to start or boost a small business.

Exploring solutions to poverty

The poverty simulation is about understanding the problem of systemic poverty but also about discovering solutions. Part of the experience is learning about the difference support and encouragement can make in the life of a family, and how even a small amount of financial assistance can go a long way in families being able to move forward on their path out of poverty.

Hentzen wanted the world to know that families in poverty hold the key to changing their situations, but they need people to believe in them and walk alongside them.

“Society has told them all along that they are not capable,” he said. “We are here to tell them that they are quite capable.”

The International Poverty Simulation takes place at the Unbound Experience, an immersive space at the organization’s headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas. It’s a team exercise guided by an Unbound facilitator and takes approximately 90 minutes. Groups from eight to 30 are welcome and there’s no cost.

For more information about participating in Unbound’s International Poverty Simulation, contact Tara Hefner at 913-384-6500 or at [email protected].

You definitely do place yourself in the family’s shoes — doing what’s best for the family, for the children. It was impactful, an immersive experience.

— Kevin Gabriel, International Poverty Simulation participant

Photos for this story are by Danika Wolf.