This story is the second of a two-part series on the impact of global inflation on Unbound families in poverty and how staff are helping them cope. Read part one: Paying the Price.
July 06, 2023 | Child Sponsorship
Unbound staff find ways to help families in poverty cope with global inflation crisis
By Kati Burns Mallows
Grace has given up all of life’s simple pleasures.
That’s what she calls no longer being able to afford sugar or tea, or beans and rice. When she can, she buys a packet of maize flour and some vegetables to make meals out of, but it never lasts more than a day.
She no longer buys clothing for her family of six, four of whom are growing grandchildren left in her care; she’d rather feed them instead.
The impact of global inflation has hit 78-year-old sponsored elder Grace and her Ndeiya community in Nairobi hard. For someone living below the poverty line like Grace, life was already hard before the pandemic, and the war between Russia and Ukraine, along with other economic factors, collided to drive the cost of living up.
Now, each day is about surviving until the next, but not just for Grace, and not just for people like her in Nairobi.
Sometimes Claudia, the mother of sponsored child Jefferson in Costa Rica, is only able to feed her children beans. Sometimes the family foregoes paying the water and electricity bills so they can buy food.
In Cuernavaca, Mexico, Mayela’s family stopped paying for transportation to and from work or school, but even still, they can’t afford fruit or sometimes meat.
In other parts of the world, sponsored children are going to school without necessary schoolbooks.
Quality food, clothing and a basic education have become like luxuries to many Unbound families living in poverty. And, despite the organization disbursing more than $87 million in cash benefits directly to sponsored families’ bank accounts in 2022 alone, inflation has eroded their purchasing power, which has dropped 8.3% in the last three years.
But Unbound’s sponsored individuals and their families haven’t been alone in their harrowing walk through these unexpected challenges. Unbound staff across the globe have pivoted to offer deeper support and sustainable solutions, with one common goal — to ensure families can return to knowing the small, simple pleasures that once brought joy to their lives each day.
Pivoting to meet families in the moment with savings workshops, listening and mentoring
Carolina Cordero Cruz has worked for the Unbound San Jose program in Costa Rica for 10 years, but her connection to Unbound began many years before. Cruz’s mother also worked for the program, and Cruz was an Unbound scholarship holder.
Perhaps more importantly to Cruz’s position as program coordinator now is the fact that she was born and raised in the Los Chiles community and spent the first 20 years of her life learning to navigate the same complex situations still faced by families living in poverty in such a rural area today. For example, there’s limited access to higher education and affordable transportation, and access to internet, electricity and water is simply not a reality for many small towns due to distance. At least 40% of the population is comprised of Nicaraguan migrants, which complicates accessibility issues even further.
A small, open economy, Costa Rica is highly vulnerable to external shocks, including global inflationary pressures and tighter financing options, all of which increase food and energy costs, according to the World Bank.
In 2020, the poverty rate in Costa Rica (defined as US$6.85 per person per day) increased to 19.9% but is expected to stabilize to 14.3% in 2023 and 2024 as the economy recovers.
According to Cruz, residents in rural Costa Rica should be able to cover basic necessities with an average income of $1,250-$1,300USD per month, but families in the Los Chiles program average between $600-$800 per month, if even that. Individuals and their families in the Los Chiles program live day by day.
“While businesses and better-positioned families with stores or companies simply make adjustments to their expenses, our families see their incomes for basic needs crumbling beneath them,” Cruz said.
To further assist families during these difficult times, Cruz and the Los Chiles staff have deployed a number of strategies, including reducing administrative costs as much as possible. For families most in need, such as those lacking food due to loss of work or not being able to pay for health care, the staff has deployed Unbound’s Critical Needs Fund.
Recently, the staff held a workshop for families on maintaining healthy household economics where they encouraged families to use their skills to seek out new business ventures and invest their sponsorship benefits.
In other Unbound programs in Latin America, similar strategies are being deployed. Angélica Lozada, general coordinator for Unbound Cuernavaca, said her staff has been focusing on teaching families how to save even a small portion of their individual incomes. A collective group savings model, called “tandas,” has also been introduced and is helping families to buy higher-cost items they might find themselves in need of, such as household appliances or eyeglasses for their children.
Other programs have taken listening and mentoring to new levels, even encouraging families to meet as groups and brainstorm ideas for how to overcome financial challenges.
Latin America Regional Project Director Mónica Gómez said some of the ideas families have come up with throughout the seven Unbound programs she oversees include buying only seasonal products, which are available at better prices because they’re in abundance, and prioritizing affordable foods with high nutritional value such as lentils, beans and chickpeas, among others. Other ideas have included two or more families sharing housing to split the cost or renting rooms in their homes to generate extra income.
In the San Gaspar community in Guatemala, Coordinator Rudy Mijangos’ staff has been mentoring, guiding and motivating families, particularly mothers, to become skilled administrators of their resources. They’ve seen a drastic increase in the cost of the basic food basket that includes bread, tortillas, beans and rice.
“We encourage them to seek local products, to shop for nutritional foods in small, local stores and to explore wholesale centers,” Mijangos said. “We have discovered a number of families are relying on their sponsorship benefits each month to purchase essential items.”
Developing skillsets and providing assistance for small businesses
In Kenya, many families who lost their jobs or businesses due to the pandemic are still relying on their sponsorship benefits as their source of income. In a region where many depend on farming for either their livelihoods or personal consumption, families have been additionally impacted by the war between Russia and Ukraine on top of the worst drought in decades.
Before the war, Kenya imported 2.4 million tons of wheat from Ukraine each year. According to the U.N. World Food Program, the disruption in food shipments from Ukraine to Russia has left some 345 million people globally facing food insecurity.
Unbound Nairobi Coordinator Peter Ndungo said a main profitable crop grown in Kenya and consumed by families is maize. But without rains, crops can’t grow, forcing families to either shop for foods at the markets where prices have been driven high or do without.
To help families with struggling businesses, Nairobi staff have provided entrepreneurship funding, which Ndungo said has boosted some families’ businesses while assisting others to pay off business debts they acquired during the shutdown.
The Unbound Critical Needs Fund was used globally throughout the pandemic to help families with struggling businesses bounce back, but a more entrepreneurship-focused initiative being piloted in some Unbound programs in Latin American countries is proving to have some success fighting inflation.
Unbound’s Small Business Accelerator (SBA) is meant to help entrepreneurs scale their businesses by providing a small infusion of capital (averaging $1,000), which is matched directly by Unbound donors or funded through grants. According to Melissa Velasquez, Unbound vice president of international programs, the SBA helps families with existing businesses overcome challenges of scale with tools, workspaces, technology, marketing or training.
In Colombia, Gómez said families have used the SBA to invest in raw materials for their businesses or to purchase assets required to boost their ventures, and program staff are seeing motivating experiences from families who are still able to advance their quality of life.
The first Unbound program to pilot the SBA was Unbound Costa Rica. Thus far, SBA has funded more than 190 family business ventures in Costa Rica, which, according to Cruz, creates a significant change in a family’s income and quality of life.
“We are in the fight every day with them, seeking for the best ways, creating new things, modifying, changing, developing, accompanying them in this learning journey and growing with them. …” said Cruz, about the overall purpose of the Unbound SBA.
Like so many, Unbound sponsored families are still recovering from human, academic and economic loss during the pandemic, Velazquez pointed out.
“These solutions [SBA and the Critical Needs Fund] are exciting because they are not just growing sustainable income but also building local economies so that all can flourish and rise together,” Velazquez said. “This is not aid that is consumed and gone tomorrow, but development on the journey of recovery.”
Reviving hope, but families in poverty still need your help now
Many of the challenges facing families in poverty today are not new to them, but the aftermath of the pandemic has brought them into sharper focus. With great challenge has also come great stories of resilience.
In Guatemala, Mijangos said they have witnessed highly resilient families who are gradually making progress despite the rising cost of living.
“We are fortunate to have families that inspire us, mothers who continue to be the backbone of their families,” Mijangos said. “If the father’s salary is not enough, they start figuring out how to keep moving forward, and they’re more committed than ever to their children receiving an education.
“They understand that only through education will their children have the best opportunity to be prepared for what lies ahead.”
To help Unbound families overcome financial challenges due to inflation, current sponsors can make a huge difference by increasing their monthly sponsorship amount, even just by $3, $5 or $7.
Follow the below steps to act now:
- • Visit Unbound.org/ICanHelp to log in to your Unbound account.
- • Under "My Commitments," click the plus sign next to the monthly contribution amount for your sponsored friend.
- • On the "Increase Monthly Amount" screen, click the plus sign again to increase your support.
- • Click save.
We are in the fight every day with them [sponsored individuals and their families], seeking for the best ways, creating new things, modifying, changing, developing, accompanying them in this learning journey and growing with them.
— Carolina Cordero Cruz, Unbound San Jose Program Coordinator
Unbound Regional Reporters Director Henry Flores and regional reporters Oscar Tuch, Josue Sermeño, Carolina Pulgarin and Nickson Ateku contributed information and photos for this story.