Last month was a busy one as we helped families prepare their kids to go back to school. In the states, this involves shopping for clothes, shoes, backpack and locker supplies, as well as the classroom supply list the school provides. However, if that is not affordable, it does not mean your child cannot attend school. There are programs to help those beneath the poverty line get what they need for school. If a program is not helpful, the child can still attend school without these items. However, that is simply not the same here in Haiti.
We have been helping the Gracia children attend school for the past few years. This year, the tuition cost doubled. Public schools are available in certain parts of Haiti, but not where we are located. Most areas of Haiti only have private school as an option. If you cannot afford it, your child simply does not get an education. Since we know that education is one of the biggest pieces to overcoming poverty, we try to help in whatever way we can. This year there were more needs than we could meet, due to the increase in tuition. We were able to keep the Gracia children in school by pulling money from other areas/needs, but we know many who had to let go of the dream of their children finishing school because they could not pay the fees. Others were able to pay enough to start the school year, but their children are kicked out of the classroom during lectures because they have not yet been able to pay for books.
While education in the states is mandatory, here it is a privilege that often keeps the poorest stuck right where they are. It creates a great divide between those who are educated and those who are not, and the effects last for generations. The more educated get the better-paying jobs (makes sense), and they can afford to keep their children in school as well. However, those who never received an education are barely making enough to feed their families, and their children are usually bound to repeat history.
There are many ways to take action and help the most impoverished rise up and be freed from the grips of poverty. The simplest way to help from the states is to sponsor a child, school, or organization that is keeping kids in school. While there are so many organizations to do this through, there are some good tests when choosing. After working with Compassion International as a volunteer for many years, I truly believe they are the standard for child sponsorship. Their program is tested and proven valuable, with countless success stories. I have seen their work firsthand and am absolutely blown away by how they do things and the excellence that goes into every aspect of their ministry and programming. One of the pieces that sets them apart is their financial integrity. Simply put, I would not sponsor a child through any organization that does not publish its financial information on how that money is spent. I have seen too many places that it is done poorly, and the children are not being given the opportunities that the sponsor dollars should provide. Be sure that your money is being used well.
Secondly, find a program that avoids poverty tourism, and works hard not to exploit the children. If the organization is showing pictures of children in the depths of their poverty, this is typically done to solicit an emotional response - that is exploitation. If an organization has you come so that you can get your pictures and go back home, that is poverty tourism. A visit should guard a child's (and their family's) dignity, highlight the good you are doing and the good in the country, and leave you with a closer relationship with the child and family. You should also be able to have a voice in the child's life - not by demanding what you think is best - but by knowing how to pray for them, and being allowed to write to them. This is one key to success in good sponsorship programs. Without it, you lose the potential for eternal impact.
At the end of the day, sponsorship matters. It is what allows children a chance at a better life tomorrow. It is proven that - when done properly, with integrity - it is a key that releases children from poverty. It provides hope to families, and that, my friends, is what starts to cripple poverty. Poverty is more than not having needs met and lack of resources. It is a lack of hope - the belief that you only live for today, because that is all you will ever have. Hope allows people to see beyond today and imagine, even dream, of a better tomorrow. Then they have something worth fighting for.
Gami & Cathi Ortiz
Best friends; married for 17 years; parents of five wonderful children; living on mission in Haiti since 2013.