Three years ago the unremitting ache of hunger was a painfully familiar fact of life for seven-year-old Gan Maya Maharjan. Born in the village of Naya Bhanjyang near the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu to a carpenter who earned about $20 a month, she was the oldest of three children—none of them immunized against disease and all drinking contaminated water and suffering from worms.
Although her prospects for a better life were bleak, Gan Maya now has a better diet, drinks clean water and attends a newly built school provided with the help of her Vancouver sponsors, Dr. Neil Longridge and his wife, Mhairi, who send $23 a month to the Foster Parents Plan of Canada for her care.
Few of the agencies that funnel aid into Third World countries appeal as
I potently to the donor’s emotions as the child-sponsorship organizations. For the Longridges, as for the roughly 140,000 other Canadians who send money to children or families abroad, the flow of letters and photographs from a child is gratifying and confirms that their donations are reaching their target. But in the past three years, a number of foster parent plans have been changing. The reason: criticism from church groups and development experts that individualized aid can create tensions in Third World communities and divert funds into letter translation, and other administrative costs.
‘Fund-Raise’: As a result, such agencies as Foster Parents Plan, World Vision Canada and the Canadian Save the Children Fund are now digging wells, opening health clinics and providing agricultural training as well as selecting a single child to receive privileges. Indeed, Save the Children is phasing out all child sponsorship in favor of community development projects by 1988. Said Gordon Ramsay, the agen-
cy’s national director: “Focusing on the child makes it easier to fund-raise, but the only people who can save the children are the communities themselves.” Uproots: Among critics of the foster parenting programs are officials at the United Church of Canada. They charge that the selection process often arbitrarily singles out children for preferred treatment and frequently uproots them to live in hostels near better schools. Others say that pairing a child with a Western benefactor encourages dependence and unrealistic expectations. Under Save the Children’s revised program, sponsors can now help support an entire community for $200 a year instead of spending $192 a year on a single child.
But Foster Parents Plan still maintains a letter exchange program in the belief that moral support is as meaningful as community improvement. Said Paula McTavish, national director of Foster Parents: “The children are amazed that someone cares about them.”
But the size of Foster Parents Plan— Canada’s largest child sponsorship pro-
gram, with 74,796 children in 22 countries— is proof that Canadians want that contact. Its number of new sponsors doubled to 10,000 last year during the Ethiopian famine. Although the plan, which passes on 88.2 cents of every dollar collected, channels most of its donations into community and family projects, its advertising highlights the personal link with a child. Said McTavish: “You have to have a hook.”
‘Bed Kids’: The second z largest Canadian orgao nization, World Vision “ Canada, with 44,235 children sponsored abroad, is one of the most controversial. Critics of the agency, part of Monrovia, Calif.-based World Vision International, suspect that it has adhered to U.S. government foreign policy ever since it hired a project director in Honduras who had CIA connections. Countered Donald Scott, group director of World Vision Canada’s communications: “We have a pediatrics hospital in Communist Kampuchea. That is not U.S. policy.”
According to Murray Dryden, founder of the Islington, Ont.-based Sleeping Children Around the World, every effort counts. Sleeping Children provides $25 “bedkits” for children and furnishes donors with a photograph of “their” I child asleep on a new mattress and bedding. Nine thousand bedkits reached children in 1985. Said Dryden: “If we can give a comfortable place to sleep, it conserves a child for the next day’s challenge.” Foster children like Gan Maya may now recognize they are not facing the challenge alone.
-ANN WALMSLEY with SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER in Toronto
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