This study explores children’s experiences with a Compassion International sponsorship program in Mukono District, Uganda. International child sponsorship is offered in various ways by a large number of NGOs as a means to alleviate child poverty. While the sponsoring of individual children has been criticized for its divisive effects, little research is done on the topic from participating children’s own perspectives. According to the new social studies of children and childhood, children can provide valuable insights into matters that concern them. By focusing in-depth on the life stories and views of children and youth participating in a Compassion International sponsorship program, this study aims to give a nuanced picture of the ways in which child sponsorship can affect the lives of individual children.
In order to present a structured account of children’s experiences with the sponsorship project in which they participated, my results are organized according to topics including children’s thoughts on the family and community impact of the project, children’s evaluation of the relationship with their sponsor, children’s perceptions of the role of religion in the project, children’s thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of individual child sponsorship compared to community-focused development approaches, as well as children’s expectations and goals for their lives after having completed the program.
Because rich data material was needed to realize the aims of this study, qualitative methods have been used including focus group discussions, narrative/semi-structured interviews and participant observation. In addition, children were given the opportunity to present a written account of their life histories, and to capture their daily lives by means of photographic reports. All informants were between the ages of 12 and 20 years.
Although some problems were reported due to the sponsorship program’s individual character, all children experienced that participation in the program has given a positive turn to their lives. From a life in poverty with little opportunities, the sponsorship program has helped children to move towards a better life. The active use of religion, the provision of educational opportunities, and the possibility to expand one’s social network were among the most important factors contributing to this positive change of life. When thinking about their future lives, children felt that the sponsorship program empowered them to reach their personal goals and to make a difference for their families and communities.