It was shortly before Christmas 2003 that I heard of the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, now called Unbound. At the time, I was a single mother with five children and a mortgage, who made less than $30,000 per year.
When it comes to charities, I’m fairly discerning. So many charities end up putting as much if not more money into “administrative costs” than into actually helping the cause. So I was impressed when I researched Unbound and found that 92% of donations go directly into program support. Currently 92.5% goes to programming, with another 4.3% toward fundraising and an astoundingly minuscule 3.2% for administration.
From Humble Beginnings
Unbound started in 1981 when four siblings and two of their friends decided to not just raise awareness of the poverty in Latin America, but do something about it. Guided by their faith, they created a sponsorship program first for children and then later for the elderly, too. Four years in, they had 1,000 sponsors; currently 260,000 sponsors support approximately 300,000 poor children and elderly people around the world.
When it first occurred to me to begin donating to Unbound, I had a family meeting with my children. At the time, we were in the habit of going out about twice a month to a restaurant, which ran about $25-$30 each time. I asked my children if they would be willing to give up one of those outings so we could sponsor a child. I informed them our money would provide a child with basic necessities and assistance so he or she could go to school.
I’m proud to say it was a short conversation. My children were enthusiastic about the idea of having a sponsored brother or sister. I contacted Unbound, and told them to just pick a child for us; I left it in God’s hands that we would be matched with one we could truly help. In February of 2004, we began sponsoring Shailesh, a young boy from India. He was just a bit younger than my second child, Daniel, who was 12 at the time.
For more than a decade, we’ve received letters several times a year from Shailesh in his native tongue, which were interpreted in India and then forwarded to us. He would talk about his family, how he was doing in school, and even the weather when it became extreme. He would request our prayers while thanking us for our help. The letters were always accompanied by a picture he drew; I loved and treasured each one and we all eagerly looked forward to them.
Shailesh wasn’t just our sponsored child, he was part of our family. We wrote back to him and sent him pictures so he could have more than just a vague awareness of us. Once a year, Unbound would send a new picture of Shailesh and some years his family was included in the photo, too! He would share his dreams and achievements with us. As the years passed and my own children grew up, I also watched Shailesh grow, as you can see in the progression of pictures in this article.
In 2009, I requested that Unbound match me with a girl from India, too. I understood how little females are valued in India and I wanted to make a difference in the life of at least one girl there, to give her a chance to be more than what Indian society dictates she should be. Unfortunately, my sponsorship of Sony ended in January of 2011 because her family did not continue to meet Unbound’s requirements for sponsorship.
My Adopted Indian Son
In 2010, I married my husband, Frank, and my children and I moved from Kansas to Wyoming with a newborn baby girl we named Clare. I didn’t anticipate having trouble finding a job in Wyoming as a nurse, but I was wrong. My husband and I had a conversation about finances and I told him that while there were many things I was willing to give up, my sponsorship was not one of them. Fortunately, he agreed and we’ve continue to sponsor Shaliesh.
In the interim, Unbound made it possible to send letters to the person you sponsor online! That was wonderful for a woman whose biggest challenge in sending letters was getting to the post office five miles away.
A few years ago, I received two letters from priests that knew Shaliesh. He was very, very ill and the illness was not just affecting his body but also his mind. They did not know if or when he would recover enough to return to school. We worried and prayed for him. I was overjoyed when about six months later I finally received a letter from Shaliesh that announced he was back in school and working hard to catch up.
My eyes tear up when I think of Shaliesh and how hard he has struggled to be where he is now. He shared with me earlier this year that he hopes to become a doctor. I am so, so proud of him! I will rejoice if he does become a doctor and I will be equally happy if he chooses a different occupation, too. I would love to hear one day that he has married and is raising his children in the faith. Even though he is in his 20’s now, I will continue to have the privilege of sponsoring him as long as he is in school. I hope that once my sponsorship ends I will still be able to communicate with him. Perhaps one day, I may even meet him in person. Should God allow that day to arrive, I will tell Shaliesh that he is not just my sponsored child, but is a child of my heart, too.
I encourage you to pray and see if you can fit in your budget the cost of changing the life of an impoverished child or adult. Don’t just talk to your children about helping the less fortunate~involve them in this, make it something they contribute to in some tangible way. Let Unbound help you “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty.” I’ve sponsored Shaleish for nearly 12 years. Yes, we’ve helped him. But my family and I are the blessed ones in this relationship. Please join us, even if it means giving up a meal or two out on the town or a few paper cups of that overpriced coffee. You won’t regret it.
For more information about sponsoring an impoverished child or adult through Unbound, visit the organization’s website here.