Maxensia, a widowed mother of eight, tends to her coffee plants in a village in Uganda. Nearby, 11 pigs sunbathe in a sty built of rough wood.
At age 50, Maxensia has become an entrepreneur. Her pig farm is growing, and she also runs a small coffee farm.
After her husband died 17 years ago, Maxensia struggled to provide for her children’s basic needs. Her son, Lawrence, was sponsored in 2006, and she joined the Unbound support group for parents of sponsored children. Through the group, she got a boost toward economic self-sufficiency.
“I have gained a lot by being a member of the group,” Maxensia said. “I have been empowered to improve my life and that of my family.”
In Uganda, like in many other countries where Unbound works, parent groups serve as the foundation of the sponsorship program for children. When a child is sponsored, parents or guardians join the local group. They receive training from Unbound staff, save money by making small contributions to the group savings and gain access to loans. In parent groups, the impact of sponsorship is multiplied through the power of community.
The result is something that’s often overlooked: the ability to make choices for one’s life. People who live in poverty are often in survival mode, living day-to-day, unable to choose their career, home or future path. But the boost of sponsorship, along with the support of parent groups and Unbound social workers, alleviates the stress of survival, allowing families to make life-changing choices.
Charles, a single father who also lives in Uganda, joined a parent group when his son Lukuwya was sponsored, but he didn’t have enough income to make the monthly savings contributions that help fund the group loans.
“The group supported, nurtured and encouraged me to start an income generating activity so that I could support my children and myself,” Charles said. “The business would also assist me to make my monthly contributions to the group.”
With the wisdom and guidance of the other group members, Charles chose a new path — brickmaking — to support his family. He saved part of his income as a contract worker until he had enough money to rent a site for his new venture. It wasn’t long until Charles was able to make monthly contributions to the group, which meant he would soon be able to take out a loan to advance his business.
Now his earnings sustain his family, and he even has a few employees. He’s already planning for the future when he’ll be too old for the hard labor of brickmaking, and is saving to construct a salon or a retail shop.“Absolutely nothing is as good as developing capacity of community members.“ — Kamya in Uganda Click To Tweet
Unbound parent groups work to replenish the capital base for loans by saving and increasing their contributions over time.
They also meet regularly, strengthening relationships that provide support and connection in times of need and empowering one another to grow.
With small contributions from parents and the savings held among them, the groups essentially function as small banks run by trusted peers, with support, accountability and impeccable bookkeeping.
In the Philippines, parents of sponsored children have a matching contribution program. Parents each contribute 50 pesos (about $1) or more per month from their own income, and Unbound matches it with 50 pesos of sponsorship money. This small percentage of monthly contributions from sponsors is growing exponentially for long-term impact in the lives of families.
“To thoroughly explain to the parents the use of this matching [contribution], we give them training and seminars,” said Susan Espiritu, program coordinator in Payatas, Philippines. “This is where we open the door of opportunity for [families] to plan their future.”
Zita is the mother of sponsored child Jakielyn in the Philippines and president of the parent group in her area. Leaders like her help review loan requests, keep track of accounts and encourage members to pay their loans back on time.
“[The matching donation] teaches us to save money even if it is just a small amount,” Zita said. “[Unbound] really reaches out to families like us and helps us to uplift our lives and look forward for a brighter future for our children.”
Parents like Maxensia, Charles and Zita are the foundation of Unbound’s program. The parent groups they belong to provide economic opportunity that often continues even after a child completes their participation in the sponsorship program. The combination of sponsorship benefits and the support of a community brings a powerful result — fueling a family’s ability to make choices about their future.
“Absolutely nothing is as good as developing capacity of community members,” said Kamya Feresino, senior social worker in Masaka, Uganda. “[Parent groups] are a unified voice of knowing sponsored members’ decisions, needs and interests.”
Some parents choose brickmaking, some choose owning a shop and others choose raising pigs. All of them choose a better future for their families.