Party in Belo: How child sponsorship succeeds

A youth choir performed at Belo's celebration.

I recently visited one of our remote field locations in Ethiopia.

It was a celebration, really. After 13 years working in the community of Belo with our child sponsorship program, Food for the Hungry (FH) evaluated that people of Belo were no longer living in extreme poverty.

New standards for health and education had been set. The community embraced and sustained these new levels of care and education as their own.

Through agriculture, education and health projects, the community was no longer poor by the standards of the surrounding area. This meant that it was time for FH to leave and work with a new, needier community.

Belo was ready to stand on its own, so we had a party.

Speakers at the party compared it to a graduation. Public officials thanked FH for the years of service.  And a community youth choir sang. Members of the community told of the new goals their children had embraced as a result of FH’s child sponsorship program.

One father movingly told how his child had graduated from university, which he attributed to FH’s educational assistance. Children—now teenagers—talked about the things they had learned and the new aspirations they held.

And afterwards, as in all good parties around the world, we ate. We had goat. We had lamb. All of it was roasted in big pans stirred by hand over open fires.  And it was eaten with piles of injera, the stretchy sourdough flatbread that serves as both plate and eating utensil in Ethiopia.

As I contemplated our work in Belo, I was struck by the commitment of our staff—living and working in places that Westerners, like me, would find difficult. Judging by the welcome we received, their commitment was honored. They had made a difference.

Belo is a nine-hour car ride on rough roads from any city. And there are little resources there, like limited access to the internet or stores. But educated Ethiopians, who might get a job somewhere else, dedicated their life and time to helping Belo grow out of extreme poverty.

Belo is an agricultural community with thatched-roof homes and located in rural Ethiopia.

One staff said, “I was the child sponsorship organizer in this community and lived there for five years.”

Another staff said that he had lived in the community for seven years. Now he lives in the city and serves FH as a driver, but for a period of time, he dedicated his life to living with and knowing the people he was helping.

This builds trust with a community and helps to bring about sustained transformation.

That’s what child sponsorship is about. If you want to be part of this effort in yet another community like Belo, you can build a relationship with a child. While you don’t have to live there, through writing letters, you can start a friendship with a child that will be life-changing.

About Barry Gardner

Barry Gardner is the Chief Financial Officer at FH. He joined FH in 2010 after a 20 year career as a financial consultant to non-profit organizations. He and his wife Susan live in Phoenix, where Barry enjoys year-round cycling weather.

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