Secular child charities
August 18, 2005 8:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm in Canada, with enough income that I'm looking into "sponsor a child" organizations that help children in third world countries. There are plenty, but I am still having issues. Specifically regarding donation and religion.

The vast majority of these organizations are Christian organizations, which I have no huge issue with, but I'd prefer something secular. I don't want my aid money to be based on whether the child's family is willing to convert, or even just listen to Bible lessons. I don't want to have contingencies on the money I send.
So. Anyone know any Canadian (or international organizations that take CD$) secular charities of this sort?
posted by aclevername to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As a secular humanist, I try to avoid giving to religious-based charitable organizations. I presently donate to Oxfam, and UNICEF.
The whole "sponsor a child" thing is a well-meaning marketing gimmick, I believe.
posted by Pseudonumb at 9:12 PM on August 18, 2005

I almost forgot the Red Cross, and Médecins Sans Frontières.
posted by Pseudonumb at 9:53 PM on August 18, 2005

If you want child sponsorship, check out Plan International. They are a non-affiliated international group. And you may still receive your letter from Ndugu.
posted by arruns at 10:45 PM on August 18, 2005

We sponsor a child through Holt International Children's Services, which is a semi-religious organization. That is, the founder was Christian, and a lot of the earlier leadership was as well. However, they are not formally associated with any church, and they do not require any sort of conversion in any program I am familiar with.

My wife and I are very much non-Christian, and not in a passive way either. We had no problem with the Holt social worker when adopting internationally through Holt, we did not see any evidence of religious indoctrination when we went to adopt, and we don't see any with our sponsored child. We also don't want to be sponsoring someone's religious indoctrination, so we've been pretty darn careful in this process.

I've never heard a negative word about Holt's handling of finances, btw. They seem incredibly dedicated to their mission of providing services for children in need.

Thanks for thinking of doing this.
posted by Invoke at 11:17 PM on August 18, 2005

Focus on how you want your money spent and research the organizations you consider. Here are some resources to help:

Charity Navigator - in addition to ratings the Methodology section gives insight into evaluating the effectiveness of a charity.

American Institute of Philanthropy - a similar organization. Another perspective and good general tips on giving.

Wise Giving Alliance - charity information provided by the Better Business Bureau

Guidestar - this information site includes all varieties of non-profits. Not geared to informing charitable giving, but comprehensive and a lot of general information.

You may want to investigate how to prevent your personal information from being disseminated to mailing or telemarketing lists for each specific charity.

The important thing is that if you select a charity with a good track record and positive, transparent finances, your donations will make a difference in individual children's lives.

Finally, to answer your specific question, I believe Save The Children (I have linked to the Canada website here) is secular and I have only found positive things about them.
posted by nanojath at 12:16 AM on August 19, 2005

Heifer International, not exactly a "sponsor a child" outfit, but most of those are rackets anyway.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:47 AM on August 19, 2005

I used to do the sponsor-a-child thing through ActionAid, but they're a UK based charity. I really like Heifer International.
I have to ask though - what exactly are your goals in sponsor ship? Many of the sponsorship programs use the money you send to build/improve infrastructure in the villages/towns that the child you are sponsoring lives. They build wells, provide pumps, build schools and teach irrigation methods. All these things are worthy, and impact the child in a positive , but indirect way. When I first started sponsoring, though, I had the romantic idea that I would be helping to pay the kid's school fees or buy it milk or food- something that affected the child directly. This was not the case (at least not through the program I was using) - again, not a bad thing, and clean water and a roof in school were very good things for that child and others. But definitely not what I had imagined.
All of that to say - read the stated goals of the program to ensure it matches what you intend.
posted by darsh at 7:00 AM on August 19, 2005

Having recently completed and International Development Studies master's degree, and having been to a few third world countries, I have pretty conflicted feelings about not just child-sponsor programs, but charity programs in general. I hesitate to answer the question because I am biased, but I thought that you might find another perspective helpful.

The conclusion that I came to in my studies is that most development projects fail, and the reason that they fail is because they do not give atonomy to the people who need to make changes. The very structure of charitable giving means that the donor organziation makes the initial (and usually the entire gambit of) decisions about how and where money will be spent. When I was in Africa, I was struck by the thought that the poor mothers that I saw struggling to feed and clothe their children were themselves children when I started seeing child-sponsor ads on television. It doesn't work to feed the children. What works is to give parents the means to feed their children. And, for the most part, the means to feed their children involves a fair wage for a decent job.

You can't give a job through charity, but you can help make jobs by insisting on fair wages and fair trade policies. You can do this both through consumerism and through activism. The consumerist method is to commit to paying a little more to buy fair trade whenever possible: coffee, tea, chocolate, banannas, etc. The activist method could involve writing to your MP about the need for Canada to engage in debt forgiveness and fair trade policies, joining and volunteering for organizations working for these things, and/or giving money to organizations working for these things.

It's a big commitment to learn about international trade laws and try to figure out something to do about them, but if you want to ensure that your money is helping and not hurting, you need to put the same amount of energy into finding a good charity. If you are not up to it, I think the best choice is to buy fair trade (and believe me, that's not a judgemental statement: the most I've managed is a combination of purchasing fair trade and writing a PhD proposal that I think will provide some good info for Ghanaian activists working on gender equity).

Some links:

Global Exchange has lots of info about fair trade and activism

No Sweat offers union-made apparel from around the world.

Find your MP by postal code and write a letter.
posted by carmen at 9:16 AM on August 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

how about helping some gorillas out.... there aren't very many of them left...
posted by specialk420 at 11:18 AM on August 19, 2005

Um, that's a really nice idea.

I have to ask, though, what about the thousands of children living right here in Canada in states of extreme poverty? Or abusive homes, or who have no aceess to proper education or or or..

I tend to be of the opinion that we should clean up our backyard as much as possible. YMMV, naturally, but there's dozens of charities in Canada that serve to help children here. Maybe you might want to look for some.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:41 PM on August 19, 2005

Response by poster: Well, you all have certainly given me lots to think about. This certainly wasn't something I was planning on doing without a lot of reseach, and now I have plenty of places to start.

Carmen: I definitely appreciate you sharing your perspective - thank you. And I absolutely buy fair trade whenever I can. It's unfortunate that there are not more fair trade businesses out there.

dirtynumbangelboy: fair point, and certainly a good perspective. To be honest, I hadn't even thought of it that way. I'll will be looking into charities that help out here at home.
posted by aclevername at 1:55 PM on August 19, 2005

If you're still looking for secular Canadian organizations that provide sponsorships, I'm on the board of the Trans-Himalayan Aid Society, a small Vancouver-based non-profit that supports development projects (aimed at health and education for children and youth) in Nepal, India, and Tibet. All of TRAS's projects are proposed and implemented by local partner NGOs, to avoid exactly the problems that carmen discusses; we don't send Canadians overseas to do work that people there can do for themselves. We also sponsor children.

I have to ask, though, what about the thousands of children living right here in Canada in states of extreme poverty?

It's true that despite our wealth, there's still many people in Canada who need help. So why do we provide any foreign aid at all?

I don't think it's unreasonable to say that we should be primarily concerned with the interests of fellow Canadians, rather than everyone everywhere. Our strongest obligations are to people closest to us--family, friends, fellow Canadians. Our obligation to help strangers is much weaker. (Personally, I give to the United Way.)

That said, I would caution against the argument that we shouldn't send any help at all to people outside Canada unless and until there's no Canadians who need help. (dirtynumbangelboy isn't necessarily making that argument here, it's just an argument I've heard before.) We're already spending tens of billions of dollars on helping people in Canada, via the welfare state: EI, welfare, and so on. I don't think it's so onerous to provide a relatively small amount of aid to strangers. I think we do have an obligation to help strangers; it's a weak obligation, and it doesn't take priority over helping fellow citizens, but it's still there.

Just because we have a #1 priority doesn't mean that we should allocate all of our resources to it, leaving nothing at all for priorities #2 to #100. Helping strangers is way down the list, but we shouldn't drop it off the list.
posted by russilwvong at 4:18 PM on August 19, 2005

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