It is a cool Tuesday morning in Kalongo, Nakasongola District in Central Uganda. The sun rises over the flat grasslands, casting a warm orange light on the trees lining the homestead hosting us. Seated in a group of about 15, whilst observing social distancing, are elated children who for the first time, have the power to choose their own sponsors in their hands.
This is the Chosen™ event in the 'new normal', with the world grounded to a halt due to the fast-spreading novel coronavirus. Uganda is the first country in the World Vision Partnership to pilot this edition of 'Chosen'.
Using the household clustering approach, children registered under World Vision's sponsorship programme are selected to participate in groups of 10-15 within their respective household clusters. Next, a centrally located household is agreed upon as the venue to host the 'Chosen' encounter. Once prepared and equipped with hand-washing facilities, sanitisers, masks, and temperature guns to limit the spread of COVID-19, the household is ready for the event.
“Several locations can be formed depending on the number of child participants,” says World Vision Uganda Sponsorship Manager, James Kaahwa. “Selected children are presented with several pictures of sponsors, to choose whom or which family they would want to sponsor them.”
The Household Engagement and Accountability approach is World Vision Uganda’s innovation where10-20 households in densely populated communities and five to 10 in sparsely populated communities are clustered to strengthen community engagement, implementation, and accountability. Moses Kadobera, Community Engagement and Mobilisation Manager at World Vision in Uganda, is the brain behind this approach. He says, “Clustered households support each other to advance the well-being of every child. They ensure that the most vulnerable children are reached, protected, and cared for.”
Since resumption of work after the COVID-19 interruptions, six 'Chosen' events, including the one in Kalongo, have been held successfully within 22 household clusters; giving 321 vulnerable children an opportunity to choose their own sponsors for a life-changing relationship. “We now realise that smaller 'Chosen' events at the household are effective, efficient and time-saving,” Kaahwa says, “There has been a lot of saving in monetary terms as you don’t need a lot of logistics. So, costs on things like tents, decorations, and transport are completely cut off.”
Also, smaller 'Chosen' events are more engaging for individual children and easy to manage. “You don’t need any external support as the process can be managed by the Cluster teams,” Kaahwa says, adding, “It’s like a normal business. It’s my prayer that this simplified process is adopted across the World Vision Partnership and replicated in all communities where we have sponsorship.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 'Chosen' events were big and fun. Children danced, played, ate, and drank. The vast grounds hosting the events were dense with merry throngs of children, parents, World Vision staff, sponsors, and visitors. It was a remarkable sight, watching women carrying their little ones on their backs as they walked towards the tent prepared for them. The smiles on the faces of these parents as they were greeted assured the team that the day was going to be a good one. A few minutes later, the vehicles carrying child participants would arrive amidst drumming, singing, and ululations. And when everyone had settled down, the 'Chosen' party would start with devotions. It was a wonderful atmosphere as World Vision staff and visitors would join the participants’ families in a time of worship. Some parents would even opt to lead in praise and worship.
After the devotions, the crowd would be engaged briefly on what 'Chosen' is and what was expected of parents and child participants. The families expressed their appreciation of the idea that their children now had the power to choose their sponsor. Another interesting moment from the event was a dance session by parents, children, World Vision staff, and all supporting staff and visitors from across the the World Vision Partnership. This set the tone for the commencement of the main event.
Slowly, staff would direct children as they made their way to the first stage of the programme. Parents led their children to register and receive identification numbers. Soon after a number of them had gone through the registration process, the first set of children would walk with their parents to a designated area to be prepped briefly.
Soon after comes the time for the first child to choose a sponsor. This was an exciting moment for everyone in the room or tent. Staff stood back as they watched children – one-by-one – walk majestically on a red carpet towards a stand that had an array of pictures of selected sponsors. The child participant would pause for a while and scan through the pictures. The face would suddenly light up with a smile when a choice was made. The child participant would then take a step forward, unpeg the picture, and turn around with a bigger smile, revealing the picture to the rest of the team. As the children continued to select, sponsors present would wait in suspense for the children that would choose them. It was an emotional moment when they were finally chosen and allowed to meet the children in person.
When one child was asked why he chose his sponsor, he replied: “I saw how the family closely hugged each other. It means there is love in the family. So they will love me too.”
So, how exactly does 'Chosen' work?
'Chosen' is a new invitation to child sponsorship where children get to choose their sponsors, instead of the other way around. This innovative experience puts the power to choose a sponsor in the hands of the child. It is a simple, yet powerful switch at the beginning of the sponsorship relationship that recognises the dignity and value of children living in extreme poverty—and expresses World Vision’s belief that these children have the power to change their own lives and their communities, and even to touch the lives of their sponsors.
The initiative starts with willing sponsors signing up to be chosen and getting their picture taken. That photo is sent to a community where World Vision works, to be displayed with the pictures of other potential sponsors. The community gathers for a celebration where children choose their sponsors. Soon thereafter, sponsors will receive a picture of the child that chose them holding their photo and a note letting them know about the child and what made the child choose them.
Launched in October, 2019, Chosen has introduced 2,673 children to the first of many empowering choices they will now have through child sponsorship, so they can become agents of lasting change. Empowering people out of poverty is at the heart of World Vision’s work. With four more children benefiting for every child sponsored, you can be assured that your generosity and support will impact the lives of many vulnerable children by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice.
Learn more about Chosen™ by visiting www.wvi.org/chosen.
Story by Maxine Kampire and Mary Atuheire