Alice’s Story

As the car rolled up to the large gated entrance of Malawi’s statehouse, Alice stared out of the window. She, along with Children of the Nations (COTN) Founders Chris and Debbie Clark (and several others from COTN), were meeting Malawi’s First Lady, Gertrude Mutharika. To herself, Alice thought, “How has this happened? Why out of all the children in Children of the Nations, did they pick me?” Alice recalls. “I couldn’t find answers, but in my heart, I said ‘thank you to God’ for helping me reach this far. I never dreamt of this happening.”

Alice had never experienced anything like this before. The guards greeted them by name, they walked through security and Alice did something she’d never done before—ride in an elevator. “I got in the elevator the wrong way,” Alice says laughing. Every moment of their visit was scheduled and full of formalities. When the First Lady arrived, they addressed her as, “Madam, your Excellency.” Alice was here to share her story with the First Lady.

After her parents died, Alice was sent to Mtsiliza to live with her grandparents, in a deeply impoverished village on the outskirts of Lilongwe. They couldn’t provide for her and the other six children living in their one-room mud-walled hut. Alice explained how she was often sick as a child. There was no money for doctors or medicine. She couldn’t go to school. She was always the last child to eat in the family. Her grandparents told her she could never hope to become anything.

Alice’s life changed dramatically the day she moved into COTN’s Children’s Homes.

But when COTN learned of the conditions she was living in, Alice was invited to live in COTN’s Children’s Home. Her life changed dramatically. Suddenly, she was part of a loving family and was given the physical, spiritual, emotional, and educational care she so desperately needed:  she had food daily; she went to school and became the first in her family to graduate from secondary school. Soon afterward, she graduated from university.

“You can list goals or accomplishments,” says Debbie Clark, “but when a child tells the depth of their story and where they’ve come from, that’s what brought so much life and what touched [the First Lady’s] heart.”

Alice explained that she looked up to the First Lady for her leadership and generous heart. When Alice finished, the First Lady stood up and gave her a hug. “The meeting felt so formal, except when Alice and Francisco (from COTN) began to share,” says Debbie. “It went from being so formal, to real.”

“Malawi’s First Lady is someone who is not easy to touch.,” says Alice. “She didn’t know much about COTN before this. She thought we just came from a nice place. When I mentioned my village, she said, ‘How can that happen? You don’t look like someone who has come from there. Wow, Children of the Nations is really doing a great job.”

“Alice did an incredible job,” Debbie says. “She was eloquent, but real and personable.”

To everyone’s surprise, the First Lady had one more request for Alice—she asked her to share her story again at a nationwide girls’ education event. Alice shared her story again in front of 300 girls, the President, the First Lady and the Chinese ambassador. Alice encouraged the girls to work hard and gave glory to God for her own success.

Alice is grateful and overwhelmed for these amazing opportunities to share her story. “This gave validity to her journey,” Chris Clark says. “Sometimes when you come from that background, you think you’ll never overcome.”

“I think God is showing me His greatness and how He makes good things from hard things,” says Alice. “I’m learning to trust Him.”

This summer, Alice Williams interned at CRISTA Camps as a camp counselor along with a fellow COTN Malawi University program graduate, Ndaona Chauluka. Alice and Ndaona are keynote speakers at COTN events throughout the USA until they return to Malawi in November.

Want to Change the World? Sponsor a Child

In 2013, Christianity Today participated in a study of the effects of Child Sponsorship. The data gathered from that ground-breaking study was a powerful recommendation for sponsoring children as a way that we can truly have kingdom impact. I decided, this week, to share an article from that issue, that, three years later, still sticks in my mind. Please take the time to read Bruce Wydick’s excellent piece –Nan

A top economist shares the astounding news about that little picture hanging on our refrigerator:

“What can an ordinary person like me do to help the poor?” When people find out at parties and social gatherings that I am a development economist (and yes, we economists do attend such events), often they ask me this question. For a long time my response was the same: “Perhaps sponsor a child?”

I suppose I gave this answer because I myself sponsored a child, and if I was supposed to know something about helping the poor, I should encourage people to do what I was doing. After all, child sponsorship makes sense: By focusing on youth instead of adults, it aims to nip poverty in the bud, providing children in the developing world access to education, health services, and, in some programs, spiritual guidance. But over time my autopilot response started to annoy me. The truth was that I hadn’t the slightest clue about the effect child-sponsorship programs had on children.

Dissatisfaction with my pat answer began to inform conversations with my graduate students. “Have you considered researching the impact of child sponsorship?” I would ask. One student was interested, and she followed the topic long enough to find out that no one had ever investigated the topic, despite 9 million children sponsored worldwide, and the more than $5 billion per year being channeled into sponsorship programs from ordinary people wanting to help. But we were having trouble finding a sponsorship organization willing to work with us. What if the research discovered that sponsorship didn’t work? This was the risk that some organization out there had to take.

A couple years later, another graduate student, Joanna Chu, became interested in the topic, in part because she was sponsoring a child with Compassion International. Chu put out some feelers with Compassion’s research director, Joel Vanderhart, who decided to risk what no other child-sponsorship organization was willing to risk at that point: to allow its program to be scrutinized. We were able to carry out the study with one major condition: Compassion would remain anonymous. They would be referred to as “a leading child-sponsorship organization” in any academic publication.

In the course of talking with Vanderhart, we stumbled upon a vein of gold for any development economist: He casually mentioned that Compassion had used an arbitrary age-eligibility rule when they underwent a major worldwide expansion during the 1980s. When one of Compassion’s programs entered a new village, typically only children who were 12 and younger were eligible for sponsorship.

With that, our strategy for identifying the causal impacts of the program became clear. We would obtain early enrollment lists from different village projects introduced during the 1980s, and track down the families of those who were first sponsored in these projects. Then we would obtain information on the life outcomes of these formerly sponsored children—now adults—and compare them to their adult siblings who had been slightly too old to be sponsored when the program arrived in their village. In this way we would be able to control for genetics, family environment, and a host of other factors that the siblings held in common. The only difference that could affect adult life outcomes across the sample would be the fact that Providence had allowed some of these siblings and not others to be age-eligible for child sponsorship.

The Results

Chu found a partner for her research project: Laine Rutledge, now a doctoral student in economics at the University of Washington. The two graduate students spent the summer of 2008 in Uganda, where they obtained data on 809 individuals, including 188 who were sponsored as children. The students had a number of adventures in the field, including a run-in with a wild dog that took a bite out of Rutledge’s leg. A couple of months after they returned, Chu and Rutledge stopped by to share the results. A nervous excitement quickly filled my small office. MORE.