The controversy has reignited debate over international child sponsorship schemes and whether, amid growing calls to decolonise aid, the benefits they offer can outweigh the north-south power relations they re-enforce.
Carol Sherman, an independent humanitarian consultant who has held senior director roles in international NGOs for two decades, said the schemes perpetuate “racist and paternalistic thinking” similar to the “poverty porn” images of poor black children used by charities in the past.
“For years, we didn’t talk about the white gaze, myself included,” said Sherman. “Child sponsorship is a small part of decolonising aid, but it’s a part NGOs need to change. It is a relic of the past.”
Sherman acknowledges that many large schemes have evolved in recent years to provide benefits to communities, not individuals, while others, such as World Vision, allow the child involvement in choosing a donor. But “tweaking” the model is not enough, she said.
“Many agencies have moved away from sponsors of individual children to sponsors of communities, but they are still using individual children to ‘sell’ to donors,” said Sherman.
“Donors stick a picture of a child on their fridge and think of them as ‘our child’. They are well intentioned, but the parents of that child can’t refuse the money because they are living in poverty.”
This is a woman who can righteously be told to go boil her head.