On a visit to India, Baptist World Aid’s first CEO, Rev. Alan Prior, was moved when he discovered a community of children—who had been orphaned—being cared for by already over-stretched families from the local Baptist church.

Soon, Baptist World Aid began supporting these children with housing and education. Pressure was building from generous Australian Baptists who longed to help the world’s most vulnerable, so the first Baptist World Aid Child Sponsorship program—Support an Orphan (SAO)—began in 1974. And when Sponsors enthusiastically signed up, thousands of children received shelter, food and education that changed their lives.

This year, we celebrate all God has done through our first 50 years of Child Sponsorship.

In Uganda, Kennedy was one of the first children to be sponsored. When asked if Child Sponsorship changed his life, he replied without hesitation. ‘Absolutely. Fundamentally. I was the youngest of eight children of a single mother. We were barely surviving.’

Kennedy remembers playing fun games, learning how to work with his hands, and developing other skills that set him up for life. But more than anything, he recalls a safe and caring environment.

‘The food provided was unlike what we’d have at home. We’d have milk, cake, and meat. We realised that these guys are not only paying school fees, they’re also interested in us being healthy.’

Kennedy went on to gain two master’s degrees and is now working on a Doctorate of Ministry. He works for a theological seminary and is Vice-President of the Board of SAO Uganda. Kennedy has seen the Child Sponsorship program evolve from a Baptist World Aid-led project to Share An Opportunity—a Ugandan run, independent entity. And like many sponsorship programs around the world, their emphasis has moved away from individual child welfare.

‘Our approach now says, “We can help communities to care for their children,”’ Kennedy said. ‘So rather than helping one or two children from a family of 12, now you’re empowering the family, economically and socially, to care for their own.’

These days, Baptist World Aid works in partnership with SAO Uganda and other organisations around the world to run Child and Youth programs, available to all children and young people in the community. In many ways, it’s just as Kennedy remembers—children enjoying food, fun and friendship, along with educational support and initiatives that help children stay safe and healthy.  
But there are important additions to today’s programs. Sponsorship now means parents and siblings benefit alongside individual Child Partners, reducing inequity and supporting parents rather than disempowering them by subsuming some of their responsibilities. Joy’s family (pictured left) is a case in point. Although only her younger children are sponsored, the whole family has benefited from SAO Uganda’s programs, and Joy is now a teacher at SAO.   

Most importantly, we no longer view children as victims of poverty, but as active and effective community change makers. As well as caring for children, programs now help them stand up and speak out for their rights and others, identify challenges and propose solutions, and take up age-appropriate leadership roles. The result is confident young adults who have the power to lead their community.  

As Christians, Baptist World Aid has always asserted the indisputable value and dignity of all children. But over the last 50 years, we’ve also learned that young people, when equipped and supported, can transform their communities. With these young people emerging as leaders, and generous supporters investing in our Partner’s programs, just imagine what God can do over the next 50. 

This article was first published in Better World Magazine—Edition 7.