20 Years of Freeing Families from Poverty

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“I still remember Babu Ali standing with his mom the first time we met the family,” recalls Kohima Daring, staff member in Bangladesh for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).

“He was so skinny and malnourished, I didn’t think he would live. Now he’s 23 and finishing his master’s degree in management in Jamalpur. God has really blessed that family.”

Twenty years ago, Babu’s family was one of four selected by CRWRC to represent its new Free A Family® program. The program gives North Americans an alternative to traditional child sponsorship, offering a personal connection to a family in need without the high administrative cost of some child-sponsorship programs. It also provides CRWRC with needed funds for community-level programs in countries around the world.

“He was so skinny and malnourished, I didn’t think he would live. Now he’s 23 and finishing his master’s degree.”

“CRWRC started Free A Family to provide North Americans with the opportunity to change one family’s story of poverty into a story of realizing their God-given potential,” explains Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, director of CRWRC-Canada. “The reliable and stable support that Free A Family provides to CRWRC is vital for making such long-term change happen.”

“CRWRC was aware of the attraction that traditional child-sponsorship programs offered,” she adds. “We wanted to provide something similar, while also staying true to our values of partnership and community.”

Rather than depicting individual children in isolation, CRWRC shows them as part of their families and communities. Wanting to be stewardly with donations, CRWRC developed the idea of having “representative families” from each region of the world where CRWRC works. This allows supporters a personal connection, yet directs as much money as possible toward community programs.

Twenty years later, the Free A Family program continues. Today more than $1.1 million annually supports life-changing programs like those that helped Babu.

“Twenty years ago, we wrote to Free A Family supporters to tell them about Babu Ali’s family,” said Daring. “Fatima Ali, Babu’s mother, was a poor widow with two sons. CRWRC encouraged her to join a women’s group in her community, where she received support and training in how to improve her life.

“Today she is still part of that primary group and meets with them each week. She owns a small plot of land and has a tin-shed house with a separate kitchen and latrine. . . .

“Her oldest son, Feroz Jaman, is now 29 and is married with a 6-year-old daughter. He has a good job at a garment factory and makes 16,000 taka ($200 USD) a month. His wife also works in the factory and makes about 8,000 taka ($100 USD) a month.

“While Free A Family supporters heard the family’s story for only four years in the early 1990s, their support continues to make a huge difference in this family’s life for multiple generations.”

The Sidibe family in Mali is another success story. Like the Ali family, Umu and Habibu Sidibe’s family was selected as a representative family for Free A Family in 1991.

Back then, as CRWRC staff met with the Sidibes, they told Free A Family supporters about Umu and Habibu being encouraged to vaccinate their children despite traditions that taught otherwise. They also reported on the low levels of formal education in the region and how the Sidibes were learning to read through CRWRC literacy programs.

“Today the family has moved into a new home and farms five hectares of land,” says CRWRC’s Mary Crickmore. “This is in large part due to a Millennium Development program in the region that the community advocated for with CRWRC’s assistance.”

Many other improvements can also be traced back to the work of CRWRC and its partners.

“The three youngest children, who were born after CRWRC’s work began, have all survived, thanks to their getting vaccinations,” notes Crickmore. “Three of the older children are married and earning decent incomes.”

Hamady, the second-oldest surviving child, learned to read and write through CRWRC’s literacy work. He has read many booklets and learned a lot from his reading. He has also set up a small shop in a town where he uses his knowledge to run the business and makes a good profit.

“Another impact on the family from CRWRC’s involvement is that the villagers got the equipment and training to maintain the pump on their well,” Crickmore adds. “They also opened a bank account to save money for replacement parts to do regular maintenance. Because of that, this family has had a consistent, clean supply of water. They have the same kind of pump in the new village, and they will be able to maintain it in the same way.”

In addition to the Sidibe and Ali families, Free A Family has followed the lives of 26 other representative families to date. Currently, CRWRC staff report on families from five regions: Asia, East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, and Latin America. They send updates about these families to supporters four times a year for three years, then select new families to report on.

Last year, 2,673 people supported Free A Family, donating more than $1.1 million. Through this program alone, CRWRC was able to work with 4,185 families.

“I am amazed and praising God,” Daring said after hearing about the Ali family’s progress over 20 years. “It is really encouraging to see the generosity of people in the church and also witness the impact of their support over time.

“I remember Fatima talking about her hopes and dreams for her children. They seemed so far off, but now she is realizing them. God has really blessed her. It is a privilege to be part of this ministry.”

To learn more about Free A Family, see freeafamily.org.

“Free A Family” at a Glance

Launch date: October 1991

Current number of supporting families: 2,673

Current recommended donation: $22/month or $264/year (USD)—enough to help one family participate in CRWRC programs

Current number of families helped each month through Free A Family support: 4,185

Current Representative Families:

  • Yang Taeng family (Cambodia)
  • Wanjiku family (Kenya)
  • Phiri family (Zambia)
  • Bah family (Mali)
  • Perez Sontay family (Guatemala)

What supporters receive:

  • A “Meet the Family” information card to hang on their fridge or bulletin board
  • Quarterly letters from a CRWRC staff member with photos and updates about the representative family
  • Prayer requests about specific needs in the region

Special campaign: 

This fall, CRWRC is asking Free A Family supporters to send in a postcard from their hometown with a short personal greeting. These postcards will be shared with the representative families and their communities during the Christmas season.

About the Author

Kristen deRoo VanderBerg was part of the World Renew Communications team from 1999-2016. She now serves as director of Communications & Marketing for the Christian Reformed Church.

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