Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Losing Sponsorship

(Written Friday May 4, 17:27 Kenya time – posting this in this chronological place to make sense of a few things)

In reading through some old blog entries, I realized that I should probably explain something.

One of the goals I had here was to photograph each sponsored child for their thank-you letters to their sponsors. Many of these children are at risk of losing sponsorship – or already have. The reason behind losing sponsorship is understandable. Donors from around the world give money to sponsor a child. If the child does not return a thank-you letter, with a picture preferably, eventually the sponsor stops sending money as they lose faith in the existence of the child. This has proven to be something extremely difficult for the Pokot to understand. It's not part of their culture to say "thank you". I've found this all over Kenya – in a restaurant for example when served food, of course I say "thank you" as this is our culture. It's often met with puzzling looks. Likewise the locals do not say it. It's just not their way. So it's difficult for the locals to understand the importance of sending these thank-you letters.

Sadly this has been going on for a long time, and most children are a year behind on thank-you letters – and they are supposed to send them once a month. Since the Pokot were not taking their own pictures and writing the letters (even though they have been given a digital camera, a laptop computer with cellular modem card, and training for this exact purpose) Carol wanted me to photograph the kids while here. However even then, organizing the children proved extremely difficult, and many kids were never photographed. Those that were did write their thank-you's (while we were here – this wasn't already done), and those have finally been scanned, transcribed and emailed, along with my photos.

As a result, many of these kids will lose their sponsorship. And even this month, then entire orphanage isn't getting their funding because so many donors have complained that IHF in the U.S. is withholding funds until the letters are sent. They managed to send many of these letters while we were here but a week past the deadline for funding. The IHF U.S. sends funds by bank wire once per month to all orphanages around the world, and has to do them all at once. So, this orphanage has to get by on what they have for the next month. It's painful, but the money simply isn't coming in without these letters.

In addition, the hold-out for these letters is so bad that Carol was withholding donated cash for the famine feed. As she had to stay behind in Nakuru, she gave me Sh 18,000 to hold until I had confirmation from Tim (the Pokot doctor, and who was handling emails this week) that they had been sent. That was on Tuesday. As you will see, I didn't get to hand the money over until Friday.


darling24_7 said...


Great blog. Kind of speechless at the moment...

fishpatrol said...

Man, this kind of cultural exchange is so difficult, partly because it seems so clear to us. Not even that a gift would require a thank-you. This is essentially a transaction that obviously to their benefit to complete. Young Man Pokot, you are writing a letter to sell to someone in America. It is a letter about who you are, what you are doing. The IHF has found a buyer for your letter. This money will buy you food, etc, etc,. Won't you write the letter?

If YM Pokot agrees, he may ask how many of these letters he can write, how much money he can make. Which is a perfectly sensible response. And we will probably say, "Only one," even though the money sent will only cover his needs for a short time. "Only one," even though there are many others around him who have no sponsor and are in great need. "Only one," we will say, because donors hold on to those letters as proof that their money is going somewhere, helping someone specific. Without this generous but fabricated relationship with a deeply needy person, why should they give to the IHF instead of their local fine arts campaign? It's a toss-up.

Sure we can focus on how strange it is that they don't say Asante to every action. What does it say about us that we so often refuse to help unless thanks is offered?

Joseph said...

"What does it say about us that we so often refuse to help unless thanks is offered?"

I don't think it's about refusing to help if there's no thanks, it's more a matter of trust. You give money to xx organization, and you want to be assured that your money is going to good use. When you expect a thank-you letter (because that's what you were told you'd receive) and it never comes, you start to wonder what really happened to that money.

The entire process of getting someone to write in the first place, whether it's a thank-you or a request, is a big challenge. As I spent time even with the western-style educated people, I came to realize that most have no concept of even basic business principles (which really is what raising money – in any form – is about. And no matter how many times you explain basic principles, they are immediately forgotten or ignored. It's certainly not that someone is unintelligent or stupid; it's simply that it's a concept so completely foreign that it doesn't sink in. But I did see that certain ideas were starting to become understood… it's just a matter of time.