In Gudiyattam, India, World Vision's Born to be Free program works to help children stay in school through economic assistance, children's clubs, and other projects. Sathyaraj, a former sponsored child, completed his education through World Vision's programs and is now an advocate for children's issues, wanting his village to be a model for the whole country.
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Sathyaraj is a true champion for children. He lives with his family in one of the villages near Gudiyattam, where World Vision’s Born to be Free project works. Sathyaraj, now 21, has been involved in World Vision programs as a sponsored child for 10 years. He has always spoken out for the issues of children in his village. From taking up the cause of education, to advocating for street lights for his village, to closing down illegal liquor shops, Sathyaraj has led many children’s movements for change. Sathyaraj recently completed his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. “World Vision’s support for my higher education came at a very crucial time for me,” he says. “Only because of that I was able to complete my college degree. They helped me pay my college fee.” Coming from a poor family, Sathyaraj’s education is indeed an achievement. His parents were daily wage laborers, struggling with uncertain jobs and a very low income. His father passed away at the beginning of this year. World Vision also provided assistance to build a tiled roof for their house. “Our house only had a thatched roof. It was very difficult during the rains. We asked [World Vision] to help us. Now, this tiled roof is very good,” says his mother, Sarala. Sathyaraj has been an active member of the children’s club. He is the president of the state-level children’s club, and encourages children in other villages to speak up for their rights. From a shy, quiet young boy, Sathyaraj has evolved into the bold advocate for change that he is today. “I used to be very scared of people. I could not even speak two sentences in front of an audience,” he recalls. “Today I can speak to anyone. I have even won six debating competitions in my college.” The staff of the Gudiyattam project have been a true inspiration to him. “I really look up to Sundar,” he says, referring to the community development coordinator of World Vision. “He encouraged me to speak, especially for the rights of others.” As a World Vision sponsored child for 10 years, Sathyaraj received school uniforms and stationery while he was in school; World Vision also provided him with a bicycle.
“The bicycle was very helpful. During the first year of my college, I was often late,” he says. “The buses were very infrequent. I had to miss classes in the morning.” With the bicycle, Sathyaraj has been able to get to school on time. He has also shared this gift with another child. After he completed his education, he lent his bicycle to another boy in his village so he could continue his own education. “I thought the bicycle will be useful for him now that I have completed my education,” he says. Sathyaraj aspires to complete his master’s degree in social work. “I want to use my education to help others,” he says. For now, he is planning to work for a couple of years to support his family. “After my father’s death, it is very difficult for us. I will work for some time, save money, and then continue my education,” he explains. Looking back, he says, “When World Vision came to our village, there were over 100 children who were child laborers. They worked hard and could not go to school. Now, every child in our village is in school.” Helping child laborers and sending them to school is the focus of World Vision’s Born to be Free project around Gudiyattam. “To prevent children from going to work, World Vision provides economic development assistance to families living in poverty to earn an income so that they can send their children to school,” says Moses Palmer, manager of the Born to be Free project. World Vision encourages children to continue their education through school uniforms, books, and higher education assistance. Children’s clubs in all the villages teach children their rights and provide a forum for them to discuss issues that affect children. The clubs and self-help groups for women also ensure that all the children in the village are in school. They have sent many child laborers back to school after explaining the importance of education to parents and convincing them to send their children to school. “I want our village to be a model village for the whole country,” Sathyaraj says. “We want to share whatever we have learned with others.” Like Sathyaraj, there are many stories of change and development in the lives of children and families here written through the love and support of donors. Children who were once caught in a life of hard labor are now studying and dreaming big for a better future.
Child sponsorship helps children like Sathyaraj stay in school instead of having to work, while providing life-saving basics like clean water, nutritious food, healthcare, and protection. Consider sponsoring a child in India today!