Often when we think of child sponsorship, we consider younger children being the most vulnerable. While the needs of young children are truly important, we have found the most crucial stage for our students is adolescence. According to WHO’s Atlas of African Health Statistics 2017, Uganda has one of the highest adolescent mortality rates in Africa due to accidents, substance abuse, suicide, violence, HIV and pregnancy complications. 40% of girls are married by age 18 and 14% have given birth between the ages of 15 and 19 (Atlas of African Health Statistics, 2017). Many of these young girls then raise their children without the involvement of the father, dropping out of school and struggling to make ends meet. We need to be deeply concerned for our older students in the program, investing even more time in discipleship, camps, health education and family support!

Hope Africa International has several strategies to respond to the increasingly complex issues our adolescent students face. First, we believe that the spiritual and emotional aspects of child development need to be addressed early on in sponsorship through Bible teaching and health education at Center Days. Also, by 5th grade, students are encouraged to participate in outreach events to open their eyes to the needs of others and how they can give back to their community. We have seen wonderful results from this investment with our children striving to be excellent students, standing strong in their faith, and having a sincere desire to make change in their community!

Things change for our students when they are promoted from Primary to Secondary School. They leave home and board full time at school (except during holidays) with rigorous academics, decrease in parental involvement, increasing peer pressure, and as is the case all over the world, a greater exposure to social media. We have implemented a discipleship program through Ugandan staff and volunteer pastors who visit the schools to meet with students as a group, guiding them spiritually and holding them accountable. We also host four day camps three times a year for our Secondary students where they truly grow in their faith, make important decisions to direct their lives and maintain a community of friends and adults who challenge them to stand strong.

Hope Africa International strives to be an ongoing support to the parents of sponsored children. Through group parent meetings, individual meetings, and home visits, our Ugandan staff have built lasting relationships with these families. Students who are orphaned or from single parent homes, often feel pressured to enter into early marriage (especially girls) or drop out of school to help out at home. Understanding the family dynamics helps us to better meet the needs of the child and provide support for the family to prevent potentially devastating consequences.

Your role as a sponsor is more important than ever at this stage of life for sponsored children. Even if you do not write often, your simple, financial support sends a message to the student that they matter! One nursing student recently wrote to her sponsor, “Thank you so much for your support. You have made me somebody important, and now I can help my parents in case they are sick! God Bless you!” What a beautiful example of how the basic investment in a teen’s life makes a world of difference.