The Orphan Sponsorship Program (OSP) at University of Toronto
The UNICEF fact sheet for 2004 estimates that by the end of 2003, there were 143 million orphans aged 0-17 in 93 developing countries. More than 16 million were orphaned in 2003 alone. Due to recent disasters such as Tsunamis, earthquakes, war and the AIDS related orphans crisis in Africa, these numbers sadly have nowhere to go but up.
In 2003, the Orphan Sponsorship Program (OSP), a volunteer student initiative at the University of Toronto, was launched to bring awareness about the situation of orphans around the world and fundraise to sponsor orphans, in the hope of giving kids a better life and future.
Since their start, the OSP’s achievements have been blessed: In their first year within just a month-and-a-half, they had raised over $18,000 that enabled them to sponsor 41 orphans. In the current year alone (2007-2008), the OSP has so far raised over $62,000. Accumulatively, in almost five years of OSP’s existence, more than $205,000 has been fundraised. They are currently sponsoring 120 orphans annually from over 17 different countries, spanning four continents (these orphans are sponsored via officially recognized and registered charities). Donations cover education, health, food, shelter and other basic necessities of the orphans.
Such accomplishments would make the OSP one of the most successful fundraising initiatives in student fundraising history (we could not find any other similar achievements by anyone else)
Dr. Farhan Asrar, a specialist resident physician at the McMaster University affiliated hospitals, founded the OSP and has also been the Head Coordinator of OSP for the past five years. He says “Our achievements are truly a blessing, at the same time it is a challenge as every year, we need to raise enough to sponsor 120 (and hopefully in time even more) orphans annually. However, with the continued help of fellow students and Canadians in general, we will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of orphans year after year”
One major factor that has made OSP different from other student and youth fundraising initiatives is its continuity. Usually most student and youth fundraising initiatives are limited to a few weeks or a few months at the most. Let’s take the Tsunami and South Asian earthquake as examples: many student groups initiated fundraising campaigns to help the survivors, an excellent effort on the part of students and youths in North America. However, the fundraising only lasted a few weeks or a month and then entirely stopped. Since then, very few to no student groups have continued to fundraise for the Tsunami and Asian earthquake victims, even though the survivors are still in dire need of help now as they did few years ago. The OSP, on the other hand, continues to help orphans annually, not stopping/slowing down their efforts as time passes by (on the contrary, expanding/increasing it every year). The list of countries where they sponsor orphans is many and includes natural disaster hit areas such as the Tsunami affected Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the earthquake hit Pakistan and Kashmir, conflict and war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Middle East, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and many other countries that do not make it to the news. One noteworthy action on the OSP’s part is that they do not even take 1 cent for any administrative charges; all the donations they fundraise are forwarded to the registered charities to sponsor the orphans.
The Orphan Sponsorship Program’s objectives and future goals call for trying to keep re-sponsoring these orphans on an annual basis. Dr. Asrar says, “One very important factor we are taking in consideration is having a long-term goal for the OSP which would enable us to sponsor many orphans at a manageable, maintainable and reproducible pace. This way, constantly helping as many children as possible and at the same time not letting our efforts slow down, the following year. Once our target number of orphans to sponsor during the year has been achieved, further donations can ensure re-sponsoring these orphans for the years to come. Depending on the donations we receive, we hope to gradually increase the number of orphans that we sponsor and maintain”.
Helping others initiate a similar orphan sponsorship initiatives
The OSP has also encouraged and aided other student groups and associations from various universities and high schools in North America to start similar orphan sponsorship initiatives. Dr. Asrar was invited to meet and speak with various university campus groups and high schools students, encouraging and assisting them to initiate similar orphan sponsorship campaigns. Following OSP’s success, many other student groups have followed suite in organizing regular orphan sponsorship campaigns.
Keeping a rapport with the children
Another unique step that the OSP has initiated is keeping a rapport with the orphaned children. The charities that they sponsor the orphans from, annually provide OSP with profiles and updates on the orphans. Donors who donate to OSP can be assigned a specific orphan to sponsor and such profiles/updates can be forwarded to them, to keep them updated on their assigned orphan.
“These children do not lack simply financial support but also emotional support. Our aim is to create a rapport with the children by opening a channel of communication. We’re sending them gifts and greeting cards telling them about us and the community here. Hopefully they’ll write back, enabling us to know how the orphan is doing, keeping a check on the charities to ensure our donations are being properly utilized and the needs of orphans are being met”. The OSP recently organized ‘Greeting Card Signing Socials’ where greeting cards were signed, decorated and then sent along with gifts to the orphans being sponsored. Similarly, the OSP is looking into the possibility of arranging volunteers who are traveling (at their own expense) to countries where they sponsor orphans and personally visit the orphans taking along our well wishes and gifts for them.
When asked to mention a few words about the countries which may require more than others, Dr. Asrar replies, “It would be really hard to say one country deserves help more than another. We are sponsoring orphans from war-torn/conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosova and the Middle East. Then, not only has poverty and international issues affected Pakistan and Kashmir, they were affected by a devastating earthquake. The orphans from Bosnia have been through years of torment and massacre of their fellow Bosnians. Similarly Indonesians have been through tsunamis, earthquakes, bird flu, volcanic eruptions, etc. And what about the orphans we are sponsoring from other countries that are not in the news lately, a lot can be said about them as well. I could go on and on as every orphan child has been through a lot, no matter where they are from. All we can do is to be grateful for the lives that we have been blessed with and try to do what we can to help others less fortunate than us”.
It only costs $1-2/day to sponsor an orphan, donate any amount that you can. Donations can be in the form of cheques or online via Pay pal. Please make your cheques payable and addressed to:
Orphan Sponsorship Program
c/o University of Toronto, St. George campus
21 Sussex Avenue, Suite 405
Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1J6
For further information on the OSP, to sponsor a child or volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org