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Child Sponsorship Group Plan International Apologizes for Abrupt Withdrawal from Sri Lanka

Humanitarian organization Plan International has admitted it made mistakes when it pulled out of Sri Lanka last year, citing economic growth and improved human conditions in the South Asian country as factors.

After nearly 40 years of coordinating child sponsorships in the country, Plan International told patrons in January 2020 that local organizations would take over and they could choose to be reassigned to a child in another country.

Former employees told The Guardian that rising costs and low staff morale were among the real reasons for the pullout.

The charity has since apologized to the more than 20,000 children in the country who had previously been linked with sponsors and to communities and partners who felt the organization had left “abruptly,” The Guardian reported.

Investigators from Norwegian global development website Bistandsaktuelt talked with local officials, former employees, and former aid recipients in Sri Lanka, and issued a report May 19 in which those involved called it “incomprehensible” that Plan International “could leave thousands of vulnerable children without ensuring that they were followed up.”

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Maithri Gunaratne, ex-governor of one of Sri Lanka’s poorest provinces, called the idea that the country was economically stable enough not to need Plan International’s further help “a diabolical lie.”

“Plan has misled the sponsors. Poverty is still a huge problem. Plan has simply left a lot of children in a difficult situation, almost overnight. As far as I know, none of the projects have been taken over by local organizations,” he said.

Child sponsorship accounted for more than a third of Plan International’s income in 2020.

Plan International’s departure from the country has also raised questions about the appropriateness of child sponsorships in general, The Guardian reported. Independent humanitarian consultant Carol Sherman claims marketing methods that use sponsorships of individual children to raise money perpetuate “racist and paternalistic thinking.”

She said while some organizations have tweaked their business model to sponsor entire communities or allow children to have a say in choosing their benefactor, “many are still using individual children to ‘sell’ to donors.”

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.