So it is of some concern to me when someone I respect highly, namely John Wilkins, in the course of a rather scattershot post spouts some recommendations on charities to support, finishing with the following deprecation:
Whatever you do as an official reader of my blog, do not contribute to the evangelical and anti-family planning WorldVision, who, I was once told by a fieldworker who had been there, effectively kicked off the Ethiopian marxist dictatorship by their callous behavior during a famine. I also heard from a donor who travelled to the Philippines that their "child" was not seen more than once per year to get photographed and write the year's letters. Yet another worker at WorldVision themselves in Melbourne told me they engage in nasty accounting practices - sending money from one country to their sister organisations overseas so they can claim a set percentage is used overseas. All this anecdotal stuff is three decades old, but leopards rarely change their spots. Anyway, true or not, this is what my official readers should do.I'd hate to lose my status as an official reader of Evolving Thoughts (if only because the decoder ring is way cool), but I'm not changing my charities without something more substantial than unverified anecdotes (and also allowing for the fact that Wilkins is almost always at least half-joking). I count four distinct criticisms in that paragraph (I don't regard "evangelical" as a criticism, at least not in the context of this discussion), which I will examine as best I can.
The Dry Holes:
A Google search (FWIW) turns up nothing indicating problems about WV's involvement in Ethiopia, so as serious an allegation as it is, I'll have to put that aside for now as neither confirmed nor refuted. Similarly, short of an auditor's report being published, I have no way of checking into allegations of creative accounting (and which may only apply to WV Australia anyway -- the national chapters seem to be semi-independent).
On Child Sponsorship:
With respect to the complaint about the handling of sponsored children: I'm actually inclined to believe that one, but it's not clear to me that I should object to the practice. My understanding is that support of specific individuals is simply not an efficient or effective way to give aid. In fact (and the WV literature does say this) the money from all sponsors is pooled and goes to the development project of which the child's family or community is a part. But it's easier to get Westerners to open their wallets if you can put an individual human face on their donation, so the kids get used as a sort of advertising proxy. (Note that World Vision is not the only organization using this approach -- the secular Plan Canada mentioned above also does sponsorships).
Now as it happens, I am getting a little tired of the whole "child sponsorship" gimmick. I find signing and sending back (along with a further donation!) some card or trinket every few months to be a minor annoyance on top of dealing with the usual mail deluge, a chore I detest. I'd really rather just send an annual check to the organization itself, for some amount sufficient to relieve my middle-class guilt, and be done with it. Maybe some donors get the warm fuzzies from writing personal letters to their sponsored child, but I'm not one of them. Between being a horribly lazy correspondent and a generally anti-social cuss, I'm never going to be Warren Schmidt, pen-pal to some waif in Timbuctoo. So I may very well (ie. if I ever get off my lazy ass and figure out how) opt out of the sponsorship racket in favour of straight donation, whether with WV or any other organization.
On Family Planning:
Googling '"world vision" "family planning"' turns up a fair bit on this, mostly contradicting Wilkins' assertion:
- From the World Vision Australia FAQ "Does World Vision support the use of contraceptives?":
World Vision programs support modern contraceptive methods as part of an integrated approach to effective family planning....Given the high risk for sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), dual protection methods are encouraged. Examples of protection methods include abstinence, consistent and correct use of condoms, use of a contraception method, and mutual monogamy.
- A World Vision USA case study published by USAID (abstract and full PDF), reports on the effectiveness of teaching family planning and contraception in rural India. Contraceptive methods explicitly mentioned include IUDs and the Pill (I mention this to forestall suspicions that "family planning" might here be only a euphemism for less effective "natural" methods of pregnancy prevention).
- This briefing paper to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, in a chapter on ending early marriage in Ethiopia (pp.24&ff) discusses lack of access to contraception and family planning as negatives.
- This 1999 web article from a notorious "pro-life" site criticizes WV for supporting "population control", and promoting IUDs, the Pill and condoms. (Yeah, LieSiteNews ain't my favorite source either -- but in this case, I'm inclined to believe them on the grounds that they would not be likely to criticize another conservative Christian group unless there was something to it. And it is consistent with the material above from WV itself). (See also this article by the Catholic group Vida Humana, complaining about WV El Salvador's participation in the production of a manual on teen sexuality).
Does World Vision support women to have abortions?The question would be whether staying out of the abortion business makes someone "anti-family planning". Although the point could be argued, I would say not: if you're doing everything except that, then it seems perverse to apply the label. Now, if there was a group whose "family planning" advice consisted of advocating having lots of kids, and teaching only the rhythm method as a timing-and-spacing strategy, then I'd have little hesitation about calling them "anti-family planning". Another objection might be the refusal of WV US to provide emergency contraception (search for "World Vision"), or even referrals, to refugees. Problematic though this is (especially in cases of rape), it again does not seem to justify calling the entire organization "anti-family planning".
World Vision defines family planning as the provision of information and services to assist individuals and couples to responsibly determine the number, timing and spacing of their children. From World Vision’s perspective, family planning does not include abortion services and World Vision does not provide, recommend or support abortion.
There could, of course, be issues I'm missing in my Web search, e.g. the situation on the ground might be different from what is implied in the official reports; some of the language used is open to intepretation; I might easily have missed less favorable items among the umpteen hundred hits Google turned up. But what I did find says that World Vision does indeed provide effective, modern family planning advocacy and services, contra Wilkins' assertion.
I welcome hard information that might change my mind.