We listen to stories.
In particular, we listen to the stories of vulnerable children.
And after hearing so many stories of children in difficult circumstances, a recurring theme began to emerge - something most people overlook about poverty.
You may be thinking children's main experience of poverty, the thing that impacted them most, would be:
- a lack of money for basic necessities
- only a single set of clothes to wear
- skipped meals and feeling hungry, or
- having to work from a very young age
All these answers are true in given cases, but they only tell part of the story.
Poverty is bigger and deeper than what we see. It affects family and community relationships, and it can threaten to derail the most basic needs of children. The needs that, when met, help them grow into healthy adults. In particular, a sense of belonging and personal significance.
These themes come up again and again in the stories we hear from young people who have grown up in poverty.
“I was alone.”
"I had no one I could trust."
“Nobody cared for me.”
“People looked down on me and treated me badly.”
The most hidden and misunderstood aspect of poverty is how it breaks and weakens relationships, leaving children (and adults) alone, rejected, fearful and emotionally wounded.
That's why the approach that Alongsiders takes to poverty is relational. The work that the Alongsider mentors are doing is transforming children and their families and communities on every level, including the level of emotional health, and it’s exciting to see in action.
Alongsider mentors are young adults who have themselves grown up in poor communities. They choose “little brothers and sisters” from their own communities - unrelated kids who are in vulnerable situations - and set out to love and mentor them as if they were family.
“The most important thing I learned from my Alongsider was love.
I know God loves me, because she loved me.”
--a former little sister, now an Alongsider mentor
We hear many stories about the impacts made by Alongsiders, and so many of them revolve around love and friendship overcoming isolation and rejection. But stories, even inspiring ones, are not hard to gather. We wanted to dig deeper and better understand how Alongsiders are changing the lives of little brothers and sisters.
Last year, we decided to survey a large group of little brothers and sisters from several provinces across Cambodia. The questions were carefully chosen and worded.
The same survey was given to an equal number of similar children in the same communities who are not being mentored by Alongsiders (a control group). All of this was done using objective research methods by an independent team.
What we learned was very encouraging. Having an Alongsider makes a significant difference in the lives of the little brothers and sisters. You can see the full report here.
The little brothers and sisters clearly perceive a positive effect on their emotional wellbeing. We hoped so, since the work of Alongsiders is founded on loving relationships, and it was a welcome confirmation. This is just one snapshot of what is happening. Again, you can see all the numbers in our 2013 impact assessment here.
How encouraging that Cambodian youth are the ones changing the lives of Cambodian children! And it's not just children who are changing. Families, communities, churches, and the Alongsiders themselves are being transformed in the process. It's all the more encouraging that these youth, who have grown up in poverty, have become mentors empowered to serve out of their own experience of marginalization.