Adopt a Village FAQs

What is Adopt a Village?

Designed to meet the basic needs of developing communities and eliminate the obstacles preventing children from accessing education, Adopt a Village is a unique sustainable development model made up of five pillars crucial to community development:

  • Education
  • Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Health
  • Alternative Income and Livelihood
  • Agriculture and Food Security

Together, these five pillars create a sustainable and holistic development model that helps to ensure children and community members are empowered to break the cycle of poverty.

Adopt a Village is currently implemented in Kenya, rural China, India, Sierra Leone, Ecuador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Ghana.

How does Adopt a Village work?

Adopt a Village supports community development in areas where there exists a high incidence of child labour, exploitation of children and minimal opportunities for the girl child. The development model is a true partnership with local communities as they are actively consulted and involved throughout the development process.

Through Adopt a Village, children and their families are provided with access to five pillars necessary in lifting communities and their residents from poverty:

Hear about Adopt a Village from our Co-Founder Marc Kielburger


The primary focus is to make the goal of “education for all children” a living reality. We believe that education provides the highest return of any social investment. Education is the best way to empower people with the tools, knowledge, strength and confidence they need to promote and protect their own rights, growth and self-sufficiency. Education helps families, communities, and even entire nations, break the cycle of poverty.


Many diseases and illnesses common to developing countries are transmitted through contaminated water and inadequate sanitation systems. As a result, children suffering from these illnesses become too sick to attend school. By providing communities with clean water, the Adopt a Village model aims to remove barriers that prevent children from attending school.


Our health programming operates on the idea that there lies a recognizable link between helping disadvantaged people meet their basic health care needs and building strong communities.


These programs specifically target marginalized women, providing them with productive resources that enable them to generate a sustainable source of income to increase their savings and even start their own businesses. The benefits of alternative income programs are directly related to an increase in girls attending school and a decline in the incidence of child labour.


Existing agricultural practices in rural communities in the countries where we work are based on systems that are hundreds of years old. These agricultural practices are no longer able to ensure self-sufficiency and adequate livelihoods amongst subsistence farmers in these communities. Increased capacity is needed in order to address the challenges of increasing desertification and shifting weather patterns.

What curriculum is taught in schools built by Free The Children?

The government in each Adopt a Village country determines the curriculum taught in the schools and school rooms the organization builds. This is an important factor in the education stage of community development through Adopt a Village. Standardized tests are typically given in the respective countries where the organization works. Passing this test is almost always necessary for being admitted into high school. Government-determined curriculum coincides with the test. If a student does not study this curriculum, the possibility of continuing their education past primary school is significantly lower.

Although the curriculum is not determined by Free The Children, the organization has created many programs and initiatives that complement it.

In Kenya, students are encouraged to join Free The Children Health and Environmental clubs, where they learn, among other things, the importance of clean water, washing their hands and how to plant, water and grow vegetables.

In India, Free The Children works with the community to plant medicinal gardens, which students use to study the various medicinal properties of plants and how to use them.

In Ecuador, gardens are planted on school property, which serve not only as a nutritional lunch source for students, but also teach students about the various nutritional factors of foods and the importance of eating well.

Does Free The Children work with the government in providing education to rural communities?

In all Adopt a Village counties, Free The Children partners with the Ministry of Education to ensure that all school-related projects initially implemented by the organization are maintained over the long-term. For example, the Ministry of Education in Kenya works with School Management Committees (made up of teachers and headmasters of each school) to ensure the schools are properly resourced, maintained and operated.

Sustainability is the goal of all Free The Children’s Adopt a Village projects. From the very beginning of our work in a community, Free The Children works closely with the government to ensure that local community members are empowered and have real ownership over each Adopt a Village education project, be that a school room, a school garden or a student environmental club.

Who pays the salaries of teachers working in Free The Children schools?

The government in each Adopt a Village country pays the salaries of teachers in Free The Children schools. However, in some cases, the community will join together to pay part of the salary for a community-level teacher. In China, for example, through Free The Children’s alternative income and livelihood programming, the community will give some of the income generated from an animal husbandry project to support the salary of a community-level teacher. Salaries vary in each community and each country. Amounts are determined by the government and are reflective of each community and country’s specific needs.

Free The Children is committed to providing all students in our schools with a quality education, one that will provide them with the knowledge and tools to lead productive, successful and happy lives, free from poverty. That’s why our work with the Ministry of Education in each Adopt a Village country is so crucial.

Does Free The Children provide lunch to students at Free The Children schools?

Whether or not Free The Children directly provides lunch to students is dependent on each community’s food security situation. For example, during the recent drought in East Africa, the organization stepped up to provide full support. This included supporting short-term drought relief efforts like providing students with a hot meal for lunch and ensuring nutritional check-ups were conducted at the Baraka Clinic, and long-term sustainable solutions such as agricultural programs and providing access to clean water through large scale water projects.

In many of our Adopt a Village countries, Free The Children complements school curriculums with agricultural projects, such as having environment clubs at schools or working with students to plant kitchen gardens on school property to grow medicinal and nutritional plants and vegetables. The vegetables from these gardens are used to supplement students’ meals in Free The Children schools with proper nutrition so that they can focus not on their hunger, but on their education.

Free The Children also ensures that Adopt a Village communities are given the proper resources, like kitchens and access to clean water, that they need to help support the nutrition of entire families and communities.

Is girl-child education a focus for Free The Children?

Yes. We believe that education provides the highest return of any social investment. Education is the best way to empower people, especially girls, with the tools, knowledge, strength and confidence they need to promote and protect their own rights, growth and self-sufficiency. Education helps girls, their families, their communities, and even their nations, break the cycle of poverty.

In developing communities around the world, girls have unique challenges in accessing education, staying healthy and breaking free of poverty—but they also provide hope for change more than any other group. In Free The Children’s work around the world, one thing transcends borders: the power of a girl to create positive change.

The lot of the girl child in developing countries:

Women and girls are typically responsible for food preparation, care of animals, care of the sick, crop irrigation, cleaning, washing and waste disposal.

The daily chore of collecting water takes millions of girls out of the classroom, and after long hours spent walking with heavy loads, there is little energy left for study.

About 1 in 10 school-age girls in Africa drop out once they reach puberty because they don’t have clean or private washrooms to use at school.

In many places, young girls are forced to leave school in order to enter into early marriage and pregnancy and bring income to their families.

Free The Children’s support of women and girls:

Free The Children attaches water projects to each of the schools and schoolrooms we build. Not only are girls able to collect water on their way home from class, this ensures families are drinking clean instead of contaminated water.

Our alternative income projects provide financial literacy training and empower women to sustainably contribute to family income, through beekeeping, animal husbandry, women’s circles and more. Mothers who have a source of income are less likely to take their female children out of school and into early marriages.

Our first all-girls secondary school, the Kisaruni Girls’ Secondary School, allows young Maasai and Kipsigis women to continue their education beyond middle school, empowering them to create positive change within their communities and become role models and visionary leaders.

Through Free The Children Girls’ Clubs, Ecuadorian girls come together for workshops on human rights, self esteem and leadership, sharing perspectives and ideas, building strong bonds with each other and working together on income-generating projects.

In China, we work with communities to ensure equal enrolment of girls and boys in schools.

What do your health projects on the ground look like?

Our health projects include:

  • Mobile health clinics
  • Health care and awareness workshops
  • Provision of medical supplies
  • Health care and awareness workshops to educate communities on preventable diseases
  • Household health promotion
  • An epilepsy management program

What is the impact of alternative income and livelihood programming?

The impact of alternative income and livelihood programming reaches far beyond giving mothers and women a source of alternative income to provide for their children and families. Providing mothers with this income is key to the sustainability of Adopt a Village. When mothers have a source of income their financial stability is increased, thus reducing child labour, giving women a sense of empowerment and a voice, increasing women’s capacity and skills and more.

In many of our communities, families have barely enough money for one meal per day. With no source of regular income, parents are often unable to support the education of all of their children, either because schooling is too expensive or because children are needed to help with income-generating tasks. By participating in Free The Children’s alternative income and livelihood programming and gaining financial stability, women are able to send all of their children to school for a longer period of time. This has an effect on the children themselves and on the entire community. An educated community is more equipped to lift themselves out of poverty.

What’s more, women who participate in alternative income and livelihood programming also increase their capacity and skills. These skills not only benefit the women who have them, they are passed on to friends and children who can use them in the same way, now and in the future. Women are empowered and proud, and act as wonderful examples to their daughters.

The alternative income and livelihood pillar of Adopt a Village is key to ensuring the sustainability of the development model. In almost every community worldwide, women are the ones who look after children, make sure they go school and help them do their homework. When they’re free from poverty, mothers can give their children the opportunities they deserve.

What do your alternative income and livelihood projects on the ground look like?

Our alternative income and livelihood projects are different in each Adopt a Village country. They are based on each community’s culture, traditions, resources, habits, climate, environment and more.

The projects include:

  • Animal husbandry projects which includes milking/breeding animals
  • Vocational training
  • Business and financial literacy workshops
  • Leadership and skills training
  • Honey production
  • Artisans projects
  • Girls Clubs
  • Women’s and Men’s lending circles and support groups

Does Free The Children work with the government in providing health care to rural communities?

Yes, Free The Children works with the government in many ways. In most cases, Free The Children provides communities with the education to become and stay healthy, and in situations where immediate health care is needed, the organization will refer the patient to a local hospital.

What’s more, we align our health care practices with the government’s national priorities and in many cases work with the government in getting resources and materials to clinics. This ensures that Free The Children does not recreate the role of the government. We work as a partner and have no intent of replacing government services in any of the communities where we work. This is so that there is always a level of transparency and sustainability in all of our health programming.

Free The Children believes in and focuses on education. We provide much preventative programming, including first aid education, common disease prevention and more. Should treatment be necessary, the organization relies and works with the government to ensure that treatment is given.

What illnesses or diseases are most common in Free The Children communities? What does Free The Children do to prevent or treat these?

The most common illnesses in Adopt a Village communities are respiratory illnesses, water-related illnesses, and malaria.

Free The Children takes a number of measures to ensure that these illnesses are not only treated, but prevented.

Most importantly, we put a lot of emphasis and importance on education and working with communities to teach them how to prevent these illnesses. In India, for example, we provide communities with household visits to discuss preventative measures, illustrated health manuals, posters and more. In Sierra Leone, Free The Children has been supporting epilepsy treatment and education programs. We offer families subsidized and free access to anti-convulsant medication. Our team also provides educational outreach, hosting workshops for community members and other health workers about the causes, effects, and treatment options for epilepsy.

We also put into place preventative projects like chimneys to help eliminate smoke in the home, hand-washing stations in schools to keep students clean and wells and boreholes for safe drinking water.

In some countries, Free The Children provides basic treatment like de-worming and vaccinations, and in Kenya, basic treatment of common ailments.

Do boys and men participate in and benefit from Free The Children programming?

Our holistic development model, Adopt a Village, empowers all community members, regardless of gender.

We believe that education provides the highest return of any social investment. Education is the most effective way to empower young people – both boys and girls – with the tools, knowledge, strength and confidence they need to promote and protect their own rights, growth and self-sufficiency.  In the communities where we work, girls face unique challenges in accessing education, staying healthy and breaking free from poverty. Where we work, there is typically a large gender gap in education, with more boys in school than girls.  As a result, while our work is not exclusively focused on girls, we do work to increase the number of girls enrolled in school.  Having said that, we believe in the importance of quality education for both boys and girls.

Our schools are built in the interest of educating all students, not only girls. Our clean water projects, alternative income activities and food security programming engage and benefit entire communities, not only girls and women. All of our international development work is done so that every member of every community, regardless of gender, can break free from the cycle of poverty and continue to thrive.

What do your clean water projects on the ground look like?

Our clean water and sanitation projects include:

  • Hand pump systems
  • Boreholes and wells
  • Water catchment systems
  • The piping of clean water into a school or community
  • Clean water education and sanitation
  • Hand-washing stations and latrines for schools

Why is freshwater so scarce in the communities where Free The Children works?

Many of the areas where the organization works have dry climates. In addition, the communities are facing issues like deforestation, changing weather patterns and global warming. Also, communities often only have limited sources of water, like a local river, which is used for everything: bathing, washing clothes, drinking source for people, and is also where animals defecate and bathe themselves.

Are girls given their own latrines at school?

Yes. About 1 in 10 school-age girls in Africa drop out once they reach puberty because they don’t have clean or private washrooms to use at school. Ensuring that girls have their own latrines at school is crucial to ensuring girls continue to receive an education.

How does Free The Children involve the communities in which it works in its Adopt a Village programming?

Sustainability is the goal of all Free The Children’s Adopt a Village projects. From the very beginning of our work in a community, Free The Children works closely with the government to ensure that local community members are empowered and have real ownership over each Adopt a Village education project, be that a school room, a school garden or a student environmental club.

Community members in Adopt a Village countries volunteer by helping to construct a school, digging for a water project and more. In Kenya, communities elect a water management committee that takes ownership of maintaining wells, boreholes and hand-washing stations. In Haiti, the organization has employed 6,000 people, to date, who have touched our projects on the island in one way or another.

In rural China, the community works to construct roads so that material and supplies are able to get through to a build site.

The involvement of the community is crucial to creating and maintaining a sense of involvement, investment and ownership of Adopt a Village projects. It is this ownership that will help ensure our projects are sustainable and maintained in the long run.

What is the history of Adopt a Village? How did the model come about?

In 1996, after Craig had met many child labourers, he saw the extent of abuse and neglect these children suffered. Free The Children’s goal was to build a rescue home in India where some of these freed child labourers could go for rehabilitation.

Craig and the Free The Children team quickly realized this wasn’t enough. We shifted our focus to what we believed would prevent child labour in the first place—education—and set about building schools. However, we soon realized that girls could not attend because they had numerous household responsibilities, such as fetching water (a job that can take hours each day) that prevented them from attending school. That’s when we began to build water wells and clean water projects near schools, allowing girls to fulfill their responsibilities while also accessing a quality education.

By 2004, we had fully introduced our Adopt a Village model—holistic and sustainable, and in complete partnership with the communities in which we work. We had schools and water wells, but until children are healthy, we learned, they can’t be attentive during school or even in attendance. So, we introduced our health care programming. Then we developed the fourth pillar, alternative income and livelihood. These programs empower mothers to have the financial independence that allows them to ensure they can support their families and keep their children in classrooms and out of situations of child labour. The fifth pillar, agriculture and food security, implements nutrition and agriculture projects in communities to address rising issues of malnutrition, food insecurity and outdated agricultural practices.

Prior to 2004, Free The Children worked with a number of agencies and a multitude of foundations to build schools in 16 countries across the world. Like a lot of other charities, at that time we fundraised the money and then gave it to local organizations to build the schools. However, with the introduction of Adopt a Village, we’ve created a critical difference between how we work versus the operations of many other organizations. Free The Children employs staff and teams in the Adopt a Village countries to implement all pillars of our development model, working side-by-side with community members.

Where has Free The Children built schools in the past?

In addition to the eight Adopt a Village countries, Haiti, Kenya, India, rural China, Ghana, Nicaragua Ecuador and Sierra Leone, in the past Free The Children has built schools in the following countries

  • The Gambia
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • Peru
  • Guatemala
  • Dominican Republic
  • Mexico

How do you ensure the upkeep of your schools after you’ve stopped working in a particular community?

Free The Children works closely with the members of each community we work in, consulting them on their specific needs and involving them in the building or refurbishing of a school. This leads to a sense of ownership of the school which in turn ensures its care and upkeep.

In addition, schools built or refurbished by Free The Children as part of Adopt a Village are not run by the organization. Each of the eight countries in which Free The Children works has a Ministry of Education that operates schools, maintains them and pays for teacher salaries and school operations.

How do you choose where to work?

We work in rural communities with high incidences of poverty and child labour and with marginalized and indigenous rural populations.

At Free The Children, we believe that creating lasting change is not a one-person job; entire communities need to come together as one to make a difference. As a result, we’re currently focusing our Adopt a Village programming in countries where we’ve developed long-standing partnerships with communities, local leaders and governments.

Who are the beneficiaries and what are the benefits of the Adopt a Village model?

Through the implementation of Adopt a Village program components, entire communities experience development, recovery and rehabilitation. The benefits of Adopt a Village to a community extend far beyond children’s attendance at school and include:

  • Reduction in the rates of various poverty related diseases.
  • Increased attendance of girls in primary school.
  • Reduced infant mortality and improved maternal health.
  • Increased empowerment and independence of women.
  • Increase in base family income.
  • Improved rates of adult literacy and education as parents learn and are inspired by their children.
  • Reduction in the rates of child labour.
  • Greater self-sufficiency, independence, empowerment and solidarity of entire beneficiary communities.

How long do you work in a community or region?

Our goal is to work with the community on long-term development and create holistic and sustainable solutions. All elements of Free The Children’s Adopt a Village model are designed to be owned and maintained by the community and self-sustained within five years after project implementation is completed.

Because we work hand-in-hand with communities to implement our projects, the commitment of all community members is essential to making Adopt a Village work. We aim not only to ensure the sustainability of our programs, but to empower communities with the skills and resources needed to change their lives. Our commitment to each region is only met when community members have acquired these skills and are capable of sustaining change by themselves. As each community is unique and faces its own set of challenges, the length of this process may vary.

After you no longer work in a community, how do you ensure sustainability of Adopt a Village projects or initiatives?

This level of self-sustainability is achieved by:

  • Developing and building the capacity of community members to assume leadership and management of projects.
  • Providing families (especially women) with opportunities to participate in alternative income and livelihood programs, and equipping them with the skills and tools to be successful entrepreneurs and give back to their community through financial literacy training, business planning workshops and leadership seminars; tapping into and developing the potential of “merry go rounds” (and other similar traditional lending and savings initiatives) to enhance the income earning and livelihood improvement activities of families.
  • Tackling local environmental issues and providing solutions based on indigenous knowledge ensures programs can be sustained by both community and land base.

Who implements Free The Children’s projects?

In every program country, Free The Children has a team of seasoned, mostly local professionals and knowledgeable partners that implement our programs. Regular monitoring and evaluation of the programs are completed by our senior staff and international office. We are committed to hiring locally to ensure the effectiveness of our programs and to build capacity within the regions where we work. The size of the Free The Children country teams varies to reflect the specific needs of each region.

As with any international development organization, Free The Children has dedicated staff in Canada who help to manage and implement these projects as well as experts, directly on the ground. These experts provide services such as medical programs and financial literacy training workshops and help implement small and large-scale construction projects for schools and water systems.

Do you work with the governments of the Adopt a Village countries? If so, why?

Yes, Free The Children works with local governments. This helps us ensure the long-term sustainability of our projects as we work specifically with the government to help support the communities in which we implement Adopt a Village. For example, in India we have partnered with the government to support the health centre we have built.

With all of our work we try to ensure that our communities receive fair attention, support and resources from the government.

Why is your development model better than that of other organizations?

Adopt a Village is a unique approach to community development that is both assets- and rights-based. The model is designed to meet the basic rights of developing communities and eliminate the obstacles preventing children from accessing education while at the same time using the assets of every community in which we work. This approach is more sustainable over the long term. By focusing on both rights and assets, Free The Children aims to provide all Adopt a Village communities with the tools, skills and knowledge to lift themselves out of poverty.

How do gifts of farm animals work?

When you donate to the alternative income and livelihood pillar of Adopt a Village, your gift is targeted to our alternative income and livelihood programs in a specific community, helping community members to gain financial stability.

Our alternative income and livelihood programs go beyond the provision of animals, and include financial literacy and business skills training for women and their families, ensuring long-term solutions to economic challenges. Goats, animals and other productive resources can be provided through micro-loan/grants programs or through women’s group activities, depending on the country. This is all part of ensuring our programs are uniquely designed to have the greatest impact for each community we work with.

How else can I support the Adopt a Village model in my school?

Free The Children has many awareness raising programs, curricula, video resources and a multitude of free educational resources to help bring Adopt a Village alive and become part of the fabric of schools. Please contact us and we will be pleased to send you additional information.

Young people every year raise funds towards the purchase, distribution, shipment and facilitation of our medical supply program. As a result, every year we are able to send millions of dollars of medical supplies to our projects and health facilities, to keep children healthy so they can attend school. Check out an example of the impact of our medical programs here. Also, students can collect school and health supplies which we are able to ship overseas to the children who attend our schools. If you would like more information on these programs, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

Can I choose to build a school in a community or country that Free The Children is not yet working in?

Free The Children is not a granting organization that distributes funding to third party organizations. And, although we try our best to expand our project reach as much as possible, we unfortunately do not have the capacity to do so at this time. We currently have set priority regions through our Board of Directors, and are unable to take on any new partnerships and do not offer requests for proposals.

How can I see the results of my contributions?

One of our core values at Free The Children is “honouring every stakeholder” and, among other ways, we adhere to that value by being fully transparent in all our operations. If you choose to donate to our international projects, you’ll receive an update twice a year on the progress of the community you support and access to our community blogs.

These reports and blogs include:

  • Photos from the community you’re supporting.
  • An update on all the programs Free The Children is implementing in that community (education, water and sanitation, health care, alternative income, agriculture and food security).
  • Stories about the direct beneficiaries of your donation and a preview of what our next priorities are in that region.

Is it possible to visit Adopt a Village communities?

Meeting the community and volunteering to help make the project a reality is an extremely rewarding experience both for the visitor and community, and we welcome you to visit communities in many of the countries where we work.

To facilitate your visit, Free The Children works in coordination with our partner organization, Me to We, which plans all trips to some of our development sites. During the visit, you’ll have a chance to connect with the community and even volunteer to implement the Adopt a Village projects.

We strongly encourage you to visit our projects and experience for yourself the impact that Adopt a Village has on the lives of children and families in need. However, due to the remote locations we work in, not all program countries can be visited at the moment. The program countries currently available to visit are KenyaEcuador, Nicaragua, Ghana, China and India.

To learn more, visit

Why has the cost of building a school or school room increased from $8,500 to $10,000?

Free The Children is committed to building school structures of the highest quality that are sustainable for years to come. Each step in the building process also fosters a sense of ownership by the community, from the use of locally sourced materials and labour to architectural designs rooted in a deep understanding of the local environment, culture and aesthetics. Average construction costs for a new school or school room have been, until recently, $8,500, based on economic estimations that have been unchanged since 2007. The recently-updated figure of $10,000 now accurately reflects the current rate of inflation and the rising costs of both material and labour over the last six years. For example, inflation in Ecuador is at a rate of 5-7% per year, and labour costs are almost double what they were in 2007. Similar realities exist in the other developing countries in which we work. By adjusting our estimated building costs, we are providing a more realistic price point for the cost of building a school or school room—strong, functional and inspiring spaces for children to learn.