The Story of Adopt a Village

Beyond charity: sustainability

In eight countries, Free The Children works alongside the men, women and children who every day strive to free themselves from poverty, exploitation, disease and thirst. This effort is not charity, it is sustainability. It is freedom in action. It is Free The Children’s Adopt a Village development model.

The early days

In 1995, Craig travelled to South Asia where he saw first-hand the working conditions of child labourers. For seven weeks, Craig journeyed through slums, sweatshops and back alleys where so many children lived in servitude, often performing the most menial and dangerous of jobs.

After that visit, Free The Children set out to build a rescue home in India where freed child labourers could go for rehabilitation. However, the team quickly realized this wasn’t enough.

We had to start at the root of the problem so we shifted our focus to what we believed would prevent child labour in the first place: education. So, we started building schools. We soon learned that in many countries, girls didn’t attend school at all. They had household responsibilities like fetching water—a task that had to be performed multiple times each day and could take hours.

So, we began building water wells near schools, allowing girls to fulfill their responsibilities and get an education. We then learned that until children were healthy they couldn’t be attentive in class or even in attendance. So, we introduced health care programming.

Finally, we realized that even with schools, wells and health care, children missed school for financial reasons. So, we created alternative income and livelihood programs to empower mothers with financial independence that allows them to support their families and keep their children in classrooms and out of situations of child labour.

Shifting our model

Even with all these programs, we were continuing to work with a number of agencies and foundations to build schools. Like a lot of charities, we would raise funds and give them to local organizations who were stationed in the countries and would build the schools using their own resources.

This all changed in 2004 when we fully introduced our Adopt a Village model—holistic and sustainable—and began operating in complete partnership with the communities in which we work.

Why it works

It’s simple. Free The Children employs staff and teams in all eight Adopt a Village countries who help implement the five pillars of our model. These teams work side-by-side with community members, long-term, overseeing quality and integrity and creating holistic and sustainable solutions for education, health, clean water, agriculture and food security and alternative income and livelihood development.

Our commitment to sustainability

Adopt a Village is designed to empower communities to break the cycle of poverty and support themselves over the long term. By identifying and creating initiatives that address the needs of the community in a holistic way, sustainability is a focus from the outset of project planning. Sustainability plans are incorporated into all development plans and are informed by the needs and assets assessments performed at the beginning of each new community partnership.

All elements of the 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.