There’s a four-letter word every sponsored youth longs to hear...

HOPE. It means different things to different people, but it has a singular meaning to sponsored youth who long to escape poverty and do something with their lives. For these young men and women, “hope” means a scholarship.

Youth in developing countries often have few prospects of continuing their studies beyond high school. Competition for limited university slots can be fierce, and costs are prohibitive. In fact, 63 percent of the 13,750 sponsored youth who were not enrolled in school in 2008 told us they couldn’t continue their studies because they lacked money or needed to start working.

Children International is steadily altering that trend through HOPE.

We began offering HOPE scholarships in 2004 so sponsored youth could pursue higher education or vocational training and improve their chances of finding gainful employment. Since then, thousands of scholarships have been awarded to deserving youth who have gone on to become teachers, bankers, nurses, mechanics, chefs and more.

The How-to of HOPE

Each year, sponsored youth between the ages of 14 and 18 are invited to apply for HOPE scholarships at our community centers.

Applications are reviewed by committees, which include agency staff, business and community leaders, and members of our Youth Program. The committees select candidates using a point system based on individual merit, circumstances and need, along with information shared during personal interviews. “Personal interviews with the youth have given me the opportunity to witness the happiness, enthusiasm, confidence and perseverance in their faces,” notes Angie Morcoso, the director of Children International’s agency in Legazpi, Philippines.

After careful consideration, the top candidates are awarded one-year scholarships they can use to cover tuition, fees and other expenses at approved universities or vocational training institutes. Scholarships are even renewable for an additional year of study, since two years is normally sufficient to complete vocational courses or get a solid start toward a university degree.

Improving the odds

Because more girls than boys in poor communities are prevented from completing their education, our point system favors females and youth from indigenous groups. Now girls are coming out ahead, with 67 percent of all scholarships awarded to female applicants.

Paola Vega is one of those fortunate young women. The 18-year-old sponsored youth from Quito, Ecuador, is the only female in her entire family to graduate high school. And she's taking her success to the next level. Thanks to a HOPE scholarship, Paola is studying business administration at Quito's public university.

Ever since her father abandoned the family, Paola has watched her mother, Patricia, a maid, struggle to make ends meet on little more than $200 a month. And while it cost only $100 for Paola to enroll in college, it's money her mother couldn't afford to spare.

“With the support of a HOPE scholarship, I’ll be able to study two years...then my brother told me that he could help me. Moreover, I could find a job to support my education expenses,” Paola says optimistically. “I have to be a professional and help my family,” she adds.

Putting HOPE to work

In the end, getting a reliable, decent-paying job is what sponsored youth like Paola strive for. They’ve grown up with poverty and know all too well how crippling it can be on their families and communities.

Perhaps that’s why the majority of HOPE recipients use their scholarships for vocational training. Vocational programs typically cost less than universities and can be completed in a fraction of the time, giving youth the skills they need to quickly enter the workforce.

By contributing to the HOPE Fund, you can help sponsored youth like Paola acquire the knowledge and skills they need to not only find success through steady employment, but begin strengthening their communities at the same time.

With your help, the next four-letter word sponsored youth could hear is one that may just bring HOPE into their lives.

Reporting assistance from Angela Antequera and Sheila Mahony of Kansas City and Andrés Barreno, of Quito, Ecuador. Photos provided by Andrés Barreno and Anthony Lorcha, of Legazpi, Philippines.