Top 5 Stories of 2021

A look back at a year of reflection, determination and love

December 28, 2021 | Be Informed

Last year was marked by uncertainty, change and incredible hardship worldwide.

But through uncertainty, courage is born. From change stems adaptability and from hardship, strength arises. The year 2021, a milestone year for Unbound, solidified new ways of listening, learning and leading in the face of adversity, reminding us that the path forward was never meant to be straightforward, nor to be walked alone.

Here are five Unbound stories of reflection, determination and love in 2021.


With many of the world’s children still lacking access to education, Unbound continues to help address inequity through its sponsorship program and the Unbound Scholarship Program. With the pandemic accelerating distance learning and widening the already existing technology gap, one thing Unbound focused on during 2021 was helping students see their educational dreams through to reality.

Mary Jane, a 21-year-old sponsored youth from the Philippines, was one of those students. She saw her dream of earning a degree in architecture slipping away as the pandemic turned her family’s life — and income — upside down. Fortunately, Mary Jane’s family received emergency relief money from the Unbound Critical Needs Fund, which they used to start a new livelihood making and selling peanut butter.

Today, with the determination of the entire family, the business is growing and Mary Jane is back on track to complete her degree.“I really dream to finish my studies and eventually get a stable job so that I could be able to help and support my family,” said Mary Jane. “I want to give them a better life that they deserve for raising me as I am.”


After her studies were put on hold by the pandemic, sponsored youth Mary Jane in the Philippines has now resumed her architectural degree program and is looking forward to a bright future and being able to help support her family.


By mid-year, nearly 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered worldwide, and though many countries were beginning to see life return to normal, half of the nations served by Unbound were reporting 1 percent or less of their populations had been vaccinated. Three of the hardest hit nations within the Unbound community included India, Peru and Colombia.

COVID-19 infections and death rates were on the rise in all three countries at that time, with India leading the world in the rate of infections. Fueling the pandemic flames in some areas of the world were lack of access to medical resources, overburdened health systems and relaxed government safety protocols amidst economic and political unrest.

Throughout the Unbound world, families and staff adapted, staying connected virtually, and through cell phones and messaging apps. Thanks to the generosity of the Unbound community, additional assistance from Unbound’s Critical Needs Fund has been sent directly to families in need since the height of the pandemic.

Photo 1: Pinky, a former sponsored child, stands outside the hospital in Bhagalpur, India, where she is doing her nursing internship. Health care workers in India were struggling to keep up with the demands of the COVID-19 crisis.

Photo 2: In June, India led the world in the rate of COVID infections and deaths. In Bhagalpur, India, members of families in the Unbound community observe proper physical distancing while waiting to receive supplies at a local program office.


The year marked Unbound’s 40th walking with individuals and families on their paths out of poverty, but this was not the only milestone 2021 would usher in. In August, we were pleased to announce that we had officially delivered $2 billion in aid to programs around the world since our founding in 1981.

The dedicated love and support from sponsors and donors meant countless opportunities for the 943,246 children, youth, elders and families served over the last four decades, including improved medical care, better nutrition, education, housing and entrepreneurship, among others.

But with almost 25,000 children, youth and elders on Unbound’s waiting list and an estimated 120 million more people living in poverty because of COVID-19, the work is far from over.


For four decades, Unbound has walked alongside families, supporting, encouraging and empowering them as they navigated their path out of poverty. One might claim that the greatest accomplishment of our walk with them has been witnessing the positive impact it can have on their life stories. And it is, but it is also so much more — it is the lessons they have taught us (and will continue to teach us).

To commemorate our 40th anniversary, Unbound created a special collection, 40 lessons from 40 years. Some of the lessons we have learned since 1981 include: 

  • • Opportunities to simply belong can be life-changing, too (Lesson #6, Creating Connection), as discovered by Unbound Regional Director Jose Rodriguez during his 2018 trip to visit El Alto, Bolivia, where he encountered a group of Unbound families thankful to have found connection with one another through a common thread, their sponsored children with special abilities.

  • • Those best equipped to solve global development are those closest to it (Lesson #16, Potential in Poverty), a fact reinforced by Unbound’s new platform introduced in 2019, Agents of Change. These $500 grants awarded to groups of Unbound sponsored members have been used to build handwashing stations, latrines, mobile libraries, stairways, soccer fields, chapels and more.

  • • Goals are achievable when approached with determination (Lesson #18, Step by Step), like those of Diana Rose, mother of Unbound youth Gregory in Kenya. When Unbound showed belief in her goals through granting her an Unbound loan, Diana Rose was able to grow her farming operation large enough to support her family, employ eight others in her community and begin saving money to one day purchase her own land.

Photo 1: Mother of five Diana Rose in Kenya dreamed of having a farm. With the help of a loan from Unbound, she has been able to start a farming operation that now employs eight others in her community. Step-by-step, she hopes to one day be able to use her savings to buy her own land to grow tomatoes, onions, green peppers and kale.

Photo 2: Arsenio stands in front of one of the solar-powered streetlights he and fellow Unbound parent group members helped secure for their community in the Philippines. The initiative was funded through an Agents of Change grant.

Photo 3: Brightly colored stairs lead the way up the steep hill for a family in Ecuador. Thanks to the efforts of an Unbound parent group and an Agents of Change grant, the stairs were installed to replace a dirt path that became muddy and treacherous when it rained.


What began as a walk to bring hope during uncertain times would conclude with reflection and a reminder of the significance of “the walk.”  

True to the Hentzen family tradition of walking to bring awareness to the needs and capabilities of the world’s poor and marginalized people, Jake Hentzen, son of Unbound co-founder Bob Hentzen, began his own walk across the state of Kansas to shine a light in the darkness brought forth by the pandemic.

Growing up in Guatemala following his father’s first 4,000-mile walk, Jake remembered personally witnessing the difference Unbound was making in people’s lives. This past August, he began his 449-mile trek with the hope that others would be inspired to find their own ways to walk with the poor and marginalized of the world.

“What they choose to do isn’t as important as what it represents — a desire to live in solidarity with others.”  


Jake Hentzen, son of co-founder Bob Hentzen, began his 449-mile walk across Kansas at the Colorado state line. As he walked, Jake said, “I often think of the families, the struggles that they go through [and] the purpose and motivation that my dad had with his walks. His motivation is my motivation. That’s what gets me down the road.”