Monday, August 6, 2012

Please, Mr Postman

In he comes from checking the letter box with a big grin on his face. He’s holding one letter behind his back and he cheekily hands me the rest of the pile with his other hand. His eyes are dancing because he knows he’s got what I want. He hasn’t learnt to read yet but he can pick the envelope with the royal blue edge. He knows it’s a Compassion envelope and that there is a child’s letter inside. While he does a little dodge to keep the letter out of my waiting hand, my mind is racing with who it might be. Could it be…? No, she wrote last month. How about…? No, his letter isn’t due yet either. Oh! I hope it’s … Haven't heard from him in ages. Finally, he hands me the envelope and I declare my delight and pretend to be surprised. Then we sit down on the carpet and rip it open to find out whose precious message has finally arrived.

The checking of the letter box is a pretty big deal in our house but maybe some of you have gotten a lot bit behind in your letter writing. So I’m going to throw out some quick letter writing questions and answers that will hopefully inspire those of you who have sponsored kids to get cracking on your letter writing.

Why write? Isn’t just sponsoring them enough?

Letter writing is not the main event in sponsoring a child. Providing for a child’s needs is the big goal. But letter writing gives you an opportunity to know your child as more than just a face and a name. The encouragement they receive through your letters can have a tremendous impact on their lives as they fight to break the cycle of the poverty around them.

Seriously huge.

Time and time again, former sponsored children have talked about the importance of their sponsors’ letters. For many of these children, there is very little in the way of encouragement in their lives. Hearing from their sponsor and knowing that they are being thought of, and prayed for, can be a lifeline for a struggling child or teenager. Many children keep all their letters as treasured possessions and they read them over and over again. Children who receive letters from their sponsors tend to be more consistent in their attendance at the program and also do better at school (I didn’t make that up – the impact on school performance has been recorded by Compassion staff in a number of countries).

And your audience may be more than just your sponsored child. Often these letters are read by parents and siblings as well. They long to know about the person who is helping their family. You have the opportunity to speak words of hope and encouragement and to go beyond merely sharing financially by sharing your time and your heart as well.

How often should I write?

At least 2 or 3 times a year is fantastic, but more frequently if you can manage it. Once a month is probably a sensible maximum because of the resources involved in translating your letters and also because quite a lot of Compassion centres only have a mail delivery from their regional office once a month anyway. If you write on a regular basis (say every two months or every month) you will find that letters are easier to write than if you just write one formal letter once a year.  If you are only writing once a year, you can't talk in much detail about anything so it just ends up being fairly general and non-specific.

Under the new Compassion guidelines (which will be implemented progressively in various countries between now and the end of 2013), all children will write their sponsors two letters per year, regardless of whether their sponsor has written to them. But every 60 days, if the child has received a letter from you, they will write a letter in return up to a total of 6 letters across the year. So if you write every second month, you’ll probably be getting a letter in return every second month. If you don’t write at all, you’ll still receive two letters from your sponsored child per year.

Sadly, there are many children who receive no letters at all. Yep. None. Years go by in their sponsorship and their own letters remain unanswered. You don’t want your kid to be the one at the back of the group desperately wishing to hear their name called out just once for a mail delivery.  Make sure you write.

I don’t think my child likes letter writing. Their letters just say the same things all the time and are very impersonal.

For many sponsored children letter writing is not common in their home or culture. It takes a while for letter writing skills to develop. It might take your kid a number of years before they can comfortably write letters. That doesn’t mean they don’t hang off your every word when they receive a letter from you. They are probably basing their letters on writing tips and suggestions from the project staff helping them and that might explain why the letters tend to cover similar topics each time.Think about the children of a similar age that you know in your own community. My own kids are pretty poor letter writers to their grandparents and they’ve had the advantage of a literate home.  So hang in there and give it time.

The best cure for impersonal letters is to become more personal in your own letters.  It’s hard for them to write a letter that conveys a sense of relationship if they are only writing a couple of times a year and hardly ever hearing from you.  Write more often and include more details about your own life and you’ll find your child’s letters will develop a more personal quality too. What is it that you would like to know about your child? They want to know the same things about you!

How does writing letters to me benefit my child?

The letter writing process is an excellent educational activity for building up your child’s literacy. It also provides project staff with an additional opportunity to talk one-on-one with your child and find out how they are going. Very importantly, through their letters your child can tell you what is really on their heart. One of our children last month asked us to pray for his grandfather who has been ill for a long time. I have written previously about one of my children who told us about their dad’s struggle against alcoholism. Their letters give content to my prayers and help me move beyond a quick, “Please bless so-and-so”.

What if I really, really, really don’t want to write letters but I’d like to sponsor a child?

Sponsor a child and ask Compassion to allocate a correspondence sponsor who will write on your behalf. Because I’m such a letter writing freak, I write to two correspondence children at present in addition to our own sponsored children. They have a sponsor who for whatever reason cannot or does not want to write and so I have the pleasure of doing the writing and forming a relationship with those two boys. This sometimes happens if a corporation sponsors a large number of children or if a person has been a Compassion sponsor for a while but can no longer write due to health issues or so on. So even for you non-writers, Compassion has an option.

Coming up soon: a massive list of letter writing topics for the times you have a mental blank and 4 different ways you can write to your sponsored child.

And if you are interested in sponsoring a child in extreme poverty who needs encouragement and a helping hand up, check out Compassion Australia if you are in Australia, Compassion International for US readers or Compassion UK for readers in the United Kingdom. For information about what child sponsorship involves click here or about Compassion's financial integrity click here.

1 comment:

Mairi said...

Thanks for this post! I know we should write more often... now you've given me all the reasons I need! Great post!