Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sending small gifts in your letters

It can be hard to keep up the motivation to write to your sponsored child year after year. Sometimes you might feel you are saying the same thing over and over again. But don’t underestimate the value of putting pen to paper. If you need a bit of a motivational shot in the arm, click over to Compassion Australia’s website to hear what a former sponsored child says about the difference that letter writing can make in the life of a child struggling in poverty.

I’ve posted a list of possible writing topics before but you might also like to think creatively about what else you can include with your letters. A little page of stickers or a personalized bookmark can be a token that tells your child you are thinking of them and that they matter to you.

Compassion’s guidelines for things to include in letters are as follows:

YES: flat, up to an A4 size, up to 6mm thickness, made of paper or cardboard.

NO: balloons, magnets, ribbons, fabric, teddy bears, dolls, sports goods, metal objects.

It is okay to laminate a bookmark, or to send a sheet of stickers that is inside a clear plastic cover, but on the whole you need to avoid plastic. Avoid anything stuck together with velcro or magnets. Compassion send letters in bulk as “documents” for customs purposes. Anything that doesn’t fit the criteria of “document” can create huge headaches for Compassion and could result in a whole batch of mail being significantly delayed. Compassion will remove items from your letters that can’t be sent on to your sponsored child and if possible donate them to another charity locally.

Remember that anything that is sent on with your letter needs to be separately labelled with your child’s name, child number, your name and your sponsor number. That way if it gets separated from your letter somewhere in the process, it will still be deliverable.

So given that your gifts need to be flat and made of paper, what are the options?

· Photos – again and again photos are mentioned by sponsored children as their favourite thing to receive with their letters. They can be photos of your family or photos that relate to topics in your letters. I have previously sent our sponsored kids who live in tropical countries photos of one of our trees taken every four months to show them the change in seasons that we experience. I’ve also taken photos of frost on our grass to show how cold our winter was. Local fauna and flora also provide interesting photos and topics for letter writing. Be aware of cultural differences and sensitive to your child’s situation: don’t include photos of people wearing clothing that might be considered immodest in other countries and photos of your house and cars or photos which have expensive goods featuring in the background are best avoided.

· Bookmarks – either store-bought or homemade. There are plenty of printable templates on the internet for blank bookmarks that you or your children could decorate. Every so often, I make a personalize bookmark for each of our kids and laminate it. I put a picture of them (copied from their photo on my Compassion account page) and a Bible verse in their language on one side and then a head shot of each member of our family with our names written under each photo. I figure it’s hard for young kids to keep track of who is who in our family especially with names that might be unfamiliar in their language. So the bookmark serves as a reminder of who everyone is. Using, you can easily look up and copy Bible verses in other languages.

· Drawings, paintings and pictures. Sometimes our kids have made a special drawing for one of our sponsored children. You might like to trace everyone in the family’s hands and send an extra piece of paper for your sponsored child to trace their hand and send back to you.

· Commerically produced pictures or calendars. This week I saw our kids’ school bookclub was offering folded world maps for only $1 each! Any educational poster makes a great inclusion along with your letters. Look out for multiplication tables or maps or diagrams. Sometimes newspapers will produce a series of posters of endangered or Australian animals and they can be worth keeping an eye out for. Be careful that any pictures are appropriate culturally to send, especially any pictures of people, and don’t forget to check both sides of the poster in case there’s inappropriate advertising on the other side.

· Stickers!!! The local $2 shop is my favourite hunting ground for these. I especially love scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers if I can find them because I’m sure they are a rare treat. I often buy a small pad and then send a page each to each of our children. Just a few at a time is probably better than an avalanche of stickers. Avoid puffy, foam-filled or gel-filled stickers as these won’t be sent through.

· Lapbooks. For the more seriously creative amongst us, a lapbook can be an exciting, albeit time-consuming, project to develop. Just remember the final product can’t exceed 6mm and must be A4 size or smaller. Don’t know what a lapbook is? Here’s a link. We’ve sent a butterfly themed lapbook to a young Tanzanian girl and a cricket themed lapbook to our older Indian lad. The older lapbook was a comparision of Australia and India including maps of our countries, flags, flora and fauna and other fun facts. The butterfly themed lapbook focused on counting and numbers.

· Printed colouring-in sheets, puzzles, mazes, Suduko etc. Lots and lots of colouring sheets can be found free on the internet or you might like to photocopy some you have at home. Mazes and dot-to-dots are go for developing your child’s hand-eye co-ordination, counting and handwriting skills. Suduko, briefly explained in your letter, can be a fun challenge for older sponsored children.

· Paper crafts. A host of printable paper-crafts exist just waiting for you to Google. Try the Toymaker for some good ideas. Just remember your sponsored child may or may not have easy access to scissors, glue and sticky-tape. To overcome this, I often pre-cut the crafts and attach double-sided sticky tape to the flaps so that all my child has to do at the other end is assemble the final product. Choose paper crafts with simple instructions that are easily translated. In addition, most craft sections in department stores will have simple card shapes – like people or animals – which can be sent for your child to decorate and enjoy.

· Small thin activity books can go through to your child. I’ve sent these sticker scene books before. Do not send books with proper binding but if it’s just stapled it’s usually okay. Of course, with activity books you have the issue of language so unless you can get hold of a book in the same language that your child uses, it’s probably not worth sending. I would urge caution with sending activity books - you don’t always know the level your child is capable of working at and it may be a better use of resources to save up and send a financial gift than spend money sending gifts that may not be so helpful.

· Paper dolls.  Oh yeah!  And lots of them to be found and printed off the web if you don't want to buy them.  Again, consider pre-cutting them and putting the pieces together in a ziplock bag or envelope so that your child doesn't have to find scissors to do the cutting-out.

It’s fun to send small personalized items to your sponsored children. But remember it’s all about relationship rather than sending “stuff”. Don’t spend a lot of money – save up for a family or child gift that can be used to meet their specific needs. Instead, be creative! One year we made a large poster to say “Happy Birthday” to one of our sponsored kids. I drew the letters and the kids coloured them in. Then we took a photo of the kids holding the poster. Finally we folded the poster and put the poster and the photo of us holding it inside his birthday card. It’s fun to imagine him holding in his hand something that came so personally from our kids to him.

I'd love to hear any other flat paper ideas or links you might have!

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.

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