Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Letter Writing 101

If you are a Compassion International sponsor, I would guess you already know the benefits that your sponsorship dollars provide to your child. What you may not know is that as a sponsor, you have the potential to provide something crucial that money cannot buy.

A relationship.

With that relationship, you can show your child that they are loved, that they are important and that they are prayed for. You can provide encouragement, hope and inspiration. The way that you do this is by committing to write to your sponsored child.
Throughout my journey as a Compassion sponsor and a trained Advocate, I have heard a lot of questions about writing to our sponsored kids, so I have decided to dedicate a post to answer those questions and share the basics. (If you see text on this page that is a different color, those are clickable links that you can follow.)

How do I write to my sponsored child?

You can write to your sponsored child by logging into your account on the Compassion International website. Along the left hand side of your account page you will see a link that says “Write My Child”. This will take you to a page where you can email a letter to your child. (This email doesn’t go directly to your child, but it is sent to the GMC in Colorado, where it is printed in full color.) The online letter writing tool allows you to choose a colorful stationary and also upload up to three photos to your letter.

You can also write a letter on your own paper or use this printable Compassion stationary. If you use your own paper, please remember to leave half of each page blank for translation and also include your sponsor number, your child’s name and their identification number. If you are not sure of these numbers, you can always call Compassion at 1-800-336-7676 and the helpful operators will get those for you.
Your letters should be sent to the following address:

Attn: Child Correspondence Dept.

Compassion International

Colorado Springs, CO 80997-0004

How often should I write?

A good rule of thumb is to write about once a month. If it is helpful, pick a day of the month and write it on your calendar as a reminder.

Our family likes to write at least once a month to all 19 of our Compassion kids. I generally write a letter to each child online once a month and then write handwritten letters with goodies at least every other month. We get a lot of joy out of writing and also have the time and energy to devote to doing it this often.

Some have asked me if it is possible to write to a child too much, and my opinion on that is it could be possible. Consider a sponsor who writes once or twice a week and a child who receives mail just once a month. That would mean that the child receives 8 letters on one day. Depending on the age of the child, this could be just too much information to process and respond to. While an older child may be able to handle that many letters at once, some of the effort may be lost on a younger child and may overwhelm translators and project staff.

Please, do not wait until you get a letter from your child, before you sit down to write. It is important to remember a few things. First, it can take several months for a letter to travel from you to your child, and several months for a reply to make its way back. Second, in some projects their resources only allow them to help the children write to you three times a year. Even if this is the case with your child, your letters to them are so very valuable.

Why does it take so long for the letters to travel?

The letters have many stops along the way. Your letters are first sent to the Global Ministry Center in Colorado which processes an average of 100,000 letters from sponsors per month. Each letter is checked to be sure it has the proper information on it, is scanned in and then put with other letters headed for the same country. The letters are then shipped to their destination country, and sometimes can be held up in customs for weeks. At the Country Field Office, the letters are scanned into the system and wait for translation. Depending on the number of letters that need translation, this can also take a few weeks. Once they are translated, they are sorted by project. At this point, the are ready to be taken to each project. With some of the projects being remote, this could take weeks. Some letters travel by car, by bike, by donkey or by walking carrier and are delivered to the project. Some projects have one or two Mail Days per month and your letters will be delivered then. All told, this process can take months to get from point A to point B.

The children won't necessarily write back to you on the day they receive the letter. Many of the children need help, so they will write when that is available. Some projects have Letter Writing Day three times a year and will write then. Then, those letters travel back to the US the same way they got to to those countries. Again, it could take months.

Why is letter-writing important?

Poverty often gives children a feeling that they do not matter. Your letters go a long way to show your children that they really are important. While sponsorship dollars are necessary to keep the program running, it is the personal relationship that is built between the sponsors and children that start to break down the walls of hopelessness, despair and worthlessness.

In this last year, I have heard statistics of how many, many children who receive letters from their sponsors are inspired to try harder in their studies. I have spoken to a young man who was once a sponsored child and heard just how important the letters from his sponsor were to him. He even told me that, besides his Pastor, he feels his sponsor was the most influential man in his life. I’ve read articles and blog posts that bring home just how crucial those letters are. This blog post from Lisa-Jo of the Gypsy Mama blog is truly a must read.

I have also heard of the too-common heartbreak when children sit through mail-call at their project with hopeful anticipation, only to be devastated time and time again when their name isn't called. The whisper of, "You don't matter. You're not important." one more time.

Please take a minute to read a short story, The Delivery, written by my friend Caitlin. It brings to light the anticipation and heartbreak that can be found on Delivery day.

I don’t know what to write about. Can you help?

Along the right hand side of this page, you’ll see links to previous posts with letter writing ideas. There is also quite a bit of info to be found on the Compassion International website and the Our Compassion site. Ultimately, it comes down to sending love and encouragement. At the end of your letters, ask a few questions so that your child knows you are interested in their life.

Can we only send letters?

No, we are allowed to send things that could be classified as a "document" and that fall within the size restrictions. If you’re creative, you can send all manner of great goodies. See the link on my right hand sidebar about “Sending Goodies to Your Sponsored Child”. There you will find the requirements and some suggestions that your child will love!

What if I just am not into writing at all?

If you have the financial means to sponsor but have no interest in writing at all, please contact Compassion (1-800-336-7676) and ask that they assign a Correspondent Sponsor to your child. There are many people like myself who are happy to write to children who would otherwise not receive letters. (Only four of our children are financially sponsored by us, two are co-sponsored and the others are our Correspondent Children.) Compassion cannot assign your child a Correspondent unless you contact them and agree to it.

On the flip side, if you cannot sponsor any more children but have the time and energy to take on the responsibility of becoming a Correspondent Sponsor, contact Compassion and ask to be put on the waiting list. (Call them at the 1-800 number provided above or use the Contact Us button on the Compassion International website.)

What if I have other questions?

The phone operators at Compassion International have always been extremely helpful, so don’t hesitate to call them with any questions. You can also leave a comment here or email me and I will answer your question if I am able to.

I pray that this blog post is helpful and that you are inspired to write to your sponsored child. As with all of my blog posts, you are welcome to share this link with anyone at any time.

Also, feel free to follow Blogging From The Boonies on Facebook where I share more tips for your sponsorship experience!