By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
You can learn a lot about the children you sponsor through the exchange of letters. For Bernadeta Milewski’s family, their sponsored child Hermie is like a second daughter, despite more than 8,000 miles between them.
After four years of sponsorship, Bernadeta, her husband, Evan, and 6-year-old daughter Nadia traveled in May from Connecticut to see Hermie and her family in San Joaquin, Philippines. It was a dream come true for everyone, Bernadeta says. “When we saw each other for the first time, there were no words, just long hugs. Tight hugs,” she says. “So much affection. In my wildest dreams, I didn’t know it could be so amazing.”
The Milewskis were there for a couple of reasons — mainly to see 12-year-old Hermie, but also to assist her family, whose home is vulnerable to flooding. Fortunately, San Joaquin did not experience much damage from Super Typhoon Haiyan last November, but Hermie’s home is near water and has suffered harm in other storms. Sponsors typically don’t see their sponsored children’s homes, but the Milewskis were permitted to do so to assess the best way of helping, whether it was renovating the existing home or purchasing property elsewhere.
Ultimately, after thorough discussion with Hermie’s family and local staff, they decided to build a new home; they also purchased a fishing boat for Hermie’s father. Hermie, her mother and siblings depend on his income — often $2 to $4 a day — for their day-to-day needs. The new boat will improve their situation tremendously as it will increase their earnings significantly. “Our plan was to assist Hermie’s family with their living arrangements so that they could have a safe place during typhoons,” says Bernadeta, “but when we learned that Hermie’s father had been working for someone else for over 20 years and therefore making very little money, we quickly decided to help with the purchase of the fishing boat as well.”
The Milewskis sponsor three children through ChildFund; although they have relationships with all of their sponsored children, Hermie was always very special to them, Bernadeta says. Early on, “she was calling us Mommy and Daddy and telling us that she was dreaming of meeting us. We knew we would do everything to make her dream come true. We really love the whole family there. During our two-day visit, there was no awkward moment. We were really kind of reunited.”
Writing letters is very important to the sponsor-child relationship, Bernadeta emphasizes. During the trip, she met other children enrolled in ChildFund-supported programs who hunger for communication and encouragement from their sponsors due to a lack of correspondence. She promised that she would let other sponsors know how much the sponsored children look forward to receiving letters and establishing a relationship with their sponsors.
“They would love to get letters from sponsors,” Bernadeta says. “It’s very important to remind people that it’s not just about the monetary donations. Letters are extremely important. As sponsors, we can tell the children about things they do not know even exist. We can motivate them, encourage them and offer praise. Through letters, they learn about other kinds of opportunities — opportunities their own parents for the most part are not aware of.”
For instance, Hermie’s parents had never been to the main city in their province, Iloilo, until the Milewskis’ visit. “For Hermie, we hope life has more in store, and we want to make sure that she has big dreams,” Bernadeta says. Sponsors don’t take the place of parents, but they often provide a new perspective for children, giving them hope for the future.
“When you become a sponsor, you sign up for some sort of relationship,” Bernadeta says. “If they can feel that someone cares about them, that gives them confidence that they’re really lacking.”
Bernadeta acknowledges that writing to your sponsored child may seem difficult at first and gave some tips to other sponsors:
“I always introduce myself, tell the child who we are and why we sponsor. I am always very positive and ask lots of questions as this opens up a dialogue. I ask what the child likes doing, what holidays he or she celebrates, what their favorite subject is. I always stress how important it is for them to study and encourage them to do their best. We include stickers, postcards, bookmarks, balloons, coloring pages and photos we take during our vacations and on special occasions. As sponsors, we have a very important role in their life. We can provide something different than their immediate families do.”
After the Milewskis’ return home, they received a letter from Hermie. She wrote, “I will give my best to attain my dreams in life to help my family to combat poverty. I will follow you to help the poor so I will not disappoint you, and I will not waste your dreams on me.”
For more tips about writing letters and developing a friendship with your sponsored child, visit ChildFund’s website.
By Ron Wolfe, ChildFund IT Project Portfolio Manager
In December 2004, as the Indian Ocean tsunami raced outward from the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake’s epicenter, the sea devastated the Sri Lankan coastline from the eastern city of Trincomalee to the western capital of Colombo. In the middle of this target stood Hambantota, a picturesque town on the island’s southern coast, which sustained devastation of a scale that is hard to comprehend.
Today, the visible scars of the disaster are primarily gone. The city has rebuilt, while much of the development has been relocated further inland. The children play, and civic life continues as it has for centuries. The tsunami, though, remains a part of the people’s identity.
A team from ChildFund headquarters was recently in Sri Lanka to deploy a new online tool called the Letter Translation Exchange (LTE). Its purpose is to facilitate the digitization of child and sponsor correspondence and reduce the time it takes to translate the letters. As part of the deployment process, we travelled from Colombo, the location of the ChildFund Sri Lanka National Office, to Hambantota to meet the staff in this district and the children we all serve.
After visiting the Hambantota Area Office, the team arrived at one of 12 zonal offices of the Ruhulu Wellassa Area Federation, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, tucked beneath a thick grove of cashew trees. Each Zonal Office in this district is led by a community mobilizer who manages 200 to 400 children participating in our programs.
On the day of our visit, a number of children were there playing with friends and family and writing letters to their sponsors, some of them writing in English instead of their native Sinhala. ChildFund is offering language skills programs through the local partner. “English is an important skill that the children are eager to gain,” said Dilrukshi Ruwanpura, ChildFund Sri Lanka’s sponsor relations manager. It was impressive to see the children combining some of the benefits they receive from sponsorship and one of the essential components of sponsorship itself: one-to-one communication.
The LTE is ChildFund’s first step in modernizing that communication between sponsor and child. National Office staff will scan letters to create PDFs, which will be uploaded into an online document system. Translators can then access the system at any time and from anywhere via the Internet to translate the letters. Once translated, each letter will be printed out and mailed to the addressee. ChildFund currently manages approximately 1.5 million pieces of correspondence annually.
The technology is meant to enable the staff to do their jobs more efficiently while reducing the time it takes for correspondence to travel back and forth. “As we become more familiar with the LTE, our workload and the workload of the local partner will decrease,” said Dilrukshi. This in turn should allow even more time for the staff within each ChildFund area to focus on programs for the children.
Future ChildFund technology projects will eventually carry this further by facilitating sponsor access to the digital correspondence and providing a way to respond electronically. First, though, the LTE will continue to be deployed to additional countries. The team went next to Honduras and will soon be in Ecuador to scale up the LTE even further.
As we spent the afternoon with the children in Hambantota, they continued to impress us. One group of youth worked together to create a regularly published newsletter called Dawn, writing articles, taking photographs and editing and laying out the content. Others are involved in job skills training, such as hotel management, construction or information technology. One young woman proudly displayed images of the art she had created for a solo exhibition in her community, with art supplies provided by ChildFund. All showed the promise of becoming fully engaged in the continuing effort to lift up their country and make a difference.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is the final in a series of blog posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
Older children offer us a rare opportunity to learn not only about another culture, but also of the difficulties these youth face as excluded or vulnerable members of society. Teenagers are developing critical thinking skills and opinions of their own. Your encouragement of their hopes and dreams is particularly valuable at this stage of their lives.
If you have teenage children or grandchildren of your own, consider asking them to correspond with your sponsored child. Youth share similar problems and concerns regardless of their backgrounds and can easily forge common bonds across cultures. And what better way to demonstrate the importance of giving back?
We are very excited to meet you! We are twins named Sarah and Courtney, and we live in Boston, Massachusetts. We are sophomores in high school, and this year we have an exchange teacher from Ethiopia for art class. His name is Tesfa. He has been telling us all about his life in Addis Ababa and showing us the pictures he painted of your country. It is so beautiful! We convinced our father to sponsor a girl in Ethiopia and he agreed, provided we would be the ones to write to you. No problem!
About our family, our father teaches math at the high school. He gave us a Sudoku chart to send to you. Do you have number puzzles at your school? Our mother is a works at a hair salon – she’s great at cutting and styling hair. We also have a little brother, but he’s only interested in video games.
We’re planning to go to university in Boston in a few years, but we won’t be studying math. Right now we’re busy spending our free time listening to music, dancing and texting with our friends. We love to cook, so we might open a restaurant when we graduate. Our favorite foods are pizza, fish tacos and cupcakes. Here’s a photo of us at our birthday party, eating pizza.
We hope you’ll write to us and tell us something about your family and your school. What are your favorite subjects? What do you like to eat and how do you spend your time with friends?
Sarah & Courtney Anderson
In subsequent letters, consider enclosing flat items like embroidery thread or hair ribbons (for girls), stationery sheets, poems or stories, a map of the United States and a map of the youth’s country, photographs or postcards. Other possibilities include traditional folk tales, Sudoku charts, flash cards with English vocabulary words (if the child is not an English speaker), photographs or postcards.
We hope you enjoy a fruitful and long correspondence with your sponsored child!
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is the third in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
Enclose stickers, paper dolls or hair ribbons (for girls), origami paper, coloring book pages, photographs or postcards.
My name is Colleen, and I live in a suburb of the city of Cleveland, in the state of Ohio, in the USA. My husband Mark and I have two young children, William and Anna. Mark works in Cleveland at the Goodyear factory, which makes tires for cars and trucks, and I am a pastry chef at a nearby restaurant. I prepare all of the sweets and desserts.
My youngest sister, Amanda, is a Peace Corps volunteer, working in public health in Siem Reap. Since she arrived in Cambodia, Amanda has been sending us photos of the area near her home – the temples of Angkor and the villages in Tonle Sap Lake. One of my favorite pictures is of two small girls sitting inside an open window at Angkor Thom, playing a game with stones.
After hearing Amanda’s stories about Cambodia, I decided to sponsor a child there. I chose you because your picture is just like one of those little girls in the window at Angkor Thom.
Meakara, I hope you will write to tell me about your life, so I included an information sheet to help you. I am very interested in the street games you play to celebrate Chaul Chhnam Thmey. Could you please tell me what you like best about Khmer New Year?
I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Bob and I live in the city of Charlotte, in the state of North Carolina, in the USA. I am a pediatrician, with three grown sons. Andrew is a computer programmer. Nathan is a banker and he and his wife Mary have children of their own. My grandsons are named Robbie and Timmy. My youngest son, Ian, is a dental hygienist.
I have never visited Vietnam, but several of the doctors in the hospital where I work are Vietnamese. They share their customs and holidays with me, and they even taught me to prepare pho. I decided to sponsor a child in Vietnam because of their friendship. When I read that your parents were divorced, I chose you. I am also divorced, and I know how difficult it is for a parent to raise a child alone.
Minh, I hope you will tell me about yourself and what you enjoy most. I am also interested in how your family will celebrate Tet, the New Year, in February. I was born in the year of the snake. Which year were you born in?
I enclosed a map of the United States, so that you can find the city and state where I live, and a map of Vietnam, so that you can find your own town.
In subsequent letters, enclose embroidery thread or hair ribbons (for girls), string games, origami paper, a poem from their culture, Sudoku charts, word puzzles, a map of the United States and a map of their country, flash cards with English vocabulary, photographs or postcards.
Next post: Writing to youths ages 12 to 18
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is the second in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
If your sponsored child is younger than 3, you’re really writing to the child’s parents or guardian. Think of this as an opportunity to learn about the family’s situation as well as the child.
A child of 2 years or older is often able to draw simple pictures of his or her family or home. Photographs and postcards are good enclosures in your letters for this age group.
My name is Miriam. I live in the city of Santa Fe, in the state of New Mexico, in the USA. I have a 19-year-old daughter named Andrea. We are both musicians. I play the piano and Andrea plays the violin.
I have done some traveling, but I have not visited Mexico. And I never had a son of my own. So I decided to sponsor a boy in Mexico, a country that is a neighbor to America but also very unfamiliar to me. I want to learn more about Mexico and what it is like to live there. I chose you, Ricardo, because you like music.
I hope you will tell me about yourself and your family, so I enclosed an All About Me sheet for you to complete. I am very interested in how you celebrate Día de los Muertos. In Santa Fe on the Day of the Dead we eat sweet bread, called pan de muerto, and calaveras, sugar skulls in English. But we do not visit our dead relatives in the cemetery. Could you please draw me a picture of your family’s Day of the Dead celebration?
I am writing to introduce myself. My name is Marie and I live in the city of Oakland, in the state of California, in the USA. I am 50 years old and I have a 25-year-old daughter, named Michèle. I am a teacher and I once lived in Senegal, in Saint-Louis, along the Corniche. I taught English to the students at Lycée Faidherbe. I love Senegal so much that I prepare yassa and mafé tiga for my daughter whenever I have the chance.
Recently I made a decision to sponsor a child because I wanted to help another mother and her daughter. When I lived in Senegal, I was called Aïssatou Diallo. I chose to sponsor you because we share the same name.
Aïssatou, I hope you will write to me and tell me about your family. I am especially interested in how you celebrated Tabaski. My first memory of Saint-Louis is celebrating Tabaski with my new family there. Perhaps you can draw me a picture of your Tabaski.
A jaraama, nani. A la prochaine.
Enclose stickers, photographs or postcards.
Next post: Writing to sponsored children, ages 6 to 11
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
This is one in a series of posts with suggestions for writing to the child you’re sponsoring through ChildFund.
The first few letters you send to the child you sponsor are probably the most difficult to write because you aren’t sure what to write about. Don’t let that discourage you, though.
Imagine that you live in a place where schools have no books, maps, computers, or electricity. The dirt path leading to your village rarely brings visitors. You have never received a letter. In fact, most people you know cannot read or write. Some speak only a local language – never having learned an international one like Spanish, French, Portuguese or English.
Many of the children you sponsor fit this profile, so the brief notes you send to them – cards, letters and photos describing your family and expressing your interest in their lives, cultures and countries – are miraculous in their eyes.
The First Letter
Start by reviewing the narrative of your child and the description of his or her community and local activities that ChildFund provided. The better you understand your child’s background, the easier it will be to correspond.
Culture and religion provide insight into children and family life. Download a PDF file of country information on ChildFund’s website to learn about your child’s regional feasts, holidays and celebrations. You can listen to recordings of traditional music, watch videos of cultural events and even learn a few words in your child’s language.
In your first letter to the child, introduce yourself, explain what led you to sponsor a child and tell why you chose him or her.
If you’ve visited your child’s country, write about when and where you traveled there. If you’re familiar with the culture or religious traditions, reference a recent or upcoming holiday or celebration. Don’t hesitate to include words or phrases in the child’s language if you happen to know any. In my experience, both your child and their family will truly appreciate these signs of your solidarity with them.
Begin by telling your child a little bit about your family, your town and occupation. Ask two or three open-ended questions and let your child know how eager you are to hear from her.
Enclose a photo of yourself, a postcard from your town, or small, flat items that fit easily inside the envelope, like a bookmark, origami paper or stickers. International postage rates change once the weight exceeds one ounce, so limit yourself to a few items each time you write.
Then be patient: ChildFund’s automated system for keeping track of correspondence guarantees your child will respond. If a child is too young to write, you’ll receive letters from a member of the family.
We ask sponsors not to send packages to their sponsored children because they’re frequently stolen. Even if they do arrive, customs often charges a prohibitive duty tax.
If you would like to give a gift to honor the child’s birthday, Christmas or other occasions, we recommend sending a monetary gift through ChildFund. Amounts between $20 and $50 can purchase locally made products, which benefits not only your child, but also the entrepreneurs in their community.
ChildFund requests a voluntary $3.50 donation when sending monetary gifts to help offset the costs associated with processing, distributing and safely delivering the funds. If you would like our assistance with giving your sponsored child a monetary gift, please call us at 800-776-6767. Our Sponsor Care team will be happy to assist you.
Next: Sample letters for children ages 5 and younger.