By Nicole Duciaume, Regional Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Americas
When Guadalupe, better known as Lupita, was about 4 years old, a woman from Oklahoma sponsored her. But they had a communication problem because Lupita’s mother was illiterate. So, the 4-year-old dictated her messages to a volunteer in her Mexican community. But Lupita wanted to write to her sponsor herself, so she would trace and copy the letters one by one to form words that became sentences that eventually created a letter to her sponsor.
This was a couple of decades ago, and Lupita eventually was able to write for herself as her relationship continued with her ChildFund sponsor until she was 22. Over the years, she wrote about her community (including festivals, holidays and culture) and herself (school progress, family and friends).
Her sponsor also sent Lupita US$1 for Christmas, Easter, her birthday and the day of her saint. Lupita became known as the Dollar Girl in her community, and that dollar was worth so much to her. It was enough to buy a piece of chocolate and also to boost her self-esteem year after year. Lupita, who is now 26, is proud that when she graduated from ChildFund, her sponsor agreed to support another child in her community.
Today, Lupita works as the sponsorship coordinator for one of ChildFund Mexico’s local partner organizations a few hours away from where she grew up. The children she now assists remind her of herself a couple of decades ago. Lupita manages a cadre of eight volunteers who work with 660 children.
“Now, I help children who have difficulty writing to their sponsors,” she says. “I have to have a lot of patience to help as much as possible, just like I learned with the support of my sponsors.” Lupita hopes all of the children in the community will be sponsored one day so they can feel what she felt: the love, the encouragement and the support of a faraway friend.
Communication between sponsors and sponsored children is very important, Lupita says, because you get to know people from other places that you never even imagined existed, with whom you can share traditions, customs, your way of life and how you are developing. Often, that person becomes a part of your bigger family.
She says that her sponsors “always cared about what was happening in my life and always encouraged me to grow personally and academically. They always inspired my confidence and encouraged me to tell them my problems and said that they were there to morally support me.”
In addition to the emotional support she received through sponsorship, there was a definite developmental value to her experience as well. Through the various writing exercises and reading letters from her sponsors, Lupita improved her literacy skills and learned to write and express herself clearly.
“It was important because it taught me to write and to learn something new every day that I didn’t already know, and then I wanted to learn as quickly as possible so I could write to my sponsors myself,” she says.
To this day, Lupita still has all of the letters, postcards and photos her sponsor sent her.
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.
By Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
As a child, I loved receiving mail – yes, the kind with stamps. I had several international pen pals, and my friends sent postcards when they took vacations, even if it was simply to the shore. I also subscribed to magazines and book clubs, so I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the mail carrier.
Today, most people communicate by text and email. Those who sponsor a child, though, know the wonderful feeling when a letter arrives with an international postmark and stamp. It means a letter has arrived from their sponsored child.
What happens when you send your letter to your child? It’s not as simple as putting the letter in the mail and it being delivered by a mail carrier on the other end. The letters arrive at a central point — usually the ChildFund office in the child’s country. The letters then need to be delivered to communities, which can be miles apart.
On a recent trip to Ecuador, my coworkers and I met with several youth who help deliver the sponsor letters within their communities. Catarina, who is 15, says she delivers between 10 and 12 letters each week within her community.
“It’s fun,” she said. “I like delivering the letters and making others smile.” She says the letters come from around the world, and she enjoys seeing all of postmarks from the different countries.
After the letters are delivered, Catarina says the child who receives it will write a reply. Depending on the age of the child, Catarina and others will help guide the child. They’ll suggest topics to cover, such as writing about their favorite school subjects or talking about their siblings.
Catarina also is sponsored and she loves receiving letters from her sponsor, too.
It’s good to know that a simple letter can bring so much joy.
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
In our age of email, blogs, instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter, letter writing is mostly a lost art. Yet for generations, people have corresponded with each other. Scholars now study the many letters written by ordinary people to formulate their social and cultural histories.
When did you last take up pen and paper to write a letter? Remember how you paused a moment to hold your loved one in your heart before your words took shape on paper? Letters are gifts. And that’s the point of National Letter Writing Day, celebrated each Dec. 7.
For the children we sponsor, letters are an extra-special gift. They’re tangible symbols of our care and concern, so treasured that, if you visit a sponsored child’s home, you’re likely to find it displayed. You might see the wall of a mud hut completely covered with a sponsor’s cards and letters, or discover years of correspondence bound up in precious silk or leather for safekeeping. Often our words transform these children’s worlds, filling young hearts with hopes and dreams. Their lives will never be the same.
Whether this is your first or 50th time corresponding with your sponsored child, consider sending a letter or postcard today. Overseas postage is $1.05, for either a postcard or a standard-sized envelope of 1 ounce or less. You can order your stamps online in blocks of four, 10 or 20.
What to write? If you’re getting ready for Christmas, describe your own traditions. In most cultures, holidays are primarily about time spent with family and friends. So if your child happens to be Christian, ask about their own celebration. (In Belarus and Ethiopia, where Christians follow the Orthodox calendar, the date for Christmas is Jan. 7.)
For Muslim children, Muhammad’s birthday — called Maouloud or Milad an’Nabi — is celebrated on Jan. 24. In many countries where ChildFund serves, this is a public holiday.
Children in Vietnam, Timor-Leste and Indonesia celebrate the Lunar New Year on Feb. 9 or 10 this coming year; 2013 is the Year of the Snake. Vietnamese call the New Year Tet; to Indonesians, it’s Imlek.
Sri Lankans celebrate harvest thanksgiving day, Tamil Thai Pongal, on Jan. 14. Thai is the name of the first month in their lunar calendar, and Pongal is a special rice pudding they eat on that day. Holi, India’s harvest festival, arrives March 27.
What can you enclose with your letter? Keep “flat and light” in mind. For younger children, stickers, origami paper or balloons are fine gifts. Older ones might enjoy a short poem or story about your culture or holiday traditions. This gives them an opportunity to respond in kind. You may find some stories in common. The B’rer Rabbit tales, for example, are based on West African folklore about a trickster hare called Leuk – Leuk, le lièvre, in French.
Anything that encourages your child’s creativity or critical thinking is a perfect complement to your letter. Send crossword puzzles in their native language, Word Search games, Sudoku charts and coloring book pages.
Most of all, have fun! Letter writing is both an art and a gift of love.
by Karen Chieng, ChildFund Kenya intern
They may not be based at the North Pole, but ChildFund employees are paving the way for a happy holiday for children in our programs.
Right now, ChildFund offices around the world are abuzz with various activities. It’s one of the busiest times of the year for our organization. As much as opportunities to be of service to others surround us every day, our commitment becomes heightened during this season of giving.
As sponsors continue to show their love and support toward the children by sending Christmas and holiday greetings, ChildFund employees are happy to play the role of Santa’s helpers. In each of our national offices, a team is busily working to ensure that children receive their letters in time to celebrate the season. After all, photos, cards and letters are the crucial links in the chain of friendship between sponsors and children.
So as the mail keeps pouring in from thoughtful sponsors, we’re making our list and checking it twice to ensure speedy delivery. We know children are eagerly awaiting the latest news, updates and small gifts from their sponsors.
We take joy in spreading good cheer and love this time of year.