Writing Letters

writing letters

Writing Letters - Writing letters is about relationship building. And you will build a stronger relationship with your sponsored child through regular correspondence with him or her.

Writing letters can also be one of the more daunting responsibilities a sponsor has. There's more to writing letters to a sponsored child than you may initially think. Cross-cultural and cross-generational perspectives can come into play.

Because writing letters is so important to your sponsored child's well-being and development our frequently asked questions are meant to help you make writing letters to your sponsored child a regular and rewarding habit.

Letter-Writing FAQ
Answers to your questions about writing letters

Writing letters to your sponsored child matters as much as your financial generosity. Your letters are life-changing.

A child who understands his or her true value to God has taken the first step in overcoming poverty. And the easiest way for you to help your child take that step is to be involved in his or her life by writing letters.

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Some of the most frequently asked questions we get about our ministry and programs are about writing letters to our children. All of the common ones are answered here. If your question isn't listed, please let us know and we'll get you an answer.

Where do I send my letters?

Mail your letters to:

Attn: Child Correspondence
[No street address necessary]
Colorado Springs, CO 80997

Be sure to include your sponsor number and your child’s number on the letter so we can process it correctly.

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Why can't I send a package?

Everything we send to our country offices is declared at a customs as a document. If custom officials find anything in a box of letters that isn't a document, we are assessed a hefty fine and the box will be held for weeks, possibly months.

On top of that, there is a high incidence of theft when sending packages to the developing world, and shipping items overseas can be quite costly.

Instead, we encourage you to send a monetary gift. The child and family, with the assistance of church staff, will purchase what they need most. This also benefits the local economy of your sponsored child by supporting local businesses.

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What can I send to my sponsored child?

You’re welcome to send any items that are made of paper and which are no thicker than 1/4” and no larger than 8.5” by 11.”

You can enclose small items, such as postcards, greeting cards, bookmarks, stamps, pages from coloring books, appropriate photos and pictures with the letters you write.

View the complete list of items you may send your child.

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Why do my letters take so long?

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Your letters will take two to three months to reach your child and it will take a similar amount of time for your child’s letters to reach you.

When your letters reach our Colorado Springs office either by mail or through our online letter tool, they are processed, checked to ensure any attachments are within size limitations, and sorted by country.

Letters are mailed once a week to each country office.

After the letters go through customs, the country office receives and distributes them to translators. Once the letters have been translated, they are sorted by child development center and placed in each center’s distribution bin.

How far the child development center staff members are located from the country office will determine how often they are able to pick up the letters – anywhere from weekly to once a month. The next time each center meets they will distribute the letters to the children.

Your child’s letter follows a similar path back to you.

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Why does my child not answer my questions?

Developing a meaningful relationship with someone by writing letters can be a difficult task, made more difficult when your questions don't get answered.

Having one unanswered question in a letter might simply mean the question was overlooked, but having your questions frequently go unanswered can be frustrating. We understand. We've even experienced that with our own sponsored children.

Some possible explanations include cultural differences, new staff assisting the children with writing, and the child not having your last letter available to refer to when writing a reply.

For a child in a mostly verbal culture the art of writing letters is often something studied but infrequently practiced. This is also true for children in Central and South America. Writing letters is out of the ordinary for them.

Something else that occurs is children take their sponsor letters home with them. Your child may not have your most recent letter with him when he writes back, particularly if he waits until the designated time during which all children in the center write their sponsors.

Often during this designated time, teachers will write a list of suggestions or letter samples on the board to help the kids with their letters. If your child left her letter at home, she may rely heavily on the suggestion(s) on the board. It's these suggestions that often make the child letters sound scripted or unoriginal. The children may copy the samples directly or follow the list word for word.

Another reason why your child may not be answering your questions is that the development center staff assisting with the reply may be new or or unfamiliar with how the letter-writing process at the center works.

Also, sometimes, but probably not often, your question may not be culturally appropriate, such as a question about politics. Or your question may not be understood by a child or development center worker.

You'll have the greatest chance of getting your questions answered if you keep them simple and short and you number and highlight each question. This calls attention to your questions.

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When will I receive my first letter from my child?

After you sponsor a child, you will receive a letter from them within four months. Typically, your child will find out that they are sponsored about 2-3 weeks after you make your first contribution.

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Can I write to my child in their own language?

Yes! You are welcome to write to your child in his or her language. Just know that this will not speed up the process as the translator will still check to make sure the child can understand your letter and that the content is appropriate.

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Will I receive confirmation when my child gets my letter?

No, you will not receive a confirmation when your child receives your letter. However, you can expect that they should receive your letter two to three months after you send it.

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How do I email my child?

While you aren’t necessarily able to email your child, you may write a letter to him or her online using our online letter-writing tool.

To write online, sign in to your account on compassion.com and click “Write My Child.”You can choose from several colorful templates and even upload pictures. We will print your letter in color in our Colorado Springs office.

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What should I write about? Is there anything I shouldn't write about?

As a sponsor you are investing in the lives of your sponsored children, and they consider you family. Write as if you are.

Be encouraging! But please also be sensitive to the child's economic situation. Avoid discussing the material aspects of your life.

  • Describe your family (e.g., what they look like, their interests, type of work they do, pets, etc.) and where you live.
  • Include a small paper gift — photos, postcards, bookmarks, greeting cards, etc. Learn more about what types of gifts you can with your letters.
  • Explain special holiday and family customs.
  • Talk about important events — weddings, graduation, trips, new jobs, holidays, etc.
  • Mark your calendar and send a card to celebrate a holiday or festival that is important to your child.
  • Share your dreams and the daily activities of your life.
  • Write about the terrain/climate/people where you live.
  • Reminisce about your childhood.
  • Discuss a person who influenced you.
  • Talk about an important life lesson you learned, something you learned in school, or something you're learning now.
  • Describe how you overcame a challenge or met a goal.
  • Share your favorite Bible stories and verses.
  • Elaborate on your church and the various ways you serve Christ.
  • Remind your child that you pray for him or her regularly. Mention specific items your child has mentioned in his or her letters.
  • Explain how your family includes your sponsored child in daily life (e.g., praying for him or her or displaying his or her photo in your home).
  • Share your prayer requests and praise reports.
  • Express what a privilege it is to be your child's sponsor.
  • Affirm that God loves him or her and has a great plan for his or her life.
  • Include a verse:
    -about God's provision for the future (Jeremiah 29:11)

    -about God's love for us (John 3:16), the value of each child (Psalm 139:13-14)

    -or loving one another (1 John 4:7)

    -about the power of prayer (Matthew 21:22)

    -about the importance of learning (Proverbs 4:13)

  • Encourage your child to write back and/or draw pictures for you.

At blog.compassion.com we have several posts from sponsored children that talk about what your sponsored child wants to hear from you and what your sponsored child wants to know about you.

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What topics should I avoid?
  • Discussing the material aspects of your life. Mentioning the size of your home, the kind of car you drive, etc. only accentuates the economic difference between you and your child.
  • Sending photos that show your possessions.
  • Sharing your home address, e-mail address or telephone numbers.
  • Using colloquialisms and slang.
  • Suggesting your child come for a visit or that you'll send a particular gift.

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Can I ask if my child believes in Christ or is a Christian?

Yes. We are a Christ-centered, church-based ministry. However, a child does not have to be Christian to participate in or benefit from our program.

In our Child Sponsorship Program, each child has the opportunity to hear the gospel in an age-appropriate and culturally relevant way. But neither the children nor their families are obligated to become Christians.

Your letters and questions offer another opportunity for your child to hear the gospel and demonstrate faith in action.

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How do I convey personal issues like death and divorce to my sponsored child?

Honesty and openness invite a child to a deeper, more personal relationship with you. Euphemisms, such as "passed away" in reference to a death, don't always convey the message you intend.

When discussing personal issues such as death and divorce, the best approach is to state the fact — "My mother died" or "Susan and I are getting divorced" — rather than explaining the details or using indirect expressions.

Because your child's perspective is different from yours, based on his or her culture, age and personal experiences, the child might not ask additional questions.

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How do I ask personal or sensitive questions, like those related to health, without offending the child or his or her family?

Discussing personal issues requires great sensitivity, particularly when communicating through letters and across cultures, and when the questions deal with health matters, which can often carry strong cultural stigmas.

Whether or not you should ask a particular question depends on your relationship with the child and the nature of the question. If you are uncertain, please consider delaying the question until you have built a stronger relationship with the child or have a better understanding of the culture.

Invite your child into a deeply personal relationship by modeling trust and honesty. Share with your child first. Allow him or her to see your courage and to take the first step.

Remember you are a mentor. Show your child you care by being patient, open, inviting and, most important, involved.

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How do I tell my child that I cannot continue to sponsor him or her?

Speak to your child honestly and clearly. It is not necessary to go into detail about why you cannot continue the sponsorship. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of the relationship. For example, you may consider talking about:

  • what you enjoyed most about the relationship

  • how you grew stronger in your faith or as a person

  • what you learned from your child — about his or her country, culture or even about yourself

  • how proud you are

  • that you will continue praying for him or her

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Where can I get more information about my sponsored child and his or her child development center, community and country?

Log in to My Account and visit the My Sponsorships page to learn more about your child. At the bottom of this page you can view information about your child and his or her child development center, community and country, including:

  • the child's schooling, health and Christian activities

  • his or her family duties, hobbies and sports

  • a description of the child development center he or she attends

  • general, environment and economic information about the community

  • details about the child's country, such as

    • history

    • education

    • religion

    • culture

    • holidays and festivals

    • typical foods

    • and more

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How do I write to my child?

You can write a letter online or by hand. You can use your own paper or download our stationery, which leaves room for translation by our language specialists.

If you choose to mail your letter, please remember to include your sponsor number and your sponsored child's name and number on each item you send.

Our mailing address is:

Compassion International
[No street address necessary]
Colorado Springs, CO 80997

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Can I write directly to my child?

Our experience has shown that routing letters through the Compassion system is the most efficient way to handle correspondence.

  • It allows us to secure the appropriate translation service you and your child need for effective communication.

  • It allows us to obtain the quickest delivery method, which for children in remote or highly transient areas is hand-delivery.

  • It allows us to protect your privacy.

  • It allows us to protect the children.

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Can I connect with my child through Facebook, Twitter, email, Skype, etc.?

We want you to have the best relationship possible with your sponsored child, and we recognize that besides visiting your child personally, writing letters is the only way you can develop a relationship. We also understand your desire to avoid using "snail mail" in our ever-increasing, digitally-connected world.

As technology continues to influence and change how we communicate, we regularly look at our communication model with several questions in mind.

  • What impact can the technology have on the safety of the children in our programs?
  • How can giving a third-party site or application access to our database place your personal information at risk?
  • How will our processes be affected (e.g., translation, tracking and training)?
  • Can we administer the program efficiently, cost effectively and consistently across cultures, languages and dissimilar rural and urban infrastructures in dissimilar countries?
  • Can we deliver what we promise? Can we guarantee integrity?

We definitely want to give you better, faster and more frequent communication with your child. And we’re working to make it happen. It’s just that we’re doing it deliberately and carefully so we can be sure it’s done well, done right and done with the best interests of our children in mind.

If you are contacted by your sponsored child outside of Compassion (e.g., by phone, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), please don’t respond, and please let us know about the contact.

It's surprisingly common for someone who knows a sponsored child, even a family member like an uncle or cousin, to create an account on a social network and pretend to be the child, to ask for money and to threaten the child’s well-being if money isn’t provided.

We cannot protect your privacy or your sponsored child if we are not involved in the correspondence. We also have a responsibility to protect the children from sponsors who don’t have the children’s best interest in mind. Sadly this happens occasionally as well.

Being involved in the correspondence process also allows us to help you navigate the ocean of cross-cultural sensitivities and avoid inadvertently writing something inappropriate or offensive to your child.

While it may seem easier to speak with your child directly through Facebook, and we know that writing letters the "old-fashioned" way may not be what you prefer, we appreciate your willingness to respect our communication policies. Thank you.

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How often should I write?

You may write letters to your sponsored child as often as you like. You will receive a minimum of three letters a year from your child, and we encourage you to write at least as frequently, even if it's just a brief note or card. In fact, short, simple letters help with translation and are preferred because your child receives your letters sooner.

We've put together a list of letter-writing ideas and letter-writing prompts you may find useful for your next letter.

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Can I send photographs to my child?

Certainly! We recommend you send a picture of yourself in the first letter and lots of pictures after that. You can send landscape photos, artistic pictures, pictures of your pets, the town you live in, your family and friends, etc.

When you write a letter online you can upload and attach up to three photos to each letter.

If you mail a letter, please remember to include your sponsor number and your sponsored child's name and number on each photo or small gift you send.

Please avoid sending pictures that may accentuate the economic differences between you and your child (e.g., homes, cars, etc.). Be aware of what is in the photo's background, as well.

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Do I have to send a photograph to my sponsored child?

No. But since photographs are not as common in the developing world as they are in the United States, they are particularly valued. A photograph of you, the caring person from another part of the world, adds another dimension to your relationship; it personalizes your correspondence and helps deepen the connection the child makes.

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Can I send a package to my child?

Regrettably packages cannot be sent. Because of strict mailing and customs regulations in the various countries where we work, we cannot send a gift that exceeds 8-1/2" x 11" and 1/4" thick. However, you can send a small gift with the next letter you write.

We encourage you to send a monetary gift instead. The child and family, with the assistance of the church staff, will choose what they most need from the market, which helps stimulate the local economy.

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Do you have any suggestions for increasing the chance that my questions get answered?

To help the center staff and translators recognize that you expect an answer to the questions: 

  • Number your questions (1, 2, 3).

  • Highlight the questions.

  • Keep the questions short and simple.

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Why can't I include my address, e-mail address or phone number in my letter?

We take information security very seriously. For this reason, we handle all child letters directly and ask that you not share your personal contact information with your child.

Your letters are sent to the USA office and then to your child’s country. Even the staff in our field offices do not have access to your personal contact information.

Sharing your personal contact information can put you and your child at risk.

Some sponsors who have shared their personal contact information have received solicitations for money from people claiming to be friends or family members of their sponsored child. There have also been situations where a children have been placed at risk in their communities due to their direct contact with a sponsor from the developing world.

We cannot protect you or your child unless we are able to monitor the correspondence process.

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I'm writing as part of a group. Can group members take turns writing letters?

Your group can write the letter together, or can take turns writing, but it's best to have the same person consistently sign each letter. It's far less confusing for a child to talk with one person than to a group of people.

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What should I expect from the letters I receive?

Please do not expect a pen-pal relationship. You will receive a minimum of two letters a year from your sponsored child. Your child is living and learning under circumstances much different from those in the United States. 

Sometimes letters are written as part of a class exercise and may seem a little impersonal or formal. And cultural differences may cause your child's letters to seem excessively pious or grateful.

Your sponsorship is an opportunity to mentor your child. As your relationship slowly develops, your consistent presence fosters trust and tells your child "I care about you and want to be a part of your life." Your relationship should improve over time, as your child matures and learns to write more personal letters. 

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How often will I receive a letter?

You will receive a minimum of two letters a year from your sponsored child, in addition to a new photograph every two years.

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Are my letters really that important?

As a sponsor you are in a position to model Christ's love. Your letters establish you as a significant person in your child's life. You are acting as a mentor.

Sponsored children treasure every letter they receive, and many children read their letters repeatedly, eagerly sharing them with visitors.

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Even into adulthood Compassion graduates emphasize the importance and influence their sponsors' letters had in their lives. Regardless of cultural and age differences, everyone grows stronger with consistent messages of love and support.

Plus, letters are an important part of your child's development. Exchanging letters improves your child's basic literacy skills and his or her self-awareness and ability to put thoughts and feelings into words.

And keep in mind that topics you consider uninteresting, or that you feel you've discussed before, are viewed differently by a child in the developing world.

Every day poverty tells children, "You don't matter." But that is a lie, and your letters demonstrate that. They say, "You do matter, Suzana." "I care about you, Renato." "Jesus loves you, Lerionga."

Our blog has numerous stories from our country staff about the importance of letter writing, along with other letter writing perspectives and thoughts from sponsors and sponsored children.

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Why do my child's letters seem impersonal?

Communicating between cultures is difficult. And this is especially true with written communication. It becomes even more apparent when the written communication is between an adult and a child in different cultures.

Many children in developing countries can't imagine that anyone would be interested in the details of their lives (e.g., how tall they are or how much they weigh). They may not think the sponsor really wants to know, or it may be considered vain to discuss personal things.

A child may be reluctant to open up because sharing is emotionally risky or the child may fear a cultural stigma or repercussions. However, children are encouraged to discuss their faith and to share what is happening in their lives and the lives of their families.

Developing trust in a relationship is difficult enough without having to cross cultural, geographic and age boundaries. Your consistent letters and your messages of love and support are invaluable. Your words of encouragement give inspiration and hope to a soul living with despair and rejection.

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Why doesn't my child answer my questions?

Many children in the developing world don't immediately grasp the concept of "conversations" by mail and must be trained to develop the skill. Your love, understanding and encouragement should help you see progress over time as the child's writing skills mature.

Often, when a child receives a letter from his sponsor, he takes it home to show his family and then saves it in a "special place." Several weeks later, the center staff schedule a time for children to write letters to their sponsors and the children may not have the last letters with them and may not be able to remember the questions that were asked.

Frequently, a center worker or teacher will sit down with a younger child and write on the child's behalf. Questions can sometimes be overlooked or forgotten because of this.

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Why did my child thank me for sending a photo when I didn't send one?

Sometimes letters are written as part of a class exercise. The child may thank you for a photo when you didn't send one because a suggestion on the blackboard mentioned thanking for a photo (if one had been received).

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Why is someone else writing for my child?

A center worker or teacher usually writes on behalf of younger children. Sometimes a parent will, but this is not as common; many parents can't read or write themselves.

Most sponsored children start to write their own letters when they reach the fourth grade. Children with special needs and those whose schooling has started late may require the assistance of a staff member for a longer time.

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Why is my child's name spelled in different ways?

When children are registered, they are often too young to spell their own names. A parent, who is often illiterate, will spell the name for the child, as best as the parent can. In time, the spelling may be determined to be incorrect because a family member learned how to spell it correctly or the child's birth certificate has been found (if there is one).

Additionally, in many cultures there is more than one correct way to spell a name; therefore, a child's case study may give different spellings each time it is processed.

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Why was my letter not delivered?

We reserve the right to decline to forward any letters and materials that we view as incompatible with our ministry approach, including but not limited to:

  • items that advocate another religious worldview

  • materials that condone lifestyle choices inconsistent with our ministry values and beliefs.

We also reserve the right to decline to forward materials that:

  • might be considered inappropriate in the child's culture

  • threaten the safety of the child in any way

  • depict or describe the use of alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, unlawful drugs or materials or activities that we regard as dangerous

  • depict persons dressed in immodest clothing

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