What to Expect from Your Child’s Letters

Working in the Compassion USA Contact Center, I get the opportunity to help answer the questions of Compassion sponsors over the phone, via email, or online about their sponsored children. And often there are questions about the letters sponsors receive from their children.

Building a relationship through letter writing is one of the most important things you can do to offer hope to the child you sponsor. So here are a few of the questions I get from time to time. Hopefully, they’ll help you know a little about what to expect from your child’s letters while you are building that fruitful relationship.

what to expect tutor

Why can’t he read or write yet?

A few weeks ago, I talked with Roberta* who sponsors a 10-year-old boy in Burkina Faso. Roberta was confused about why her child was not yet able to write letters on his own and why he had to have a tutor dictate each letter for him. She felt that he should be able to write his own letters by now and thought there must be something amiss.

I explained to Roberta that, in some cases, children are not able to start school until they are registered in the Compassion program, which could be as late as age 9. School systems may also look very different there. We think of 9-year-old children in the U.S. as having at least three years of schooling and reading and writing skills. But some of the children in Compassion’s programs are just learning literacy at age 9, and many parents are also illiterate, giving their children few role models.

Sometimes we simply do not realize the incredible challenges that our sponsored children in developing countries face as they seek to escape from extreme poverty. This might cause us to expect things from our sponsored children that they really are not able to give to us.

Why hasn’t he answered my questions?

In many cases, 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” because he is SO proud to have a letter! If this is the case, you might wonder why Jose has not answered you when you asked him what his favorite color was.

Letters are often written as part of a class exercise so staff can provide adequate help and attention to individual children as they write their letters. Several weeks after Jose received your letter, the staff at the student center would have scheduled a time for all the children to write letters to their sponsors. Jose may not have had the last letter with him and may not have remembered the questions you asked.

This is why if you underline or highlight your questions, the staff will copy down these questions and make sure that your children are able to answer them.

Most children in developing countries cannot imagine why anyone would be interested in how tall they are or how much they weigh. Many cultures are much more private about that type of information and children might not think that the sponsor really wants to know such information. Also, it may be considered vain to be discussing personal things about themselves.

Why isn’t there more depth in her letters?

I don’t know about you, but I can remember that as a child in school, when my teachers asked me to write thank-you letters to adults, my letters were a bit shaky. Actually, my letters probably sounded rather distant and formal. Part of that was due to the fact that I had absolutely no idea what to say to these adults, and how to say thank you for whatever they had done for me and my class at school. As I had more practice in writing letters, I know they got better and sounded less formal, forced and aloof.

Along the same lines, cultural differences may cause your sponsored child’s letters to seem excessively pious or religious. For example, in Uganda, it is common to begin a letter with “Praise God!”

what to expect claudiaIn many cases, a child’s personality will come through in his or her letters. If they are more outgoing, they might be little chatterboxes in their letters. If they are shy, maybe they will have more trouble sharing personal information than other children. In the same way, some children are more comfortable discussing their faith than others.

About four years ago, I started sponsoring a beautiful young lady named Claudia.
Little did I know, before I had sponsored Claudia, she had been sponsored by someone else. Compassion’s sponsorship program is a one-to-one sponsorship program, but sometimes sponsors come and go over the course of a child going through our program. So my little girl had already been through the experience of being sponsored for four years by someone else with whom she wrote letters back and forth.

Then one day, for one reason or another, the sponsor stopped sponsoring Claudia. No wonder our relationship started off a bit distantly! Was she afraid to connect too much with me only to see me go again? I’m not sure. All I know is that it took a few years of sending faithful and loving letters of encouragement before Claudia started to open up to me a little in her letters.

Why doesn’t she tell me more about the Compassion program?

A while back, I had a tough conversation with another sponsor named Jerry.* He was frustrated with something in his child’s letters, or rather what was lacking in his child’s letters. Over the course of our conversation, it became clear that Jerry had expected his child’s letters to prove that his money was getting to where it was supposed to be, and that Compassion was operating above board. For whatever reason, his child’s letters were not communicating that to him, and I would argue that they never could.

Your child will not always be able to communicate what your sponsorship has meant to him or her and that your money is going a long way to lift that child out of poverty. They may not have a high enough vocabulary yet to be able to communicate the significant changes they are experiencing. They may not even realize that they receive “support,” because the benefits of the program are given through their local church in the form of goods and services and not cash.

what to expect child

What do my letters mean?

My prayer is that you would see letter writing as a mentoring relationship. Your consistent letters of encouragement will communicate to your child, “I care about you and I want to be a part of your life.” There is power in that.

I can tell you that I have been blessed by God through my decision to be a sponsor; completely separate from anything that my sponsored child herself could ever give to me. Sure, it has been an absolute joy hearing her sweet jokes in her letters, her wisdom expressed, and watching her grow. I have had the amazing honor of being a part of Claudia’s growing years by loving and encouraging her through the ages of 12 to 16. She’s changed so much, and I love that I get to be a part of that!

This has all been an added blessing that could not be coaxed out of her. It is the same way that Christ gave to me. He did not love me because I would love Him back. No, while I was still lost in my sin, Christ died for me. I love and give to my sponsored child out of this same grace that I have experienced – without an expectation of what Claudia will give back to me. What I do get back is an extra grace, an unexpected blessing.

*Name changed for privacy

Have more questions about the letter-writing process? Leave a comment below.

23 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Andreas Hübner February 5, 2016

    We have a little boy Edgardo from the Philippines since one year and just starten a second sponsorship with little Mileydi from Bolivia. I love both – writing on the computer because it doesn’t take much time and you can send beautiful pics and also handwritten letters because I can send little gifts in them.
    I love the Workshop of compassion!!
    And we love our two Sponsor kids.
    Edda from Vienna /Austria

  2. Nanci Irwin September 20, 2015

    We just chose our little guy to sponsor today! Love the blog. Re: sending online letter – since ours will need to be translated, will they get both our letter and pictures PLUS a translated letter? Thanks.

    1. Faith September 25, 2015

      Hi Nancy! 🙂 i’m a former sponsored child and YES, we do received both the original and translated letters coming from our sponsors. And I’ll tell you that every letter from my sponsor is a moment of hope and encouragement. Yes, I love receiving letters from my sponsor and I believe that you child will love it as well. Keep writing to him and make your relationship deeper. Thanks for being part of the advocacy of releasing children from poverty. God bless you a thousand fold. 🙂

    2. Susan Sayler September 21, 2015

      Hi Nanci! Welcome to Compassion! We are so excited that you have chosen to impact the life of a child in poverty through your sponsorship! Your little guy will receive both your original letter and photos as well as the translation. 🙂

  3. Kelly September 12, 2015

    Does the $38 dollars a month go specifically to my sponsored child or does it add into a combined group for the sponsorship program?

    1. Susan Sayler September 14, 2015

      Hi Kelly! Great question! It’s a good idea to research and know what kind of organization you are supporting (because all organizations have different focuses) and where exactly your money is going.

      Some child sponsorship programs just focus on one or two areas of a child’s development, rather than being all-encompassing, and others organizations administer their programs on behalf of the community a child lives in, rather than focusing directly on a specific child.

      Compassion delivers holistic child development that is child focused. Additionally, some organizations receive government funding. We do not. We’re 100 percent sponsor and donor supported.

      At least 80 percent of your support goes to program expenses that impact your child specifically. We do not hand money to your child and their family, but the resources you provide benefit your child in the form of individualized attention and care by loving staff, regular Christian training, learning opportunities, health treatment and training, socio-emotional development, and much, much more.

  4. Sophia March 18, 2015

    Thanks! And also, how does writing online compare to writing letters by hand? Is it faster? Can the child respond?

    1. Emily Vanhoutan
      Emily Vanhoutan March 19, 2015

      Hi Sophia! Letters written online will still take 2-3 months to reach your child but yes, your child will still be able to respond! 🙂 When you type out an online letter, we will print it out in our office in Colorado and mail it with the rest of the hand written letters. We want your child to still be able to take home a tangible letter to show their families and put in a special place. Your child will still write a hand written letter back to you :).

  5. Sophia March 18, 2015

    It says I will receive at least 2 letters a year from my sponsored child, how many could I get at most usually?

    1. Susan Sayler March 18, 2015

      Hi Sophia! I’m sorry for the confusion! You will receive a minimum of two letters and up to six reply letters a year if you write regularly to your child.

  6. Sheila February 14, 2015

    Thanks for that information. I was beginning to feel that the translator was just sending a form letter as it sounded the same month after month. I’d love to know what experiences my children have that made an impression on them, or, what sorts of stories they learned of in Church? It seems no matter what questions I ask I always get the same standard replies about their grades and school work.

    I see now, that it’s difficult for them to communicate the depth of their feelings and it isn’t something they know how to express.

    I continue to tell them all the things I’m planning to do in the garden this Spring and how I’m so happy to have adopted another dog. Whatever things I think will tell them more about me.

    As one person said, it’s not what I’m getting out of it but what I’m giving to someone else that matters.

    I did wonder if it was okay to tell them how much I love them? I didn’t want to encroach on their mother or father’s position so I didn’t start doing that until maybe 6 months into our exchanges. The truth is that I do love them very much and wish I could visit all three of them!! I don’t see that I’d be financially able to but 2 of them tell me how much they would love to meet me. Perhaps I could continue to save here and there and one day make it happen.

    Thanks for providing us with a better understanding of their situations!

  7. Cheryl Mock January 17, 2015

    My little guy was just three when we started sponsoring him. His older siblings have been helping him write to us and draw pictures. He just turned 4 and in our last letter from him he asked me if he could call me Granny. I LOVE it!

  8. Mark December 9, 2014

    Today was a glorious day! We received our first letter from little 1 year-old Ana today that we began sponsoring in October! Of course, her mother did most of the writing, outside of the small hand-print traced on the back of the letter! Tiny little fingers!

    This is the best gift we could have ever received!

    God Bless!

  9. Nancy October 17, 2014

    I was wondering how or if we can find out whether our letters reach our child. I have sent several online letters to our child over the first year of sponsorship and, based upon a letter I just received from him, it doesn’t seem that he has gotten our letters. I don’t want him to feel as if we don’t care!!

    1. Emily Vanhoutan
      Emily Vanhoutan October 20, 2014

      Hello Nancy! I am so sorry if it does not seem as if Joao is receiving your letters :(. I know it can get discouraging if he is not responding to questions you may ask him in previous letters. I want to encourage you that Joao receives every kind word and sticker that you send to him and after reviewing your account, I see that he has received 5 letters from you so far! Thank you so much for sending him love and encouragement as we frequently pray for sponsor’s that write as often as you and your family!

      Because letters take 2-3 months to be delivered both ways, it takes a little while for the children to catch up to responding to your initial letters in the first year. I would encourage you to try highlighting and numbering any questions you have for him in future letters. This helps your boy and our staff to remember to address those points in his next letter to you. Otherwise, on letter writing day at the project, if he left your letter at home, he may not remember the specific questions that you asked. My prayer is that over the next several years you will build a strong bond with your child :). Each letter you send, feeds hope and love into your boy that boosts his confidence and tears down the lies that poverty has been telling him all of his life. We appreciate the time and energy you put into your relationship with him!

  10. Lynne October 14, 2014

    As a new sponsor I found this blog very inciteful and encouraging. Thank you!

  11. Michelle October 7, 2014

    Thanks, Emily!

  12. Michelle October 5, 2014

    I am enjoying exploring this blog so much! This is just one of many posts that have given me some great letter writing inspiration. I was wondering, though – is writing a letter to my sponsorship child through the online letter writing system just as good as handwriting one? Is it printed out for her so that she can keep a hard copy? I really like using the online method because I can choose a cute template to go with my letter and there are three spaces for pictures. However, it is important to me that she have something to hold on to like the other children in the program.

    1. Emily Vanhoutan
      Emily Vanhoutan October 6, 2014

      Hi Michelle! I am so glad you asked that question :). Yes! The letters you write online are printed out on high quality paper (so pictures that you attach look beautiful and are printed in color) and mailed to your child the same way that hand written letters are. Compassion realizes how much these kiddos treasure your letters and we also want them to have a tangible paper copy that they can take home and hang on their wall or put in a special place :). I am glad you’re enjoying the online writing tool!

  13. Emmanuel September 20, 2014

    I’m blessed to read this article. God bless you for a good work done.

  14. Jean Daniel September 18, 2014

    Excellent article to help sponsors understood more about their sponsored child’s world. I have sponsored “my girl, Nina” for five years and save copies of my letters and her letters in a notebook. I, also, include any pictures of her that I receive. It brings me great joy to look through the years of letters!

  15. Yvonne Reynolds September 17, 2014

    Susan, this is an incredible post filled with information that will help a lot of sponsors understand the letter writing process.

    1. Susan Sayler September 23, 2014

      You’re so sweet. 🙂 Thanks, Yvonne!

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