It was 8 o’clock on Thursday morning when children from the child development center entered the courtyard of Christian Alliance of Bobo-Dioulasso. That day was thought to be an ordinary one, except some of the children had extra-large smiles on their faces.
But there really was something special about this day — it was a letter day.
Every child who wrote to his or her sponsor that day felt like it was an important appointment. The children enjoy receiving letters from their sponsors as much as they enjoy writing back.
Unfortunately, many of the children do not receive letters. Among them are unsponsored children, but there are even some sponsored children who do not receive letters. One development staff member shared,
“It is very hard for children not to receive letters. Some children come to me sometimes asking why their sponsors have not written to them.”
When sponsor letters are given to children, it is difficult to see the sadness on the faces of those who do not receive a letter.
On the other side, children who receive letters from their sponsors are beside themselves with joy whenever they are called by development center workers to get their letter.
Letters from sponsors are considered family goods. The child’s entire family reads these letters, and most often it is the mother who keeps them in a safe place. According to our staff,
“Letters are a capital link between the sponsored children and sponsors.”
Many parents come to see our development center staff after reading sponsor letters. These parents usually ask what they should do about the letters and our staff advise them to write a response letter, making sure that all of the sponsor’s questions are answered.
Some parents will make a draft of a response letter with their children and then bring it to the center to copy onto a letter form to send to their child’s sponsor.
In the beginning, development center workers used to give sponsor letters to children with the hope that the children would write back in due time. But our staff noticed that letters written by children and their families were not always accurate and that some or none of the sponsor’s questions were answered. So, another strategy was put in place.
With volunteers, the staff at the Eaux Vives (Living Waters) development center decided to systematically write in a book all the questions asked by sponsors, along with the sponsor’s name and the name of the sponsored child. Now they can make sure all questions asked by sponsors are addressed when children write their reply letters.
Another innovation implemented recently is to make a copy of the letters children write to their sponsors and place them next to the sponsor’s questions in the book. By doing this, our staff can easily check the accuracy of letters.
As far as the actual letter writing, some children are able to write letters themselves and others are not.
Fabrice is one child at the development center who can read and write his own letters. He joined the center in 2007 and is now in grade six, primary school. Fabrice is a brilliant student who will get his Primary School Leaving Certificate this year.
His father is a bricklayer who has two wives and eight children. Fabrice’s mother stays in the village where she works as a midwife.
Fabrice lives with his maternal grandmother.
One of Fabrice’s half brothers, Armand, is registered at the same child development center. The two boys have the same father but different mothers. Armand stays with their father, but the brothers do not miss any opportunity to spend time together.
Fabrice has already received many letters from his sponsor. One of our staff members shares,
“Fabrice reads his sponsor’s letters himself. Every time I ask him, he is able to tell me what his sponsor has written in the last letter.”
Though Fabrice’s mother lives far away, he always manages to show her his sponsor’s letters. His mother enjoys reading these letters to learn about her son’s benefactor, who lives in a country they know only by name.
It is amazing to hear Fabrice’s aunt, who lives in the same house, talk about Fabrice’s sponsor. She has read every letter the boy has received. Sometimes she even makes suggestions about what Fabrice can tell his sponsor about certain aspects of his life.
On this letter-day morning, Fabrice was excited because he was going to write to his sponsor with his own hand. The first step in the letter writing is drawing. Every child who would be writing a letter was given a letter form on which to draw something for his or her sponsor.
After washing their hands to keep the letter forms clean, the children started drawing.
Some are very imaginative while others use biblical posters as models. Every child worked hard to deliver the best drawing possible. Some were very impressed by their friends’ drawings.
Then it was time to write. For Fabrice and some other children, the writing was not a big deal. After a few minutes telling a volunteer what he intended to write, Fabrice began a draft of his letter. After a short while the boy was done.
The next step was to meet with a development center staff member to go through the draft and correct mistakes. Then Fabrice copied the corrected version to the letter form.
For children who have just started school and cannot write their own letters, the process is different. These children have an interview with center staff or volunteers and share what they would like to write to their sponsors.
The staff person or volunteer asks the child the questions from the sponsor’s last letter so the child can provide answers. A draft of the letter is written in a book and read aloud; if the child agrees with what is written, the text is copied to the letter form on which the child has already made drawings.
When this process is completed, these children also can say that they have written to their sponsors.
The happiest sponsored children are those who communicate regularly with their sponsors through letters. In some homes children have posted their sponsor’s letters on the walls of the living room for visitors to see.