The Journey of One Letter

Have you ever wondered how your sponsored child’s letter gets to you? The long journey it takes from Tanzania or Thailand to Connecticut or California? There’s a lot more to it than you might think!

Samuel Llanes, Guatemala’s Field Communication Specialist, gives us a peek at the journey of one letter from Guatemala to a sponsor in Australia. (Did you know that Compassion International has sponsors all over the world from Australia to France to South Korea?)

letter-pamelaPamela, a little girl sponsored by a married couple in Australia, says, “I love writing letters to them! When I write my letter, I wish I was right there with my sponsors.”

She has received two letters in the two years she has been sponsored, and she keeps them safely at home. She knows who they are and what they do, and she prays for them before bedtime each night.

When Pamela receives a letter, it has gone through a long journey. First the letter is sent from Australia to the Compassion International field office in Guatemala. Each country Compassion works in has its own field office. The letter must then be translated into Spanish for Pamela to understand.

“Translating is such a blessing to me,” says Julia Zepeda, a pastor’s wife and translator who has been working for Compassion International Guatemala for eight years. “I have taken this as a ministry that helps children, and I know is worth it.”

The translators are given one week to complete all the translations once they’re given a group of letters. The average number of letters that must be translated a week in Guatemala is usually around 180 to 200! After translating, the letters are brought to the student centers where they are distributed to the children. Receiving a letter is a special moment for children — they know that someone out there cares about them and is praying about them.

Letter Day
“Letter day” happens every four months. Pamela, along with all the other children at her Guatemala City student center, writes a letter every four months, though her sponsors may not write her that often.

When Pamela writes her letters, she uses a notebook to write a first draft. She does not want to miss anything that her sponsors asked her in their letter. Pamela’s tutor reads her sponsors’ letter to her, and as it is read, Pamela answers all the questions they asked. If they have sent something special, like stickers, she makes sure to thank them. Then once she has decided what her letter will say, she writes out her final draft.

Letter Day is an exciting day. The student center celebrates all the children for their efforts in writing letters on Letter Day. They give prizes to celebrate every child — and sometimes they even have a clown and piñatas!

Once Pamela’s letter is written, she gets to take her letter from her sponsors home, which she gets very excited for.

On Its Way
Once Pamela’s letter and all the other letters are written, they are brought to the Guatemala field office and translated into English. The packages of translated letters are then labeled and sent to be processed at Compassion International’s Global Ministry Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The children’s letters are sent from Guatemala to Colorado once a week.

Each week, child letters arrive in large boxes in Colorado Springs from all over the world to be tracked and sent on their way.

First, the letters are sorted by where the sponsors are from. All the letters going to U.S. sponsors are grouped together, all the letters going to the United Kingdom are grouped together, and so on.
Each letter is then scanned into a database, using the barcode at the top of each child’s letter, so Compassion can track all of the letters that are sent.

Once all the letters have been recorded in the database, they are bound together according to the letter’s destination country, and shipped out every Tuesday.

So the letters that our sponsored children write to us have been through a long process, passing from one hand to another until they arrive in your mailbox in that envelope saying, “A Message From Your Sponsored Child.”

39 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Stephanie Salvage November 29, 2011

    My Sponsered Child Tania says she has not received in pictures from me. I have submitted a number of letters with pictures & with stickers in them. Would like to find out if she has received them. In fact I just sent another letter with 4 pictures in it 3 days ago.

    1. Kees Boer November 29, 2011

      Hi, Stephanie,

      First of all, I must say that I’m so encouraged by you writing your child and sending pictures to your child. This means so much to the children. One of the biggest desires in your child’s life is to know you. You are very important to your child and when they get a picture, they really treasure that picture. So, I’m so excited to hear that you are doing this. You are a great example to all the sponsors. I’ve sorted so many letters in the country office and the vast majority of them don’t have pictures, thus this is a big thing to your child.

      I don’t know where your child is but I spent quite a bit of time working with the letters in the country office in Bolivia and I have to say that your letters are treated with the highest amount of care. Here are some things to consider:

      The letters take about 2 to 3 months to get to your child and 2 – 3 months to get to you. Thus the letter that you sent with the 4 pictures, she might get that one in February, maybe even March, because of the Christmas Holidays and what have you. Also, the letter that you received that mentioned that she hadn’t received the pictures yet, might have been written in August. Thus if you had sent the pictures in June, she wouldn’t have received the pictures yet…..

      Also, be sure to write the child number on the back of each picture that you sent. The letters are bagged and sent in big boxes to the country. The box might have 1,000 letters, you can imagine, if your picture gets detached by accident from the letter, it becomes almost impossible to figure out which letter that picture belongs too. BTW, I always suggest people to write on line. It is more convenient but it takes care of a lot of these potential problems.

      You might want to call the call center. 1-800-336-7676 They can track the individual letters. Every detail gets logged, thus they can really assist with the details of that.

      But thank you again so much!!!!!!!!!! Tania will love you so much!!!!

  2. Sarah April 22, 2011

    Something I have been wondering about, since becoming a sponsor … what would the time frame be for my sponsored child to hear that she’s received me and my husband as sponsors? I imagine for little ones, it might be difficult to grasp what a sponsor is, but I’ve pondered how she got to hear that we’d chosen her. So we signed up on the Sunday at church, and I was thrilled and excited and talking about her, and organising a packet to send to her all week … when would she and her mother have received a visit to tell them that we’re her new sponsors? It must be so exciting and thrilling to receive that visit of good news. I am yet to hear from my sponsored child, but I have sent her two packets already, and I just hope she likes them, finds them encouraging, and I can’t wait to hear from her. She’s in Peru, so I don’t know if they offer reciprocal Letter Writing or if it’s a 4 monthly letter writing session only. I’ll probably write to her every 3 – 4 weeks depending on news to tell her – if these packets “catch up” with each other she’ll be swamped with stickers, colouring books, photos and all sorts on Delivery Day! LOL!

  3. Diane London April 5, 2011

    My husband and 4 children have been sponsoring Bradly from Kenya now for 2 years. What a Blessing he is to us and to my children actually praying for him on a daily basis 🙂 After reviewing Compassions website, I realized that I could send his family a money gift of any amount…wow… guess what we did for Easter??? We Love you Bradly! Just the thought of seeing their faces when they receive the gift from our family to theirs, brings such joy to my heart. And when you think about it, how much money do we blow because we can? We decided to bless our family…both families are blessed when you give from the <3

  4. Diane Nichols August 18, 2010

    Some of the kids are very newsy and write often, even get concerned if they haven’t heard from me for a while. Some of them don’t write that often. For the kids that don’t write that often, I still write them frequently as I want them to know that they are loved and wanted. Since we have a special needs son, I write more often to those kids, they are in poverty and to have a disability on top of that could be discouraging so I try to be as encouraging as I can, one of them just lost his mother, there are 4 kids in the family, they live in an aids-affected country and he is positive about about his future! Kind of makes me feel less discouaged.

  5. Douglas Reutzel April 24, 2010

    I love getting letters from my children it is interesting how they have changed over time. My two children are both good letter writers and seem very anxious to keep in contact. It is a pleasure for me to write to them share hopes, prayers and our love for Christ. Thank you for letting us see the process that letters go through.

  6. Jenny Sheehan April 16, 2010

    I too have two children in Haiti, one of them quite close to the epicenter. I wrote her the day after the earthquake, though I knew it would take much time and effort before she received it. I told her I was praying for her and was anxious to know if she was alright. Today I received a letter from her, praise God! She had written it two weeks after the quake. Our letters usually cross in the mail like that. But since they are able to write through their Compassion network, I am confident that Abner and my child Francia will also be able to receive our letters when they arrive in Haiti. They may already have them. I can’t imagine the deluge of mail the translators are facing right now…

  7. Mary Fidlin April 15, 2010

    Thank you very much for this information about letter writing. I have written a few letters to my sponsored child in Haiti (after the earthquake), and I am wondering how long it will take for him to receive my letters. I have recently received a letter from my child, Abner, and I am so relieved that he and his family were not injured (an answer to many prayers). But since he lost his home, church and development center in the earthquake, I am wondering when he will be actually receiving my letters. I know that is not as important as his well-being right now…I would like him to know that I care about him and that I am praying for him and his family. I’m praising God and thanking Him for Abner’s letter to me…what a blessing!

  8. Frances Michaels March 23, 2010

    This was all very useful information – I have often wondered about the mail. I wish I knew the particulars about the Phillipines where my child is. Her mother wrote the letters for the first 3 years and that was wonderful – I felt we really had a connection. I was eager for my child to write but I do miss the details about the family that the mother would write me. It has been a great 7 years of correspondence and I have a notebook with every letter, card, and photo I have received. I often reread them and it is a treasure to me. I am just as thankful for their prayers as they are for mine.

  9. Taryn August 11, 2009

    Thank you Judith for such a quick response! I’ll be sending my letter today.

  10. Judith Tremblay August 11, 2009

    @Taryn – Yes, you can include the picture and stickers loose in the envelope (as opposed to stapling or using a paperclip). And definitely write your child’s name and number on them, along with your number–to help the Compassion staff keep everything going to the right country and child.

  11. Taryn August 10, 2009

    I’m about to write my first letter to a little girl I’ve sponsored in Indonesia named Novi, I’d like to include stickers and a picture. In the packet I was sent it included an envelope to send my first letter in. Do I just put the picture and stickers loose in the envelope? Do I write the sponsor information on those as well as the letter?

    Please advise!

  12. Diana May 18, 2009

    @Chris Giovagnoni – Thanks for this response Chris! I appreciate this information!

  13. Chris Giovagnoni May 18, 2009


    … are you saying that regardless of how often I write my child, she might only get my letters once every 4 months?

    No. The “letter day” in this post refers to a day set aside at this particular student center to write letters to sponsors.

    This post is about the journey of a letter from the child to the sponsor.

    Regardless of country or development center, children should write to their sponsors at least three times year. However, some countries /center strive to have their children write a response to every letter the child receives – “reciprocal” letter writing.

    Your letters are delivered as you send them. The delivery can take months – writing online shortens that some – and sometimes letters written weeks apart – either by you or by the child – arrive on the same day, but the latter is not the norm.

  14. Diana May 17, 2009

    I just signed up to sponsor 2 children today and am now poking around the site trying to learn various things. With regards to this particular post, are you saying that regardless of how often I write my child, she might only get my letters once every 4 months? I plan on writing both of my “kids” at least once a month, regardless of whatever the answer to my question is, but I am just curious. BTW, one child is in Honduras, and the other in Peru.

    Thanks in advance for any knowledgeable response on this.

  15. Rebecca March 31, 2009


    If I am not wrong… honduras is not officially on the reciprocal letter system. The 10 countries that are on that system are: Thailand, Indonesia, Peru, Ecuador, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nicaragua, Kenya, Ethiopia and El Salvador! =)

  16. Wendy Funke March 31, 2009

    Does anyone know if Honduras is on the 1 Letter Day Every 4 Months system or on the Reciprocal Letter System??

    I’m really hoping they are on the Reciprocal Letter System, because I’ve already started writing letters and have 3 ready to go to my new sponsor child.

  17. Judith Tremblay March 30, 2009

    That’s cool, Kees.

    And when I was working a Compassion table at a concert on 3/21, there was a former Compassion-sponsored child from Uganda. He said that all children in Uganda, when they are in school, learn English also.

    I did call Compassion this morning; the representative said that each country office has translators who can translate children’s letters into French, Italian, German, Korean, as well as English (if I missed a language represented by a world office, I apologize). They may have one translator per language, or someone may know more than one language, but the Country Offices have enough translators to get the job done. I am so grateful for the amount of work Compassion does on behalf of the sponsors!

  18. Kees Boer March 30, 2009

    Hi, Judy,

    That’s a great question. I can tell you from Holland, because my parents sponsor children in Holland. They have translators that will translate from English to Dutch. Also, somehow you can opt to not have it translated because my dad is fluent in English, so he writes the child in English and reads the child’s letters. From what my dad tells me, the translators from English to Dutch and from Dutch to English are part of the advocate network there, but that could have been misunderstood.


  19. Judith Tremblay March 29, 2009

    Things I’ve noticed:

    1) Letters are translated in the children’s countries, not the sponsors’ countries.

    2) Sponsors speak different languages–anything from English to Korean.

    What I wonder: How do the translators handle translating into all the different languages represented by the different sponsors? Is each translator fluent in all the languages, or are there “specialists”–one person learns French, another Italian, another German or Korean, etc.?

  20. Dyan Johnson March 27, 2009

    I didn’t realize the kids only get letters every few months…I’m new at this. I have been writing my child weekly…sometimes a letter and another envelope with stickers and stuff in them. I just thought they gave a weekly mail call in each project. Wow..will he ever have a lot to read!! I will continue to write weekly..I view my sponsored kids as my own..I figured if my own children moved away I would write weekly…so I do the same to these kids as well. They deserve every letter, sticker and coloring book I can find.

  21. Sara Benson March 11, 2009


    A “letter day” is a great idea. I have also heard of people getting together as a group to write letters. I am trying to arrange some “letter parties” for my friends and family.

  22. Phyllis June 19, 2008

    From now on, I will have a Letter Day of my own set aside to write to my sponsor child in the Phillipines. It is so easy to get busy with the things at hand and not take care of the very important. Thank you for your post. Blessings pj

  23. Kees Boer June 9, 2008

    I don’t know where to write this, but Amber, we live in a very small world.

    I have a friend since 1980 or so by the name of Rick Whitney. Him and I worked together and we were in the same church. He had a little boy named Josh Whitney. Today, I spoke with Josh Whitney’s wife Krista and I found out that she is your sister in law. I was floored. Never expected that connection!!!



  24. Mary May 24, 2008

    At you can also find a similar story. In the search box (on the home page) type in Larry the letter. The search will bring up “What Happens To Those Letters”, click on it to read the story and see the photos.

  25. Monica @ Paper Bridges May 24, 2008

    oopsie. forgot trackbacks give the post titles in the comments section. I hope I havent’ offended anyone, please let me know if you want me to change it.

    monica @ paper bridges

  26. Linda Milby May 23, 2008

    Can you tell me the process that Nicaragua uses? (do they have letter day?) Also I’m curious to find out what special gift that compassion chose for Christmas gifts, do you know? Thank you!

  27. Amber Van Schooneveld May 22, 2008

    Hi Linda, Not every country will have a “Letter Day” like this Guatemala project does, as each country might do things a little bit different. But each country does make it a special event for the children!

  28. Linda Milby May 22, 2008

    Thanks for the info. I was starting to get worried that my little girl wasn’t getting my letters, it takes so long. I didn’t realize that there was a “letter day”. She’ll have a load full! yeah!!! God Bless all of you who work so hard to make these children a blessing to us!

  29. Amy May 22, 2008

    This is the exact kind of stuff I’m curious about, thank you so much for this informative post! 🙂

  30. Kees Boer May 21, 2008

    Hi, Amber,

    You’re such a smart lady to marry a Dutch guy. I was trying to sell some girls that when I was 24 years old or so, but none agreed with it! Then it was a bumber, now, I’m happy to be single; I can sponsor more children!!! 😉



  31. Shawn May 21, 2008

    Amber, thank you so much for this very important subject. As a sponsor and advocate, I encourage sponsors to write to their children consistently. I know how much a difference my letters make from the responses I receive from my sponsored children. It is life changing for myself as well. I just wanted to answer Kelly’s question too, though I am sure Amber has a better response. But,from personal experience, my 5 year old sponsor child’s mother actually wrote her first letter. The staff at the projects also help write in addition to tutors if the child has a tutor. Thank you again Amber, and thank you for your book Hope Lives, it is awesome.

  32. Amber Van Schooneveld May 21, 2008

    Hi Kelly. That’s a great question. Each country might handle it a little differently, but usually a project worker will sit down with each child and read the sponsor’s letter to him or her. Then the project worker will talk to the child about what he or she would like to say in return, and they draft the letter together.

  33. Kelly @ Love Well May 21, 2008

    I just got a new letter from our sponsored child this week. So this post has great timing, Amber.

    One question: For those of us who sponsor young children (who can’t yet read or write), how are letters written back to us? Does someone at the center have a Q&A session with the child to figure out what to write?

  34. Amber Van Schooneveld May 21, 2008

    Thank you, Kees! I appreciate your comments. I like your Dutch name too. I married into my long Dutch name, so I’m not Dutch myself, but lived in Amsterdam for 6 months and have a love for the Dutch people. 🙂

  35. Kees Boer May 21, 2008

    That’s amazing!!! I’m so glad you posted that post! I love it! By the way, I just finished your book. It’s wonderful! I was trying to write you an email and let you know, but it wasn’t published in the book! Great Dutch name too!!!


    Your fellow Dutchman, Kees

  36. Beth May 21, 2008

    Thanks for sharing this! My 8 year old sponsors a 4 year old in Columbia. We received our first letter from her about two weeks ago. I will share this post with her as she keeps asking me how come it takes so long to get letters. We are pretty good about writing to all 3 of our children and with all the recent posts here concerning letter writing, we will make sure we write once a month at least to each of them! We save all their letters too and they are indeed treasures!

  37. Gloria May 21, 2008

    i am glad you wrote about the importance of letters. i was blessed enough to go on a mission trip to visit my sponsor boy in Guatemala and he had all the letters and pictures we had ever sent him saved like treasure. i really don’t think we sponsors grasp how important those letters are to the little children, how much they love hearing from us. its pretty cool.

  38. Monica @ Paper Bridges May 21, 2008

    thanks for this. I’ve been a sponsor for years, but only lately have seen the light when it comes to letter writing. my husband wrote a letter a month ago and I wrote one the other day. our girl in Indonesia will be thrilled – based on what I now know about Letter Day.

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