How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating and Get Back to Letter Writing

“Write your sponsored child — you have no idea how much it means to them,” said the worker at Sendero de Amor Child Development Center.

While it didn’t surprise me, I hoped I wouldn’t hear this while I was at the center.

The truth is, I’m not really one for writing letters.

I’m not sure that I should be admitting that, given that I work for Compassion, but there it is. At 31, I’m part of a generation of Canadians for whom letter writing is virtually a foreign concept.

Facebook? No problem.

Twitter? Easy.

E-mail? Sure.

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But to sit down and write a letter? That’s different.

Writing a letter feels very formal. It’s not something I do with my friends. So when I wrote my first letter to my sponsored child four years ago, it was … strange. And, in all honesty, it never got easier. Writing has always felt a bit awkward. But as often as I could for a long time, I faithfully wrote.

young man sitting with group of childrenAt the beginning of 2010, things kind of went off the rails. Life got in the way and before I knew it, it had been six months since I’d written a letter. Now I was in Honduras, visiting some of our church partners and getting ready to meet my sponsored children.

At nearly every development center, I had the chance to ask the staff if there was one thing they wanted me to communicate back to Canadian sponsors. With the exception of one center, it was always the same thing:

“Write your child.”

I eventually asked why it was so important that we write. Here’s what I learned:

When letters are distributed, it’s a big celebration. The children who receive a letter are so excited that they can barely contain themselves. They show their friends their letters and can’t wait to share it with their families, too.

But for the kids who don’t get a letter … it’s a hard day. They’re happy for their friends, but their hands are empty. They feel left out. They feel unloved.


When sponsor visit day came, I knew the first thing I had to do was ask my children for their forgiveness. Hearing these stories made me realize just how much I’d — however inadvertently — hurt these kids who we care about so much. And the look on their faces when I told them that I’d done wrong showed me that, yes, I had hurt them in my failure to write.

When we write our children we’re giving them something to celebrate. Even when it’s a short, silly, awkward note that takes us forever.

But, as awkward as it is for me, knowing the difference it makes in the lives of our children helps me to know that it’s worth it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a letter to write.


29 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Avatar
    camille robison July 13, 2012

    Aaron, this post is so very touching.. I remember when I first was introduced to Compassion by my church and sent out my first donation, I had forgotten to write to my sponsor child. I never would have thought that it would hurt them so much until I read this (this was back in May). Everyday, whenever it feels like I am procrastinating, I re-read this to remind myself how important it is to write. Though I will not lie when I say I have written to my child on the templates here. I do intend on making a handwritten letter very soon.
    Thank you for making this. It is a great reminder. Gifts are one thing, but a letter does mean a lot to them.

    1. Avatar
      Kevin Baker July 13, 2012

      What’s wrong with using the Compassion templates for writing letters?

  2. Avatar
    Kevin Baker July 23, 2011

    Aaron, what an awesome post! You just changed my writing game plan! I’m sure most sponsors are like me: clueless about how important the letters are to the child. We need to be educated on this! We think it’s all about the money!!!

  3. Avatar
    Sandra Cline April 12, 2011

    I recently visited my sponsored child. Not only do I have a more personal connection, but I have a better understanding of the conditions in which most of these children live. For a child in deep poverty, regular letters from their sponsor can be a real lifeline – a constant reminder of hope for a better future and encouragement to strive to succeed.

  4. Avatar
    Lori August 27, 2010

    Thank you for these words. I feel awful now that I haven’t written my child in such a long time. I am going to write today and try to continue to write once a week – no matter how “awkward” it feels. Thanks again.

  5. Avatar
    Katie August 23, 2010

    I find it helpful to have an excel spreadsheet for each child. I have two sections: one detailing dates I’ve received letters and one about the letters/emails I’ve sent.

    It’s a good way to keep track and it helps you realize that it’s time to write 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Caroline August 19, 2010

    Thanks so much for posting this…I have psyched myself out of so many notes in the past. Also, my sponsored little girl is so young I don’t know how much to write. I just sent her a couple sentences and lots of love. Now, I just need to do it more often! 🙂
    Thanks again!!!

  7. Avatar
    Diane Nichols August 18, 2010

    my husband and I are both retired so I have time to write,what I do is jot down a few ideas, things I think my kids would understand,. I also get the last letter the child wrote and go through it line by line and try to answer all the questions or praise them or sympathize with them. A suggestion for people to whom writing is a foreign concept, pretend you are talking to a friend and try to write what you say to your friend. Even talk out loud if it would help, having sponsored these kids for a few years, we know the importance of letter writing,even if it is just a few lines. The benefits are eternal!

  8. Avatar
    craig downs August 16, 2010

    I was just like you Aaron not writing to my children. I to am a member of different forums and can write stuff on there, I thought my child and family gifts were good enough. After joining Our Compassion I learned the very importance of writing to my children. Since May I have sent out 3 letters and will continue to do so. I can hardly wait to get their responses back.

  9. Avatar
    Kees Boer August 13, 2010

    Great post. If you think about it, the sponsorship experience is quite a bit different from the viewpoint of a sponsor as that of a child.

    When a sponsor sponsors the child, the first thing they do is set up a payment option. Thus the sponsor’s first part in sponsoring is setting up the payment.

    When a child hears they are sponsored, the first thing they hear this with are the “first letter/stationary” that they receive to write the letter on. I.e. their first experience in the sponsorship is to write a letter. As a matter of fact, at least 3 times a year they will do that.

    When a child doesn’t receive the letters, they feel like they have just written, and written, and written letters, but no reply. The sponsor always gets a result of his money, but the child can feel like they are not getting any result of the letters or their part of the sponsorship.

    The letters are more important than the money. Many of the children never hear that they are loved. When the sponsor writes and tells them that they love the child, this can have a HUGE impact on them.

    Aaron, if you feel more confortable with email, are you saying that in Canada, you can’t email a letter? In the USA system, you can and those letters go so much faster. An email written at just the right time, can be in the hands of a child in a little over a week. At least in Bolivia.

    1. Avatar
      Kevin Baker July 23, 2011

      Kees, your comment was as good as the post itself. I am motivated – thanks!

  10. Avatar
    SallyC August 13, 2010

    How often are letter distribution days? Or does it vary too much between different projects and countries to be able to say?

    1. Avatar
      Kees Boer August 14, 2010

      I think that depends a lot on the country.

  11. Avatar
    Charlotte August 12, 2010

    I have started writing an email on the first of each month and sending a greeting card, stickers, coloring pages….something like that, about midway through each month. Emails arrive more quickly, I understand, so I’m sure they don’t recieve the pieces of mail two weeks apart but I hope they are getting correspondence on the average of two times a month.

  12. Avatar
    Stephanie August 10, 2010

    Thanks for this excellent reminder. I’m the same way – great with twitter, texting, facebook, email, etc. But not always great about formal letter-writing. Thanks for the push to get out the pen + paper…and say something to make my sponsored kid’s day.

  13. Avatar
    Chris August 6, 2010

    Aaron, when you did ask for their forgiveness, what was their response?

    I know I need to write my sponsored kids and ask them to forgive me. I haven’t written in a while.

    Thanks for sharing Aaron!

  14. Avatar
    Allie B August 5, 2010

    I am trying to write to my sponsor child about once a month, except if her birthday is coming up and I already sent her a letter that month. I keep a folder with photo copies of all the letters I sent and all the letters that I received. That way, I can remember when I sent the last letter.

  15. Avatar
    Debbie August 4, 2010

    You know one thing that would be helpful is if there were some ‘suggested’ guidelines on how often to write and how often to send things such as stickers. When I first signed up for Compassion, I ‘thought’ I read somewhere not to write more than once a month because it overwhelms the translators and the kids.
    It seems there are extremes though. There are people that don’t write at all, and then people that say you should be sending stickers, etc. at least once a month if not more. I keep changing my letter writing schedule because I’m not sure if I should write more often, or stretch it out more, if I should just write a quick response note online, or do I send stickers, coloring book pages etc. (I don’t do emails at all with my little ones under the age of six. I figure they need to have the ‘extras’ and not just a letter read to them.

  16. Avatar
    Debbie August 4, 2010

    I think the most important thing is to have a schedule and/or write it on the calendar. As with everything else in life, time slips away from us. I have a schedule on the computer about when I wrote them, and also a notebook so that I can write notes when I get their letters, or if I think of something I want to write them about.

  17. Avatar
    Pat August 4, 2010

    I had a very similar experience when I visited Nicaragua the first time. The day before our child visits we were at a project…a little girl asked me why her sponsor didn’t love her. I was taken back by such a question. She went on to explain that her sponsor never writes her and therefore must not love her. The think is, I hardly ever wrote to my child…never imagining that this is the impression I was giving him. The next day, I apologized to him, his mother and one of his project workers…and started writing regularly.

  18. Avatar
    Amy August 4, 2010

    Thank you for the encouragement. I try to write every week, but I get lazy sometimes.

  19. Avatar
    Jayne August 4, 2010

    Thank you for being so honest in this blog. I, too, have gotten away from writing letters over the years. Thanks, you have inspired me to get moving on a very overdue letter!!!

    jr 🙂

  20. Avatar
    Debbie August 4, 2010

    I write all (and that’s a big all) my kids between four and eight weeks. As Caitlin said, if you need help, join We are full of ideas, and will gladly bug people to write. Also, for people who just aren’t into the formal letter writing, use the email option on your online account.

  21. Avatar
    Aaron Armstrong August 4, 2010

    Thanks Caitlin – I might have to make more of a habit of checking out what folks are suggesting on the OC 🙂

  22. Avatar
    Caitlin August 4, 2010

    Beautiful Aaron! If you need help, come visit us on the OC 🙂

  23. Avatar
    Megan Joy Burdzy August 4, 2010

    Thank you for the encouragement to write to my child, even if it’s just a silly little bit. I want her to know that she is loved and loved and loved – not only by me, but also by Jesus.

  24. Avatar
    Mary August 4, 2010

    How often should someone write to their sponsor child? Once a month? Once every few months? On holidays and birthdays?

    1. Avatar
      Caitlin August 4, 2010

      I find it easier to write regularly if I set a date, and I have found that one a month means I rarely ever forget. The firstweek of the month is letter writing week (yes I give myself a whole week…I don’t just spit letters out like a machine (-: ). For me, if I set a time ,I set a rhythm, once I get into that rhythm, letter writing gets easier. if you need help, definitely check out they are great with helping there, and very understanding about getting into the swing of things!

    2. Avatar
      Danielle August 4, 2010

      Hi Mary, find something that is doable for you. I write once a month. You won’t regret writing more often!

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