“Do you know Michael Jordan?”
“Have you ever met Bill Clinton?”
I’ll never forget these questions from my first international pen pal. We were both in grade school, and she lived on the other side of the world.
I thought her questions were silly at the time. Now, they’re just endearing.
She was from a different culture, heritage, and landscape than I was. We shared pictures and slowly letters were passed between us … sometimes taking months to hear back from her.
Even though I knew she lived in Africa, I didn’t understand why it was so hard to correspond with her.
Communicating through letters can be a challenge. Sometimes it’s hard to get your point across or to tell what the other person means simply from reading words on a page. But when you factor in age and cultural differences, a lot can get lost in translation — literally.
So if you’re a sponsor eagerly awaiting word back from your sponsored child, you may be asking yourself questions like, “Why doesn’t my sponsored children write back?” or “Why won’t he or she answer my questions?”
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Kids will be kids
Have you ever tried to get a young child to sit down and write a quick thank you note for a gift? Or even sign their name to a birthday card? For most kids, this is no easy task. It’s no different for a child on the other side of the world.
Plus, children aren’t the most eloquent writers or communicators, even if English is their native tongue. So it’s normal for your child to write letter that are much shorter than yours and may not answer all of your questions. This is especially true for younger kids.
Children who aren’t comfortable writing yet may choose to draw a picture instead.
Different countries, different cultures
When you mail a letter to the child you support, it goes on a pretty cool journey. It will ride on trucks, fly over oceans, venture into remote villages, and finally land in the hands of your child. But that process can take weeks or months depending on where your letter is going.
Unlike here in the States, there isn’t a post office or blue mailbox every other mile. So expect a lag between when you send a letter and when you hear back.
Most letters have to be translated, too. And it takes time for teachers and volunteers to help your sponsored child write a response to your letter. So be patient with the process and know you haven’t been forgotten!
Sometimes, by the time your child has the opportunity to write you back, he or she may have forgotten the questions you asked. Kids are often so excited to be writing to their sponsors that they forget what you asked them because they have so many other things they want to tell you!
Even kids get writer’s block
Sometimes your sponsored child may not know what to write about.
It can be intimidating to write to a person you’ve never met. Your sponsored child may still be learning to spell and write complete sentences — and not feel confident in this skill yet. Or the idea of letter writing may be foreign to them. Most children’s family and friends live in the same area or village, so there is no need to learn to write letters.
Writing to sponsors can be a daunting task for many of these boys and girls. But they love you so much they’re willing to try to share a piece of their lives with you!
How can you encourage them to respond?
1. Write, write, write!
Your sponsored child wants to hear from you! So keep those letters coming. We encourage sponsors to write another letter to their child before they hear back from the first one. The more letters you send, the more inspired your child will be to respond.
2. Keep it simple
Since your kids may not be used to divulging personal matters, make sure your questions are light and not probing. Keep questions short, sweet, and easy to translate. Also, try to ask just a couple of questions in each letter instead of a huge laundry list. This helps ensure the child won’t feel so overwhelmed that he or she doesn’t respond at all.
3. Highlight and underline
It may be challenging for a child or translator to wade through a lot of details. Your sponsored child wants to hear about your life, but your questions may get lost in the midst of that information. Try numbering, highlighting, and underlining questions so that the child and translator recognize their importance and remember to add their answers in the follow-up letter.
The most important thing to remember is that no matter how often you write or what you share, you letters will be saved and treasured by your sponsored child.
So, are you ready to break out the pen and paper and start writing?
Get started today with ideas on what to write about to your sponsored child. You can either email your letter by clicking the button below or send your letters to:
[Sponsored child’s name & ID #]
c/o World Help Child Sponsorship Program
P.O. Box 501
Forest, VA 24551