Letter-Writing Tips

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Before You Start

Learn About Your Child

ChildFund provides each sponsor with a detailed description of the child's community and local ChildFund activities. The more you understand about your child's background, the more beneficial your relationship.

A child's culture provides insight into who they are. Read about the regional feasts, holidays and celebrations, and even learn a few words in your child's language.

Learning about the geography, community structure, social beliefs, and the country history will give you a better understanding of your child's background.

Encyclopedias, the Internet, magazines and travel books provide a wealth of information about holidays, national history and other facts.

The Basics of Good Letter Writing

Short, simple messages are best.

Most likely, your sponsored child does not speak English. Short sentences and simple words are easier for the staff in the project to translate and for the child to appreciate. Avoid slang expressions and contractions, and write clearly to avoid confusion in interpretation.

Keep your messages positive.

Your tone should be warm and friendly. Take special care when discussing death or illness, and be sensitive to your child's living conditions. It may be discouraging to speak or send pictures of material possessions. Instead, make each letter an educational experience for the child, and focus on happy news, such as:

  • favorite memories
  • family
  • favorite stories
  • age-appropriate trivia
  • profession or hobbies
  • how you celebrate holidays
  • life in your town

Remember, the reader is your sponsored child.

Give the child lots of encouragement.

Being able to write to you is a major triumph for many children, and finding time to write can be a challenge. To encourage your sponsored child:

  • Comment on any progress you learn your child has made, such as in schoolwork, in a performance or even in the child's letter-writing.
  • Be generous with genuine compliments. Praise the child’s talents or skills that you’ve discovered (i.e. "you are a good writer," "you are a good helper")or the child's accomplishments ("your grades were very good," "you must be a very good soccer player," "your drawing is very colorful and happy"). Your words will boost your sponsored child’s self-esteem and be a daily reminder that someone cares.
  • Challenge your child to try something new or difficult and then write to you about it. Avoid "correcting" the child or criticism.

Asking Questions

Strike a balance between telling the child about yourself and asking questions of your child.

Ask open-ended questions.

A child will find it much easier to start and maintain a dialogue if you provide the material first. Ask for descriptions, thoughts and ideas.
Examples of good open-ended questions and statements include:

  • What do you do on a normal day?
  • What games or activities do you enjoy?
  • What is your favorite way to spend an afternoon?
  • Tell me about someone that has made your life better.
  • Will you send me a drawing of your home or village?
  • Who are the people that live with you?
  • What are your favorite holidays? How do you celebrate them?
  • What are your favorite subjects in school and why?
  • Tell me about your favorite places.

Other items to discuss:

  • happy memories
  • hopes and dreams
  • qualities your child likes about himself or herself
  • sports, cooking and chores

It’s better to avoid writing about material possessions and other topics that emphasize the difference between your culture and the child’s situation, but take every opportunity to encourage your sponsored child to work hard and perform well in school.

Ask a few questions at a time.

Asking questions makes it easier for your child to respond, but too many questions can be overwhelming. It is likely that your sponsored child travels some distance to school each day, and has chores and schoolwork to complete when he or she gets home. Many do not have electricity at home or a candle to write by at the end of the day. Keeping your letters to no more than 2 or 3 questions makes it easier for the child to respond.

Your letters will be answered.

ChildFund has a system for keeping track of all such correspondence. If a child is too young to write, you will receive letters from a member of the family.

Make It Fun

As you correspond with your sponsored child, he or she will become more open to sharing with you. Knowing that someone is interested may spark longer letters. Build on past letters and maintain an open dialogue.

Here are some ideas:

  • Write a story together.
  • Send the child fun and educational materials, such as origami paper and instructions, or flash cards that translate words from their language to yours.
  • Share funny stories.
  • Start a game by mail.
  • Share what you are reading and learning. Children observe how adults live and manage their lives and sponsored children can learn from you by what you share in your letters.
  • Make "All About Me" cards with space to answer preprinted questions that you both answer.
  • Photographs enable you both to comment on the same things, people and events.
  • Try to obtain translations and revisions of classic stories in your child's language.

Sending Gifts

Want to include something “special” for your sponsored child? Think flat.
Children cherish the little gifts and fun extras you add to your letters, but bulky objects cause difficulties and create problems with customs officials. Make sure that anything you include is flat, lightweight and not easily broken. Avoid items that can melt.

"Envelope add-ins" include:

  • family photographs
  • drawings
  • hair ribbon or embroidery thread
  • stickers
  • paper dolls
  • postcards
  • poems or stories
  • coloring book pages
  • birthday cards
  • origami paper
  • stationary
  • preprinted pages for children to fill out

To minimize the possibility that mail will be lost or stolen, make it appear to have less worth to those who may be interested in its contents. Never include anything of value, use plain manila or white envelopes, and keep external writing non-descript.

Gifts for Christmas, birthdays and special occasions.
We ask sponsors not to send packages to their sponsored children.

Packages are frequently stolen, or they can be charged a prohibitive duty tax. If you would like to give a gift for Christmas, birthdays, or other occasions, we recommend gifts between $20 and $50. ChildFund requests a $3.50 donation when sending monetary gifts to help offset the costs associated with processing, distributing and safely delivering the funds. If you would like our assistance with giving your sponsored child a monetary gift, please call us at 1-800-776-6767. Our representatives will be happy to assist you.

Some Important Things to Remember

A caring heart very rarely offends, so be at ease when you write. The following are simply a few suggestions and precautions to bear in mind when writing to a child in a foreign country.

  • Take special care in discussing death or sickness. Again, keep in mind the age of the child when writing.
  • Please note that many cultures don't share or understand our practice of owning pets. In places where food is scarce, animals are often viewed as competition for valuable supplies of food. This doesn't mean you can't mention your pet, but it is something to consider.
  • Be careful with your wording. "My dear" and "Love" are too intimate for some cultures.
  • Avoid asking questions that are embarrassing or too sensitive to children, such as why the child failed a subject, body image, death or an absent father.
  • It's okay to express your faith or beliefs, just try not to influence your child's faith. ChildFund is open to all children without consideration of background, religion, social and family structures, and ChildFund respects the cultures of the local communities in which we serve.
  • The ChildFund staff is always willing to help in interpreting cultural differences.
  • The ChildFund translators will be translating your letters to your sponsored child. Generally, the content of the letters is not changed, but should it be necessary, letters may be edited.

The most important thing is that you care enough to keep in touch with your sponsored child. Remember that we grow in our relationships. By exchanging correspondence with your sponsored child, you build a person-to-person bond that can mean a lot to each of you.

If you have questions or concerns...
Please call our Sponsor Care team at 1-800-776-6767, between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. (ET), Monday through Thursday and 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday.


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