Writing letters to your sponsored child is a major focus of this blog – mainly because it’s one of the most tangible ways to encourage a child who may hear few positive comments in daily life. It’s hard to estimate the power of a few words on a piece of paper, but because a child (or her parent or siblings) can read it over and over again, the weight of those words of love and care never changes.
Is the same true of letters from your sponsored child to you? How do you feel when you receive a letter from your sponsored child?
I just received a note from Munni and found myself entranced with the angular swirls of her handwriting. I can’t help but wonder if she learned to write on the little chalkboards many Mission of Mercy schools use to cut down costs -- paper is expensive, but chalk is cheap.
I don’t think we realize what goes into the letters we receive from our sponsored children. Because they are not accustomed to writing letters, many children rely on their teachers and tutors for help. Yet when a child begins to understand that writing can be a form of communication, the result is so sweet:
“I write letter to greet you and to tell you that I miss you. I want that you write me to know about you…I am happy because I am in 4th grade and I know to write. These are my letters.” – Wilmer, Dominican Republic
Can you see the joy in those words, the pride? And it’s over something as simple as knowing how to write – these are my letters. It reminds me of how the apostle Paul earnestly wrote, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” in Galatians 6:11.
We would be lost without Paul’s letters, and yet that statement (and others such as how he says “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand” in 1 Corinthians 16:21) reveals just how seriously Paul took these messages. Although he was a scholar, his handwriting may not have been the best – so he relied on scribes to ensure all of his ideas came across clearly.
Mission of Mercy uses a similar approach. Your sponsorship is important enough and your letters treasured so much that your sponsored child may be too nervous to write to you. It’s almost as if they become shy as soon as they take up the pencil!
The project workers and staff employ many activities to encourage children to gain confidence in their writing. As a child learns to write out letters and words, you may see them practice on the letters to you. Or they continue to strengthen their fine motor skills by drawing little pictures for you.
Older children may write out drafts in notebooks and get feedback from their tutors, friends, and family. Encouraged to share about things they love, many children return to facts they’ve already made known – favorite foods, sports, colors.
But as many of you already know, even when a child seems old enough to write on their own, they may not, as this Dominican Republic project staff shares with a sponsor:
“Miguel says hello. Child is 7 years old now. He also says he likes school. He also says he wants to learn writing for writing his letters by himself.”
The fact that Miguel is 7 and does not yet know how to write may concern some sponsors, but the year in which a child starts school may vary drastically across families, communities, and regions. Many families can only afford to send one child to school, and younger children are enrolled as finances allow.
Children may not stay in school consistently; although many countries require a primary education for every child, it is rarely enforced. Government schools are so crowded, the teachers so overworked that it is difficult for children to truly learn without additional help, which may be out of reach for many families.
And then there are the unknowns: what if a parent falls ill and the child needs to work to help feed the family, or must take care of younger siblings? Although we often associate ages with specific grades, in the developing world things are much more fluid. Phinda in Swaziland is a good example of that:
“When I finish school I want to work as a doctor so I can help people. I am 15 years old and I am in grade 6. I am happy that I have a chance to go to school. Other boys can’t go to school and some have left school and are on the streets, but I want to stay in school so that I can learn new things.”
What a great attitude, especially given the obstacles he likely faces. Phinda may be the oldest child in his class by several years, but like many other children in his position, he knows the value of sticking with school. It simply may take him longer to adapt and learn than other students, and the letters he writes to his sponsor may reflect that.
After waiting longer than we are accustomed to receive a letter, it’s easy to get distracted by details such whether your sponsored child wrote the letter herself when it seems she should be old enough to do so. But perhaps it’s better to take this perspective: look for clues your child’s letters: Do you see improvement in her writing? Did she share something you were glad to know?
Respond with grace and encouragement, and acknowledge that you see how your sponsored child is growing. You may be one of the only people to notice, and your attention will embolden your sponsored child to keep trying, keep writing, and keep sharing with you!