Why Do The Letters I Get From My Sponsored Child Sometimes Sound The Same?

A Child Writing a Letter

There’s nothing like the feeling of finding a letter from your sponsored child in your mailbox or inbox – the slightly battered envelope or tell-tale subject line, the anticipation of reading a message that’s travelled halfway around the world especially for you.

But sometimes – the letter itself might not be all that you were expecting. Maybe your sponsored child wrote just three or four sentences, and they didn’t feel very personal. Perhaps the words sounded too childish or too grown up for their age. Maybe it sounded similar to the last letter you received or perhaps they didn’t answer the question you asked in your last letter.

And yet, here’s what we know:

  1. A four-year, multi-country study found that children in World Vision’s programmes who send and receive letters are more confident, happy and hopeful about their future.
  2. Every child who receives a letter from their sponsor will write the reply themselves. If they are too young or having learning delays, a World Vision staff member, community volunteer or the child’s carer may assist.

So why are the letters you get from your sponsored child not always what you expect? There are some good reasons. Here are four of them:

1. The child's literacy skills could be limited

All kids are different and learn at a different pace, even with a perfect start. But, many children in the communities where we work, start school later than kids in developed countries because of the local system or for other reasons like sickness, family responsibilities or cost. The flow-on effect is massive! Many children in the developing world have much lower literacy skills than kids the same age in developed countries - according to the World Bank, one in two children in the developing world cannot read and understand simple text by age 10, compared with one in 10 children in the developed world. This can impact older sponsored children as much as younger ones. They are still learning and might take some practice (or a lot!) to get the feel of it – and in the meantime, their letters might seem a bit stilted or repetitive.

2. Kids might write their letters in groups

Children working on their reply letters as a group

Anyone who has ever helped a child complete their homework, write a story or write a birthday card to a far-off grandparent knows that putting pen to paper doesn’t always come easy! Letters require literacy and storytelling skills that adults have mastered over time, but children are still developing. To help, World Vision staff or community volunteers may encourage kids to work together to collaborate and brainstorm ideas. Facilitators might give them ideas, hints and tips, too. While kids are always encouraged to be creative and unique, they will share answers and ideas, sometimes resulting in similar phrases, questions or answers in letters. That doesn’t mean they haven’t tried or that their letters don’t come from the heart.

3. Some cultures are more formal than ours and may revert to common sayings

In some places, a suit and tie or formal dress are commonplace, or titles of respect are expected in everyday conversation. What is considered polite can vary wildly between cultures, so what is thought to be respectful in one place can be perceived as distant, adultlike or unfriendly in another. On top of that, cultures, where writing is not a common way for people to communicate, will often use a more formal or formulaic style of writing. It might look on the surface like an adult has written the letter instead, when in fact your sponsored child could be using formal language or common local phrases they know in an effort to be respectful and polite.

4. Things can get lost in translation

Have you ever tried explaining local sayings or colloquial phrases unique to your culture or language to someone who speaks another one? Getting on the same page as each other can be tough! World Vision has more than 150,000 community volunteers in 54 countries helping to translate letters, and from time to time, things can get paraphrased or misunderstood resulting in letters that feel more formal or impersonal than intended. Our translators work super hard to get it right every time, but sometimes a letter will pass through one or two languages before it reaches you.

Your letters are a great opportunity for you and your sponsored child to connect and grow a relationship over time. It’s also a great chance for them to refine their communication skills for life – even though it might take some practice!

Over time, you might find that the letters you receive start to change as your sponsored child’s skills improve and their confidence grows – thank you for helping your sponsored child on their journey.

Written By: 
World Vision Singapore