I Don't Want a Penpal
June 14, 2021 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Last year, a canvasser from Children International got me on one of my good days and signed me up to sponsor a child in Colombia for $30/month. I didn't realize this came with hand written letters from the kid that's required by the org twice a year.

I'm fine supporting him financially, but I'm not trying to adopt a child or have a forced relationship with him. It feels icky to me that I'm exchanging money for a relationship, and I don't even want the relationship. I guess I'd like to crowdsource if it'd be rude of me to ask the org to stop forcing him to write the letters. I don't want to hurt the kid's feeling, but I guess it's hard to know what he feels about it. Would love any insights to Children International as well if anyone has insider info.
posted by monologish to Grab Bag (7 answers total)
My parents did this for a while, and the letters to me seemed very similar to a basic assignment in English class or the kind of letter your mom makes you write to your distant aunt when she sends you a birthday present. Personally, I would view this less as a forced relationship and more as a communication exercise for the child. Also, as they were "part of the system" to get sponsored, if they weren't sending you one they would just be writing it to someone else instead.

Unless someone has insight from the other side or there is something specific in the letters that gives you pause, this is probably a minor inconvenience or overall positive moment for the child so I would personally throw them away and not worry about it. Of course there's also no harm in asking the group to stop sending them either as that would cut down on waste and could make you feel better. So go ahead, if you can figure out how to contact the right people
posted by JZig at 7:52 AM on June 14, 2021 [14 favorites]

I agree with the above. This is likely a rote assignment. And I feel like I'd be weirded out by it, too. I think there are folks that really want to get something in return for their money - a tote bag, a members-only benefit, a child's personal thank you note. And others who really don't need a thing at all. But, I bet you are not the first one to ask to waive the letter-writing requirement. I bet it's as simple as getting off the list. If you plan to continue on with the monthly donations, that would be a nice thing to include in your email. "Hi, planning to continue with my monthly support but do not want or need a letter, can you put me on a 'do not mail' list?"
posted by amanda at 8:24 AM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Would you like to see an aging Jack Nicholson wrestle with this dilemma? Let me recommend his About Schmidt, from 2002.

Spoiler alert: he ends up writing.
posted by Rash at 8:36 AM on June 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

It goes two ways. The child understands the sponsorship / assistance has strings attached, and some people appreciate knowing their money is really going to someone who needed it with a personal touch. You don't have to write a lot, if you choose to write at all.
posted by kschang at 9:13 AM on June 14, 2021

I don't know anything about Children International specifically, but AFAIK, most of these 'sponsor a child' things don't mean your exact donation is going towards that individual child and nobody else - they're pooled with many other donations to support something that benefits a whole community of children eg. a teacher's salary, a water pump, a vaccination programme etc. This is for good reasons, preventing the stark inequality that arises if some children in a class or community are sponsored and others aren't.

So I'd agree with others that the child is probably not seeing this as a pen pal relationship, their whole class probably sat down and wrote these at the same time, and you got sent one from your assigned child. That doesn't mean you're obliged to accept it, if you ask the charity not to send any more I'm sure they'll gladly save the postage.
posted by penguin pie at 9:39 AM on June 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I've been sponsoring via Children International for almost 20 years now, and yes, I got the idea via About Schmidt.
My first child turned 18 and "graduated" out of the program, so they asked me if I would like to take on another one, and of course I said yes.
Both were out of an orphanage in Seoul, Korea.
I received letters (both the actual handwritten in Hangul and the typed translation) and photos on a regular basis, and I and my own family love getting them.

I've never really had the drive or inclination to write the children back, frankly.
I don't think it's scarred them or had a negative impact on them.
If it does, I would like to think that I get a pass for being a crappy correspondent, by being a consistent donor.
I even send extra money around their birthday and right before winter so that they can buy new clothes and a new winter jacket.
Happy to answer any questions.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 9:39 AM on June 14, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Just to give a behind-the-curtain view of having worked with fundraisers for CI programs: The primary function of the letters is because people who feel a more personal connection are more likely to keep contributing money and more likely to contribute more money. The kids aren't forced to write letters — they're encouraged to, but they don't lose funding if they don't (they don't even lose funding if you stop giving; they just get another sponsor assigned). Since Children International is primarily an education-based aid org, part of the program is the kids writing letters — much like how most of us in America had to write a letter to the president in, like, 2nd grade. Then it's translated by a volunteer.

There are reasonable arguments for why developing a relationship with the kid is a good thing, but it's not, like, mandatory, and the majority of sponsors never mail anything back.

Like most people, most kids like thinking there's someone out there who they've never met who cares about them. But unless you're sending extra stuff to that kid specifically, there's nothing that really ties your postal relationship to your fiscal one.
posted by klangklangston at 11:36 AM on June 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

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