Confused sponsor, no answers, no smiles

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I have sponsored my current child, Bienvenu (child ID: BF012800108 ) for over 7 years. I just received his new photo. In all of these years, I have never seen him smile. In fact, in this new photo he looks sad. Furthermore, he has never answered any of my questions in the letters I write him. Never. Furthermore, he has never referred to any of the pictures that I have included with my letters. He does acknowledge the extra money that I have sent, and what he and/or his family has bought with it. In the earlier years, I let all of this go as due mostly to culture and his young age. As you can tell, I am frustrated by this. How should I interpret all of this? Are things in his country , or where he lives, such that he doesn't want to talk about it or himself? Is there something about me that he is not happy about? Am I a poor sponsor? Does he wish he had a different sponsor, or that I was more like some other sponsors he knows?
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Douglas Stratton

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  • sad, confused, frustrated

Posted 2 years ago

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Hi Douglas,
How old is Bienvenu now? Or at what young age did you start sponsoring him? Wondering to be able to answer better.  We sponsor a little boy, Julien from Burkina Faso and we started 2 years ago and he is now turning 8 this year.
He has never smiled in photos either.  He can't read or write or has started school yet. Tutors write his letters and in the center (BF613)that he is in, they have a bunch of form letters where the tutor can tell us more about his life.  For example,.... Names of my friends, my best friend favorite food is..., my favorite color.  We write him lots of letters and send him birthday and family gifts.  He never really acknowledges what we write but I noticed he asks about my niece and nephew who are around his age.... so I found that interesting but I guess because that's age appropriate stuff that interests him. Life is just much more about survival there than small talk.  Recently, he sent us 2 photos -- a letter he initiated called a beneficiary initiated letter .  He thanked us for being his sponsors and the photos were one of him alone and one of his family.
But yes... I would be frustrated too if I were in your position. I really hope you tell me Bienvenu is 7 years old!
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Douglas Stratton

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Bienvenu will turn fourteen this month.  I began my sponsorship with him about 7 years ago.  I have been a compassion sponsor for about 20 some years.  I also sponsor a young lady (21years old) in Ethiopia.  I want to thank you and everyone else that has responded.  It has been very helpful.    -  doug
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Denise L.

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I also have a child who never smiles - if anything, she looks a little fierce or to put it kindly, determined! There are certain cultures where photos are a solemn thing (I visited my child in the altiplano of Bolivia, and as soon as the camera came out, all smiles disappeared). The photographer is likely a stranger to the boy, since these update photos tend to be done in batches at centers, and the boy may be tired of the lineup if the photographer isn't engaging - your boy may be anxious to return to something more interesting. One likely explanation is that the child can't yet grasp that the face he shows the camera is what greets his sponsors. In my experience, girls (who brim with words, after all) communicate better in letters than action-oriented boys.
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Shannon Massey, Employee

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Good morning Douglas, 
I am so very sorry that you are feeling uncertain about your sponsorship for many reasons. I want you to know that above anything else, Bienvenu loves you and is proud of you. You are a wonderful sponsor. I see that you write at least a few times per year, include photos, send gifts... There is nothing more that a child in our program could want. But I do see that he even tells you how much he appreciates you in his letters. I am wondering if maybe its not that he doesn't tell you that he is appreciative of you, but rather that he doesn't answer your questions or engage in a back and forth conversation. However, I will tell you that it is incredible the amount of letters he writes, as many children write roughly 2-4 times a year. I also see things in his letters like, "It's with a great pleasure that I write to you in order to send you my news and receive yours.", " I am very proud of you and my family is proud too. " and "May God reward you a hundredfold for your kindness. Please pray for my family and my schooling. Be blessed! I love you! ". I hope that you are able to take these words to heart and know that we loves you and appreciates you as his sponsor. 
Furthermore, we often see that even the happiest of children will not smile in their photo, and even more commonly in Burkina Faso. For the vast majority of children, our photographs are the only ones they have ever had taken and in some cultures smiling for a photo is not the norm. It can be frightening for children to get their picture taken as it is for children in all cultures. As mentioned above as well, I think that you will see as he is going through his teens, he may be a little less enthusiastic about taking photos. I am sure you have seen teens feel this same way even here in the United States. 
Lastly, I truly wish you the best going forward with you relationship with Bienvenu. Since it seems that one of your biggest concerns is the lack of engagement in letters, I want to explain a little bit about that as well. Many of our children struggle with the concept of writing a letter. You are probably the only person your child will ever write a letter to, and sometimes children have trouble grasping the concept of having a “conversation” by mail. When children receive their letters, they often take them home and put them in a special place. When it is letter writing day at their project, they may forget to bring your letter back and may not have any references to your letter’s content. Sometimes the staff will write a list of suggestions or letter samples on the board to help the children in their letter writing. This is one reason letters can sound scripted or unoriginal; out of a deep desire to communicate with their sponsors, children will copy the samples or follow the list word for word. If you have specific questions for your child, we suggest that you keep them brief, simple, and number and highlight each question. This will call the staff’s attention to your questions and they can help keep your child accountable to answering them. I hope that you will try this suggestion and that it works for you! We appreciate you taking the time to voice your concerns and I pray that they will get better as time goes on. Thank you so much for your continued support, love and encouragement of this young man! 
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As I also have sponsored children in BF, I thought I’d Ithrow in my two cents. I have had a great experience overall with some amazing opportunities, but still fall subject from time to time to the disappointments you’ve mentioned. The letters tend to have several phrases that repeat each time, and even when they share news, they don’t elaborate at all. It’s historically an oral culture, and it shows! I definitely see a difference between letters from them and the ones in the western culture. I tend to read the letters and think “hmm, not much there”. However, on a couple of occasions I have read through all their letters at once, and am pleasantly surprised how their personalities jump out, and how many expressions of affection there were that I took for granted on my first read. One of the times I read them all was right before I had the opportunity to meet them. I didn’t think I knew much about them, but when I met them I realized that even with the sparseness I had their very different personalities pegged. If you have saved many of the letters, I encourage you to try reading through! As for the photos, for years mine looked quite morose. One of my goals on my visit was to get photos with smiles. I casually mentioned that I prefer photos with smiles, and whether because of that or coming of age or appreciation, I’m getting them now. Wouldn’t hurt to try telling him that it would be a gift to you to see his smile!

Though the letter experiences elsewhere can be different, I think the next child I choose will be back in Burkina Faso. Literacy rates are very low (30%?) and the country is among the poorest few in the world per the UN. Supporting even their early years of education is making a massive difference to the child, family and community.

I hope that you will remain enthused and continue on, because from what I have read, a writing male sponsor is a rare and valuable gem!
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Andrea Watt

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My girl from Burkina Faso always looks very solemn in her photos, but had the sweetest shy smile when I went to visit and met her. She kept picking my my hand and comparing it to hers (she has incredibly dark skin and I'm white even for a white person lol) and she was obviously happy to meet and talk. It's easy to get frustrated, and I do too. Between my Mom and I we sponsor several children and I've had one or two that really "got" the letter writing, and the rest of them always seemed very hit and miss. As much as I wish they all did I also have to be honest enough to say that when I was young I was a terrible correspondent. Hell I'm not a great correspondent now, it's a concentrated effort to write my letters. I will say that regardless of which kids were better letter writers, they all seemed really happy to meet me and it assured me that some kids just are better writers than others. Just like as a kid I was good at math and never got English.

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