The Pen Pal program has been around basically since the inception of HALO. Organized and supported by Betty Guthrie (yes, that's correct, this is a solo operation), the program has evolved considerably from its origin.
|Betty and Nana writing Pen Pal letters.|
By Betty's own admission, the program is a little unconventional and has changed directions throughout its lifetime. Anyone familiar with a traditional Pen Pal program will probably not identify with the structure of HALO's Pen Pal program, however consider the fact that Liberia's mail system is unreliable at best. Letters are hand-delivered either by HALO Ambassadors traveling on a mission trip, or by Fungbeh and Neyor and their adult children, traveling back and forth from the United States. The frequency of delivery is about 2 - 3 times annually. One of the most difficult points to convey to you, the reader, is the importance of this program without having actually been to the orphanage and experienced the joy the children express upon receipt of their Pen Pal letters. These letters are the highlight of these children's lives. In our modern world of continual exchange of information via text, email, social media and the like, it is important to understand the impact a small token sent off to a country largely devoid of modern communication avenues has on the person receiving it. To the kids at CCH, receiving these letters is acknowledging there is a person in the United States they will probably never meet who is in constant thought and (hopefully) prayer for their personal future.
|HALO Ambassador Ashley Van Hoozer's most recently received Pen Pal letters.|
Pen Pal letters are supported primarily by a church in Jacksonville, Florida but recently have expanded (either by relocation of members of this church or through general national awareness of the organization). Support comes from all over the country. Letters are mailed to one central location and are screened for content and then distributed. Supporters are now able to request a Pen Pal online at www.myhaloproject.com. Betty often will print out emails from Pen Pal supporters unable to write physical letters, and decorate them with stickers to send to the kids.
|Our CCH kids writing their HALO Pen Pals.|
In previous posts, the national literacy percentages were addressed. These letters serve multiple purposes, and one of those is to develop the children's reading comprehension abilities. The initial batch of letters resembled what was described by Betty as, "one of the apostles' letters to the early churches" (the kids may have done the first batch of letters as a group activity at school copied from the chalkboard, we're not sure). Since the first exchange of letters, the interaction has evolved into more of a conversation - "What is your favorite subject in school?" "What is your favorite bible verse?" "What is your favorite sport?" "What do you want to do when you grow up?" "When is your birthday?" The kids will often ask similar questions and request pictures of their Pen Pals' families, etc.
While these letters are only delivered a few times annually, it is important for Pen Pals to understand the necessity of continuity. Many of these children have experienced considerable loss in their lives. Once a connection is made with a Pen Pal, there is an expectation that they will continue to hear from this Pen Pal. Committing to writing these kids means committing to sticking with it. The reward for taking a small amount of time to write out a letter or two once or twice a year may only be seen as the responses received (which is easily sufficient), but what matters more is the ability we have to impress on this young generation of Liberians that they are not forgotten, and that we believe in them and support them.To learn more about the program, or to request a Pen Pal, visit www.myhaloproject.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.