Frequently Asked Questions
WILL A SIMPLE LETTER REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Yes. Our kids keep every letter carefully, and read them over and over and they're eager to write back. For almost all of them, this is the first piece of mail they've ever received. Knowing someone in another country cared about them enough to write a letter, and most of all, that that person wants to know about them, their hopes and dreams - that is a Big Deal to our kids, who are used to being ignored by the world.
DON'T YOU HAVE TO BE SUPER-PERFECT TO BE A MENTOR?
Nope. You have to be kind. That's really it. You don't have to be a brilliant writer, or know lots about Cambodia or even children. You'll need to have a working pen and a coffee break to write a letter once a month. We'll send reminders and keep track of letters so you don't even have to be organised! Just write with kindness.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE INTERVIEW?
After you've sent us your mentor form (click here), we'll arrange a good time to talk with you by Skype or telephone for about 10-15 minutes. We usually already have a few possible matches from our waiting list of children for the Mentor Program, so we'll ask about specific interests and experiences that would help us decide which child would benefit most from you. The second interview is a good time for you to ask us lots of questions too.
Lots of our new mentors confide afterwards that they were worried they'd be grilled or asked deeply personal questions! The second interview is much more like a chat over coffee, and the questions are as only as personal as you prefer. We recognize and honor the trust you share your personal information with us to help us wisely match you with a child, and promise not to share it outside Riverkids.
WHY DOES RIVERKIDS CHOOSE A CHILD FOR ME, INSTEAD OF OF LETTING ME CHOOSE?
Our children come from abusive and vulnerable families, and our very first priority is protecting them. To keep them safe, we don't list them publicly, including for child sponsorship. Research and other charities' experiences have shown that cute young children get picked first by well-meaning donors, leaving behind children who have just as much need but aren't quite so photogenic. Research on mentorship programs have shown the biggest benefits to children come when the program focuses most on the child's needs, not the mentor's preferences.
When you sign up, we'll interview you carefully to figure out which child from our waiting lists could benefit the most from your support and encouragement.
If a donor insists on choosing their own child, that is a sign that they aren’t quite ready to participate.
ISN'T THIS A LOT OF OVERHEAD IN ADMIN?
Fortunately, no. Most of the admin is already part and parcel of our work - we have to keep close track of all the children in our programs, and the letters in the Mentor program are a gift in encouraging our children to talk about their worries and dreams. In Cambodia, the Mentor Program funds an extra assistant for our casefiles team who helps us with other projects too. In Singapore, a wonderful team of volunteers help collect and prepare letters.
The Mentor Program has been running for over a year at less than 10% in admin, and the more mentors we have, the more efficient the program becomes. Our mentors are some of the kindest and most faithful donors we have.
HOW OLD DO I NEED TO BE TO APPLY?
If you’re under 18, you’ll need to get your parent or legal guardian to sign the mentor forms on your behalf. We recommend that for children under 12, parents closely supervise letters before sending them. If there is an issue with a letter written by a mentor under 18, we would contact your parent or legal guardian first.
For younger mentors, you will very likely be paired with a much younger child, e.g. for a 16 year old girl might be paired with a 2 year old girl. We have a 7 year old boy writing with his family’s help to a 4 year old boy currently, and that's been lovely for both of them, even if the letters are short sweet scribbles currently. If you are under 18, you will only be paired with a low-risk child and monitored closely.
There is still a huge benefit in having older children writing if there is family support simply because children understand and connect immediately to children, despite the cultural differences. We welcome children and teenagers, if they have the support of their family for mentoring.
CAN MY FAMILY PARTICIPATE TOGETHER?
Absolutely. Just as with our younger mentors, family mentorships are usually for our younger low-risk children. Sometimes the family members take turns to write, and sometimes everyone in the family adds to the letter.
IS THIS A REAL MENTORSHIP, OR WILL THE CHILDREN BE WRITING ONLY BECAUSE THEY NEED THE DONATIONS?
Our children’s participation in Riverkids programs will never be tied to these donations.
Riverkids carefully and fully explains to the families that the mentorship program is voluntary, the funding go directly to Riverkids, and that there are no restrictions or benefits to their child from participating. It's important to us that the children take part because they want to, and with their parents or family guardian's approval.
All the Mentor Program donations are pooled and and disbursed by Riverkids to achieve maximum beneficial outcomes for the children, their families and their communities, which removes any monetary incentive for families who sign up for the program.
CAN I TAKE PART, EVEN IF I CAN’T AFFORD THE US$45 DONATION?
Unfortunately, no. We’ve designed the Mentor program to help kids both emotionally and practically. All of our work comes from donations, so there isn’t much help in encouraging a child if we can’t also feed them, shelter them and send them to school. You could look for a sponsor, someone who is too busy to write letters but would still like to help the children in Cambodia.
SO WHY IS IT $45?
That's the average cost for our programs in Cambodia per child. Because every child needs different support, some of our children are in just one or two programs, while others are receiving lots of support, so an average seemed the most sensible way to go. The Mentor Program funds don't do directly to the selected child, but go to support all the programs, so that the children who are too traumatised or vulnerable to take part can still be helped.
WHAT IF I HAVE TO STOP PARTICIPATING?
Life does happen, even with the best of intentions. We ask that you write a kind goodbye letter to the child, explaining that you aren’t going to be able to continue writing and that your decision is not their fault, and to wish them well. We will then match them to a new mentor.
CAN I SEND THEM A GIFT?
You can send stickers, postcards and cute stationery - basically, what can fit in a flat envelope and used for writing new letters. Not all of our children can take part in the Mentor program because they're in very difficult home situations, and we want to make sure they don't feel left out. It's also healthier for our children to see mentors as friends, without expectations of any material benefits.
We understand that on special occasions like Christmas and birthdays, a mentor may want to share a gift with their child. Riverkids suggests group gifts like playground trips or new books for the shared library.