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RESPECT's Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about the Global Letter Exchange

How do I sign my students up for the Global Letter Exchange?

Complete our online form. There are separate forms for refugee and non-refugee schools.

Your information will be emailed to us and a copy will be sent to your contact(s) at the email address(es) you entered for them on the form.

Upon receiving your request, RESPECT International will then put together a package of letters from refugee students, contact you with information about that package and forward the letters to your school.

With your class you can read a couple of refugee-related books/magazines or watch videos in class or with group members while waiting to receive the first batch of letters from refugee students.

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How much does it cost to participate in the Global Letter Exchange?

There is no cost to participate in the Global Letter Exchange. However, non-refugee schools are strongly encouraged to send international reply coupons (IRCs) along with their responses. Include one IRC for each three or four letters sent.

IRCs may be exchanged in any country in the Universal Postal Union for the minimum postage payable on international unregistered airmail letters. As of 15 October 2009, IRCs can be purchased in Canada for $3.50 CAD, in the USA for $2.10 USD and in France for €1.30 EUR. (International Reply Coupons are not available to Taiwan.)

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How does RESPECT choose which schools, refugee or non-refugee, will participate in the Global Letter Exchange?

All schools that make a serious commitment to the Global Letter Exchange are able to participate.

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What am I responsible for when I sign up my students to participate in the Global Letter Exchange?

You are responsible for receiving and distributing the letters from refugee students. Before you give the letters to your students, we recommend you:

  • Discuss with the students the possibility of disturbing content. The students who wrote these letters may well mention the loss of a parent or parents, they may write about the affects of war in their country of origin and life in the camp.
  • Screen letters before handing them out to ensure that even after preparing students only the most mature students receive the most mature letters.
  • Please note that while some letters may be quite serious, others will just write about music they like, clothes and whatnot - kids are kids.
  • Make a copy of each letter. On the original and the copy, write the name of the student you are giving each letter to. Give the copies to your students. This ensures the letter is still available in case the student's copy is misplaced. Once your students turn in their responses, you can give them the original letter.
  • Please make sure each letter from a refugee student receives a reply from one of your students.

Please post your letters within about two weeks of receiving them from us.

We strongly encouraged you to send international reply coupons (IRCs) along with your responses. Include one IRC for each three or four letters sent.

IRCs may be exchanged in any country in the Universal Postal Union for the minimum postage payable on international unregistered airmail letters. As of 15 October 2009, IRCs can be purchased in Canada for $3.50 CAD, in the USA for $2.10 USD and in France for €1.30 EUR. (International Reply Coupons are not available to Taiwan.)

You are also encouraged to have fundraising events. These funds can be used:

  • To collect and send a care package containing items for the your partner school as a whole. Possible items for the package include soccer balls, posters, and school supplies.
  • To help pay shipping costs for computers used to create a computer resource center at your partner school.
  • Discuss with Marc Schaeffer, RESPECT International Coordinator, ways you can contribute to your partner school.

If you do send a package you should check with your refugee school contact about additional postal fees especially if the package size is larger than the post office box.

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My students have only recently begun learning English; their primary language is French. Can they still participate in the Global Letter Exchange?

Yes they can. We have French speaking students at both refugee and non-refugee schools. Our usual process is slightly modified for French speaking students.

Our Global Letter Exchange French Coordinator Sandrine Cortet begins the process by pairing schools with each other since refugee letters in French are not normally available. She introduces the refugee and non-refugee teachers by email so they can figure out how the program will work and what they can both expect.

At this point, the non-refugee students send their letters along with international reply coupons (IRCs) and the refugee students reply to this first set of letters. As of 15 October 2009, IRCs can be purchased in Canada for $3.50 CAD, in the USA for $2.10 USD and in France for €1.30 EUR. (International Reply Coupons are not available to Taiwan.)

Please contact Sandrine at sandrine@respectrefugees.org for more information.

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My students' native language is neither English nor French. Can we still participate in the Global Letter Exchange program?

Yes. We have volunteers coordinating our Global Letter Exchange program in several langauages. Camelia Cosma is working eith schools in Spain.

She puts a refugee and non-refugee teacher in contact with each other, and they decide which language is best for their students to use.

Complete our online registration for and explain your situation in the Questions, Requests, Comments, or Suggestions section.

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I sent my students' responses to their pen pals a month ago, but the refugee students have not received them. What do I do?

The postal systems can be unreliable in countries where refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) reside. Because of this, letters can take up to four months to be delivered.

Keep in contact with the Global Letter Exchange coordinator at your partner school. You can also contact Marc Schaeffer our International Coordinator at respect@respectrefugees.org.

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Some of my students' pen pals say they need money. How much is appropriate, and what is the best way to send it to them?

We strongly discourage sending money to individual students. Your students should not send any gift of significant value to an individual pen pal. It will only create envy and competition amongst students. Students should restrict gifts to very simple stickers, photos, bookmarks, postcards, and the like.

Larger gifts can be sent in a package to the refugee school as a whole. For instance, sport equipment, school supplies, and books. The package should be sent to the same address you use to send your students' letters to their pen pals.

Because of problems with the reliability of postal systems in refugee areas, there is no guarantee the package will be received.

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One of my students wants to send some school supplies to her pen pal (pens, pencils, and a calculator). How can we ensure her pen pal receives them?

It is best if school supplies such as these be sent to the school as a whole.

We strongly discourage sending any gift of significant value to an individual pen pal. It will only create envy and competition amongst students. Students should restrict gifts to very simple stickers, photos, bookmarks, postcards, and the like.

Larger gifts can be sent in a package to the refugee school as a whole. For instance, sport equipment, school supplies, and books. The package should be sent to the same address you use to send your students' letters to their pen pals.

Because of problems with the reliability of postal systems in refugee areas, there is no guarantee the package will be received.

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I just received letters from the pen pals of my students from last year. The students have graduated to another school. What do I do with the letters?

There are two options:

  • You can have your new students answer the letters, if there are students interested in participating in the Global Letter Exchange.
  • You can send the letters back to RESPECT. We want to make sure every refugee letter receives a response.

Return the letters to:

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We are starting a new school year. How do I get pen pals for my new students?

Let us know by sending an email to respect@respectrefugees.org. Or you can complete a new registration form. There are separate forms for refugee and non-refugee schools.

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Are the letters my students receive from refugee students screened?

No they are not. There is no way for us to know what may possibly be offensive to your students. Whether you edit the letters, and what information you remove is totally up to you.

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My students took their pen pal letters home for a homework assignment. Several of the letters were lost. Can we get replacement copies?

No. We highly recommend you make copies of the refugee letters prior to distributing them to your students. RESPECT does not keep copies of the refugee letters because we have limited storage space.

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What resources are available for me to use in my classes?

We have a section on this website dedicated to information on available educational resources covering refugee issues. Information suitable for refugee and non-refugee educators is available.

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Is there anything I need to do before giving my students the letters from the refugee students?

We highly recommend you makes copies of the letters prior to giving them to your students.

Please ensure each of the refugee letters receives a response from one of your students.

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Why can't we just send emails to our pen pals in refugee camps? It would be so much easier and we wouldn't have to worry about the letters getting lost.

If email service is available, using it to communicate with your pen pal can be as unreliable as the postal system.

Very few refugee students have access to email services at this time. A few schools have been able to establish computer centers with help from their partner school, RESPECT International, and the World Computer Exchange (WCE).

These schools struggle to maintain reliable electricity to the computer centres, many using generators. For these schools, the biggest expense is purchasing petrol to run the generators to provide electricity for their classes.

In addition, even if internet access is available in the area, it can be very expensive.

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