In 2021, Holt donors helped provide life-changing care and support to thousands of children with special needs and advanced new initiatives to help more children thrive — children like Li in China.
Just after Valentine’s Day last year, the phone rang inside the home of 10-year-old Li and his aunt in rural China. It was a call they never thought they’d receive.
Li was just a year old when his parents divorced and left him to be raised by his aunt. Li’s aunt earned very little income and struggled to care for her nephew, but she adored him and was the one constant in his life. When Li began to have chest pains and struggled to keep up with other children at school, his aunt took him to a doctor — who diagnosed him with a life-threatening heart condition. Li urgently needed surgery, but his aunt couldn’t afford such an expensive operation.
Without medical intervention, Li’s condition grew progressively worse. He couldn’t run or play with other kids. His chest pains grew more frequent — often keeping him home from school. Time and time again, his heart condition held him back.
When Holt’s China team learned about Li, they reached out to our staff in the U.S. They also shared about other children whose lives were at risk simply because their families could not afford their medical costs. Fittingly, on Valentine’s Day, Holt donors came together to fund lifesaving heart surgeries and treatments for five children in China — including Li.
When Holt’s China team called his home to share this exciting news, Li could hardly believe it. On the other end of line, Li asked his aunt, “Is it true I can receive a free surgery?!”
“Yes,” his aunt answered, “there are many good-hearted people helping us.”
In April 2021, Holt’s China team arranged for Li to travel to a top children’s hospital in Beijing. Here, he received the heart surgery that saved his life.
A Long History of Caring for Children with Special Needs
Since the early 1960s, when Holt’s founders built the Ilsan Center — a long-term care home for children and adults with disabilities in Korea — caring for children with special needs has been central to the Holt mission and a key part of who we are as an organization. In every country where we work, we care for children who are most vulnerable, most in need and most alone in this world. Of all children, those with disabilities or healthcare needs are often the most vulnerable and the most alone. With their families unable to care for them, children with special needs are far more likely to end up in orphanages — and are far less likely to join families through adoption. Other children — like Li — live in poverty with their families, but fail to receive the costly medical care and therapies they need to thrive, and in some cases, even survive to adulthood.
But every year, Holt’s generous sponsors and donors make it possible to provide truly life-changing care and support to thousands of vulnerable children with special needs around the world. To a 12-year-old boy, born deaf in Ethiopia, who never learned how to communicate with his family because no one ever taught him sign language. To a 9-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, growing up in an orphanage in the Philippines, who chokes on her food because her caregivers don’t know how to feed her. To a boy with Down syndrome who stays behind while his siblings go to school in Vietnam, or a girl with HIV in China whose family isolates her for fear of a disease they don’t understand. To a boy with a serious heart condition whose aunt could not afford the cost of surgery to save his life. Every one of these children is now receiving the care and support they need to reach their potential.
In 2021, Holt supporters made it possible for 32,645 children to receive critically needed medical care — including everything from eyeglasses to routine childhood vaccines to emergency surgeries that saved their lives. For children with special needs, donors helped provide physical, occupational and speech therapy, adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs and hearing aids, and even round-the-clock, pre- and post-operative care at Holt’s medical foster homes in China.
Advancing Special Needs Initiatives in 2021
Around the world in 2021, Holt donors also made it possible to grow and expand programs caring for children with special needs. In Mongolia, Holt helped fund a new special needs service center that now serves nearly 1,000 children and their families. Here, social workers and medical staff evaluate the needs of individual children and make recommendations for medical treatments, therapies or specialized care — as well as guidance on applying for government assistance. In the coming years, Holt also plans to hold child nutrition program trainings at this center.
In Vietnam, Holt worked in partnership with the Kianh Foundation Center to provide home-based services for children with special needs. Holt supporters helped fund the pilot project, in which special education teachers and therapists develop an individualized curriculum for each child depending on their physical and intellectual needs and then teach their parents how to help their child develop important life skills.
And in Ethiopia, Holt donors helped make it possible for 110 family members of children with hearing impairments to attend weekly sign language trainings. In a region with alarmingly high rates of hearing impairment and deafness among youth, this service aims to strengthen communication between children and their parents.
Through these and other efforts in 2021, Holt supporters and teams around the world met new milestones in helping children with special needs thrive in the care of their families.
This past year, Holt also launched new initiatives to help children with special needs join loving families through adoption. Through Holt’s Families Not Finances campaign, donors helped fund adoption grants up to $10,000 to help find families for children on Holt’s waiting child photolisting. Some of these children have disablities or healthcare needs while others are simply older in age or part of a sibling group.
In 2021, Holt awarded over $146,000 in adoption grants to help 36 children join their adoptive families — including five $10,000 grants and 31 Special Needs Adoption Fund grants in smaller amounts. Of the 143 children who joined their adoptive families this past year, 63 had moderate to major special needs and 59 were older than age 5. But in truth, almost every child who joins a family through international adoption today has at least some special needs — whether physical conditions they were born with, or emotional needs they developed from spending years of their life in institutional care.
In every area, advocating and caring for children with special needs is a cornerstone of Holt’s work — and one that will continue to grow because of the generosity of Holt sponsors and donors.
Today, Li is back home with his aunt in China. His heart surgery was successful, and he is so grateful to the Holt supporters who helped save his life.
For this amazing gift, he and his aunt thank “the good-hearted people.”