Holt International's legacy began in Korea in the 1950s, when the Korean War left thousands of children orphaned and abandoned and in need of a permanent, loving family. Harry and Bertha Holt changed history by adopting eight children from Korea, and paving the way for thousands of other families to follow their example. While South Korea has grown and developed in many ways since the Korean War, the stigma of unwed motherhood remains firmly entrenched in South Korean culture — creating a continued need for domestic and international adoption from Korea. We still proudly work through Holt Korea — our partner organization — to care for children and adults with special needs, empower single mothers with skills and resources to parent their children, and seek permanent, loving families for orphaned and homeless children in Korea.
Provinces with Holt family strengthening programs
Provinces with Holt orphan care programs
Provinces from which children can join families through adoption
In Korea, the most vulnerable families are often those headed by a single mother. Stigma against single parenthood persists in traditional Korean culture, and single mothers and children are often ostracized from their families and communities. Holt provides safe spaces for single mothers and their children where they receive support, empowerment, education and a sense of belonging.
In Korea, families who abandon or relinquish their children typically do so because of one of two main reasons — the stigma against single parenthood, or financial inability to care for a child with special needs. Holt provides the highest quality care for these children while we work to reunite them with their birth family, or find for them a loving adoptive family.
When I first returned to Korea in 1975, twenty years after Harry Holt and my father began their work, I was struck by the great poverty I witnessed. There were children dressed in rags, begging on the street corners. I clearly remember the face of a young boy who followed me down the street — his face dirty, clothes in tatters, shoeless, and with eyes swollen from malnutrition. He silently held out his hand, uttering not a sound, with an expression of resigned desperation. I handed him a few coins, and he quietly slipped away into the crowd. Even though the war had ended two decades before, the need was still so open and profound. In the 65 years since Holt began work in Korea, so much has changed. And yet today, children still suffer, but in voiceless anonymity, hidden in the shadows of this sleek and modern nation.
Holt has achieved so much in Korea. We were the first to recognize the importance of deinstitutionalizing children in orphanages, and today we still support a system of loving foster families who provide children with devoted care while they wait. At the Holt Ilsan Center, our donors and supporters help provide orphaned and abandoned children with special needs a place where they can live and thrive, without the worry that someday they might "age out." We support a baby home, as well as mother and child shelters, enabling families at risk of separation to stay together. And throughout the country, we provide support to a network of community and daycare centers where we serve so many more children and families in need. And just as it was in the beginning, advocacy on behalf of children remains cornerstone to our work here. Every day, even after the passage of the years, I still see the face of that boy — reflected in the faces of the many children still remaining who need our services and support.
While traveling on Holt's 2012 Adult Adoptee Heritage Tour of Korea, Kim Buckley met the foster family that cared for her before joining her family in the U.S. This piece originally appeared in The Daily Nebraskan, the daily newspaper of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln...
Last April, several Holt supporters traveled to Korea to see our work and meet the children, families, single mothers and others we serve in the country where Holt was founded. After visiting the Jeonju Babies' Home — a temporary care center for young children waiting to reunite with their families — they felt inspired to do more...
In Korea, unwed motherhood is one of the leading reasons for child abandonment. When a single woman becomes pregnant, she could lose everything — her family, friends, career, education, housing and the hope of these things in the future. This stigma is so strong and enduring that often women feel like they don't have a choice except to relinquish their child for adoption...
There are so many ways for you to advocate for orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children in Korea!