Vietnamese adoptee Clare Larson reflects on her life, her family and her hopes and dreams for the child she sponsors in Vietnam. A longer version of this story originally appeared in Holt’s fall 2017 sponsorship magazine.
In January 2017, Holt’s sponsorship team received an unusual email from a woman named Clare Larson.
“In 1993,” it read, “I was fortunate enough to be adopted from Vietnam at 9 years old and went through the Holt adoption agency. At 33 years old with a career in management consulting and a student at Cornell’s Johnson MBA program, I am finally able to give back. I would like to sponsor a child from Vietnam.”
Our team soon reached out to Clare, who began sponsoring a little girl who lives with her single mom and grandparents in an impoverished district of northern Vietnam — the same part of the country where Clare lived for the first eight years of her life. Her name is Tuyen, and she is about the same age as Clare was when she came into orphanage care as a child.
“My parents had passed away by the time I was 5 and my maternal family couldn’t take care of me, so I spent two years in an orphanage,” says Clare. “From there, I came to America.”
“My parents had passed away by the time I was 5 and my maternal family couldn’t take care of me, so I spent two years in an orphanage. From there, I came to America.”Clare, Holt adoptee and child sponsor
Today, over two decades later, Clare leads a very outwardly successful life. But most importantly, she has a loving and devoted family — a mom and a dad, and a brother she adores.
“I’m very thankful that I’ve had a supportive circle and a family that loves me,” she says.
But Clare stops short of characterizing her life as purely a “success story.”
“It’s a story of finding what you need to feel secure with the past and make the best of the opportunity provided looking forward,” she says. “It’s a testament to [the idea that] whatever you were born into, it’s possible to grow and come out in a very positive light.”
After graduating college with an engineering degree, Clare returned to Vietnam for the first time since she left at 9 years old. She visited the orphanage where she lived for two years and caught a glimpse of a different future had she not left Vietnam.
In her family in the U.S., Clare found love, support and encouragement. She went through therapy, took piano lessons, and her parents worked to ensure she had every advantage in school.
“[My parents] put in so much time and effort in my development,” she says.
But for children like Clare’s sponsored child and the ones she saw in her orphanage — children who are growing up in poverty or without a family — the deck can feel stacked against them. After 10 years as the victim of a human trafficking ring, Tuyen’s mom managed to escape, and she now sells grocery items to support her daughter. But she barely earns enough to pay for food, much less Tuyen’s school fees.
“The [sponsorship] funds are for food and resources so that she can go to school,” Clare says. “I’m hoping that she finds a way out.”
In many countries, sponsors are often the key to helping children like Tuyen overcome the obstacles they face in life. In other words, sponsors don’t create the path, but they can clear the way.
While some Holt sponsors support children who have lost their families, most support kids like Tuyen — kids who need help with food and clothing and school fees while their families work to achieve stability and self-reliance. Ultimately, Holt sponsors help to ensure children can thrive in the loving care of their families, and Clare also hopes that Tuyen will find a way to escape poverty of her family — without losing or separating from her family in the process.
“My hope is that [Tuyen] stays with her family, so that she can have that stability and love.”
“My hope is that she stays with her family,” Clare says of Tuyen, “so that she can have that stability and love.”
Clare can still remember the loss she felt when her aunt took her to the orphanage after her parents died. “Putting me into an orphanage could not have been an easy decision,” she says of her aunt. “She came every Friday night and took me home for the weekend … But being left at the gate on Sunday nights was beyond difficult.”
Today, Clare understands her aunt’s decision. “Knowing my life now,” she says, “I can look back and be grateful.”
Tuyen may never seek an MBA like Clare. She may not even go to college. If she does, Clare hopes to help with her expenses. But no matter what path Tuyen chooses in life, Clare hopes Tuyen will use her beginnings as an avenue to a bright and positive future.
“Whatever she plans to do in life,” she says, “I hope she takes advantage of opportunities provided to live to her potential.”
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