As a 35-year sponsor and the sister of a Holt adoptee, Linda Voelsch has had a long and meaningful history with Holt International. For a time, her mom worked for Holt, and in the mid-1970s, she and her sister, Jeanne, traveled to help bring children from Korea home to their adoptive families in the U.S.
But it wasn’t until last year that Linda had the chance to see the impact of her years as a sponsor — while traveling as part of a donor team to help build new homes for vulnerable families in Mongolia.
“Holt’s just been a part of our lives forever, but I hadn’t taken a trip like this,” says Linda, now a retiree living in Vancouver, Washington.
As someone with a master’s degree in social work administration — who spent her career working in non-profits — Linda took particular interest in observing the Holt Mongolia team as they provided direct care and support to women and children in crisis. “It was nice to see social work unfolding right in front us,” says Linda, referring to a couple of unplanned experiences during the trip. One experience, in particular, gave her the opportunity to see how donors can come together to meet the needs of vulnerable families.
On a blustery afternoon in Ulaanbaatar, the donor team hiked up a hillside to distribute food to families living near the city garbage dump. While there, they met a mother and her 3-year-old daughter. The mother looked so emaciated, you could not tell that she was six months pregnant. She confided that she felt trapped in an abusive situation, and after meeting this family, our Mongolia staff relocated the mother and child to a safe place. One team member stepped up to sponsor the 3-year-old, and several more donated funds to build and furnish a new home for them. Three months later, when the young mom gave birth, another member of the team committed to sponsoring her newborn baby.
“We actually saw this situation develop in front of us, and it gave us opportunities to participate right then and there,” Linda says.
Moved by what she witnessed, Linda also hoped to support children and families in Mongolia in a greater capacity. This opportunity came after most of the team departed — and Linda stayed an extra week to volunteer her time at the National Children’s Sanatorium (NCS), Mongolia’s primary state child caring center, which Holt sponsors and donors have supported since the late 1990s.
“I would just get on the playroom floor and just play with the kids,” Linda says of her time at the care center. “The first two days, it was warm out, they asked me to sit out in the sun with a baby.”
Linda bottle-fed babies and helped feed lunch to the older children. She escorted two girls, both malnourished, for their 18-month checkup at the hospital. She bought and delivered baby rockers for the children at the center. And she bought new clothes for the pregnant mother and her daughter, who received treatment at NCS for malnutrition.
Although Linda saw that the caregivers did their best to love and nurture the children, she came away with a very vivid understanding of why children need families — reinforcing what she, as the sister of an adoptee, already knew to be true.
“I think what I saw by being there, even just a few hours, is while they get good care, it’s still an institution,” she says. Once they’ve changed, bathed and fed every child, little time remains, Linda observed, for the caregivers to just play and interact with the children.
When it came time to leave, it was hard to say goodbye. But as soon as she got home, she signed up to sponsor two 18-month-old girls, including one of the malnourished little ones who she accompanied to the hospital. Holt is now working to reopen international adoption from Mongolia — ensuring every child at NCS can have the loving, permanent family they deserve. In the meantime, Linda still has a list of children who need sponsors.
“I’m going to see,” she says, “if I can talk my friends into sponsoring a couple more.”
Robin Munro | Managing Editor