Welcome to our first post in the “Children Who Give” blog series! In the coming weeks and periodically throughout the year, we will feature stories about children who raise funds for Holt, and parents, grandparents and others who raise funds on behalf of the children in their lives. As Mary Li Creasy illustrates so well in the following story about her son, Hunter, children are a gift — a gift that often inspires us to give back. In this story, it is Hunter who was inspired to give back. His love and appreciation for his family inspired him to write an award-winning essay about Holt, to which he then donated his winnings so that we can help more children have families of their own. Thank you Hunter, and thank you Mary Li for sharing this beautiful story!
One year to the day we adopted our daughter, Lily – from China through Holt – we got the call about a 4-year-old boy named “Hung” in Vietnam. Holt thought he would be a good match for our family. We had applied to the special needs program only a few months earlier, knowing we wanted to adopt an older child and also that we did not want to wait the 13 months it took to bring our daughter home from China between 2005 and 2006. We had gone to committee once before, but Holt’s social workers decided another family was a better fit for that child. After that, we felt greatly discouraged and weren’t sure we would ever be matched.
We were shocked to receive the call only a month later about Hung.
With a 10-year-old and 2-and-a-half-year-old at home, 4 seemed on the lowest end of the age spectrum we would consider. And we knew nothing about the Vietnam program. After praying about it and talking it over as a family for a few days, we requested the file.
One look at Hung’s beautiful brown eyes and we were in love.
In September of 2008, fifteen months after we accepted Hung’s referral, the U.S. and Vietnam decided not to renew their Memo of Understanding regarding adoptions and subsequently suspended all international adoption from Vietnam. We managed to endure the next seven months with the help of weekly telephone calls with Holt staff, hundreds of supportive e-mails, and several visits with our online Holt Vietnam friends and Dong Nai waiting parents group. After our case was finally resolved, we traveled to Bien Hoa, Vietnam, where on April 13, 2009, we met and adopted our son Hung, who we named John “Hunter.”
Hunter came to us with a huge smile and an open heart.
“Hung” in Vietnamese means “hero” or “brave.” That describes our son exactly. We were told he had “special needs” due to his age and an “expressive speech delay.” We were stunned in Vietnam because he never stopped talking to anyone and everyone in fluent Vietnamese. Apparently, he just wouldn’t speak to his social worker during quarterly visits!
At age 6, after bouncing from an orphanage to two different foster homes, we were his final “placement.” Hunter joined our family and never looked back. He bonded with all of us immediately, especially his older brother, Marshall, and younger sister, Lily. He started understanding English immediately and after a few months, we stopped counting the number of new words he acquired each week.
When he started kindergarten, we worried that other students might tease him because of the language barrier, but his teacher told us that he was so confident and helpful that no one would tease him. Initially, Hunter had extreme tantrums of frustration when we could not understand what he was trying to communicate. As we all adjusted to our “new normal,” those heart-wrenching fits of wailing and flailing in frustration disappeared. Hunter still struggles mightily with reading and writing, but his ESOL teacher tells us he has exceeded all expectations. He is right on target for science and math and excels at art! He is in a regular classroom and keeping up with his classmates. Hunter is all boy – active, active, active and a total ham bone! He revels in making others laugh.
Hunter’s life in foster care in Vietnam was not easy. His depth of understanding of the life he left and the family he joined became apparent in January, 2010, when his first grade teacher asked him to finish the sentence, “I have a dream… ,” for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Hunter wrote, “I had a dream that evere VN boy and gerl had a hom.”
A dream that every Vietnamese boy and girl had a home.
This year, the PTA of Hunter’s elementary school held an essay contest for students in grades 2-6. The kids were asked to submit an essay completing the statement, “If I had $100, the charity I would give it to is…”
Hunter chose Holt and wrote:
I pick Holt International Children’s Agency. They helped my family adopt me from Vietnam and my sister from China. They help kids around the world. They need animals to help poor children with no food. They need clothes and medicine for kids. They help kids find forever families. They build houses and schools. I would ask them to send the $100 to my orphanage in Vietnam to buy toys, books and crayons for the kids who still wait for families of their own. Please pick Holt. They rock!
A winner was chosen from each class and given a $100 check from the PTA for their charity. Out of hundreds of essays submitted, Hunter won for the second grade!
The winners were asked to read their essays at a “Gift of Giving” assembly at school right before Thanksgiving. Hunter practiced reading his essay for days and was the last speaker of the night. There was not a dry eye in the house!
So often we are approached and asked, “Does he know how lucky he is?” Often, Vietnamese people will tell us how “blessed” Hunter is. Our response is always the same – He is our gift. He is our special gift from God. In the two and a half years he has been with us, we have learned many lessons in patience, faith, forgiveness and courage from this little boy with the big smile and the open heart. We know that his love and compassion will be a gift to the world for the rest of his life.
Know of a child or family who helped raise funds for Holt? Share your story with Holt’s senior writer, Robin Munro, at firstname.lastname@example.org.