Jennifer Goette, Holt’s director of programs for South and Southeast Asia, shares about her meaningful visits with two once-struggling families in Holt’s family preservation program. Through day care services and donations provided by generous monthly sponsors, children in the Philippines have been given hope for the future. Once only a program to support children going home to families in the United States, Holt’s child sponsorship program has broadened to include support for children remaining with their families.
Manila, Philippines — Nestled down a narrow street, in a tightly packed community of tiny houses, is the Escopa 2 day care center. Escopa 2, one of six Kaisahang Buhay Foundation (KBF) day care centers, is an oasis in the midst of a bustling neighborhood. The outside of the building is awash with color. The inside is clean and cool, providing a safe and comfortable space for 25 children in the morning session who jump with delight at seeing a visitor. I am entertained with songs and dances while the children stomp, cheer and mime the lyrics to their favorite songs. Their bright faces are eager with enthusiasm and hope. These are some of the new faces of Holt’s child sponsorship program.
Years ago, most of the children in Holt’s sponsorship program were orphaned and abandoned children who were in the process of intercountry adoption. As Holt’s work has expanded to impact the lives of more children, greater emphasis has been placed on keeping vulnerable families together. In the Philippines, Holt’s sponsorship program has expanded to support 300 children from impoverished communities with access to stimulating activities, social interaction and a nutritious meal at their local day care center. Behind each face and each shy smile is the story of a family surviving despite the odds. I recently met two extraordinary families during my visit to the Philippines. They are convinced that access to day care services has been the key to keeping their family together.
Just around the corner from Escopa 2 day care center, the sixmember Jasmen family occupies a small, two-room house. Naty Jasmen and her husband, Rodolfo, are working hard to put food on the table and meet the basic needs of their four children. Rodolfo is currently unemployed, but manages to find some seasonal work planting and gardening at the local cemetery. Naty is the primary caregiver, earning income by selling rice cakes in the neighborhood. Naty, like many parents, volunteers at the day care center once each week for three hours – doing whatever it takes to keep the center clean and provide the children with a mid-day meal. Her 5-year-old twin boys attend day care regularly and are thriving. Naty proudly mentions that her eldest daughter used to attend day care and is now a healthy, well-adjusted first grader.
“Because of KBF’s day care program, my three oldest children have been able to learn how to write and color,” says Naty. “They enjoy spending time with other children and have become more socially independent.” When I ask Naty about how her family has been impacted by day care services, big tears well up in her soft brown eyes. “My family does not have the financial resources we need,” she says. “The support has allowed my family to stay together, even after the death of one of my children. I am not sure what would have happened without this support.”
Naty’s powerful story is reflected many times over in the sentiments and experiences of the other families that benefit from Holt sponsorship. Many families participating in KBF’s day care program have often experienced hardship, hunger and unemployment, but now they have hope and the promise of a better life for their children.
Another family I meet has a completely different, but equally poignant story. They live within walking distance from the day care center, in a small, three-room house where seven people share a bedroom. I am impressed by Rosalina Bello, the mother of four children, who speaks in clear, measured English about her two children with special needs. Although her 15-year-old daughter is able to attend special education
classes, her 12-year old daughter has a seizure disorder and cerebral palsy and must be cared for around the clock at home. Rosalina explains that it’s difficult to devote individualized time and attention to her other two children. Her husband works on a commission basis as an auto mechanic, which does not provide benefits and brings in barely enough money each month to cover all the family’s needs. Their youngest child, a bright, 4-year-old girl who regularly attends KBF day care, sits quietly next to her mother and sister. She pulls a few worn copies of children’s books off the otherwise bare shelf to show me what she is learning at school. “Having a good day care teacher helps a lot. I have no time at home to devote to her, but she is very patient and studies on her own,” explains Rosalina. “She is already learning to read and is the best student in her class.”
Rosalina’s life – and the life of her family – has been difficult, but she is optimistic about the future for her youngest daughter. “It has been such a big help to have the day care program for my daughter,” she tells me. “It has given her chances in life I never thought she would have.” As the scope and reach of Holt’s child sponsorship program has expanded, we can celebrate victories that are not limited to the number of children placed with adoptive families in the United States. We can also celebrate victories that are measured by the number of children who remain with their birth families, the number of children who complete basic education, and the number of children who grow into healthy young adults. We can open our eyes and our hearts to recognize that a stable, loving family – whether a birth family or adoptive family – is the key to giving each child the best start in life.