Holt CEO and President Phil Littleton is currently in Thailand visiting the children and families Holt serves alongside our long-time partner in the region, Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF). Here, Holt’s creative services director, Brian Campbell, reports on Phil’s visit with a little girl he helps to support through Holt’s child sponsorship program.
by Brian Campbell, Creative Services Director
Nakhon, Thailand— After a busy couple days visiting HSF programs and services for children and families in the community of Nakhon, a special moment awaits Phil Littleton, CEO of Holt International.
For the past two years, Phil and his family have helped to support a little girl named Mali*, who lives here in Nakhon with her mother Lawan*, her twin sister Kanya* and several extended family members. Mali and Kanya’s mother is 24-years-old and works as a server at a small restaurant, earning about $7 per day. On such low income, she can hardly afford to meet all of her daughters’ needs – especially their educational expenses. With assistance from Phil’s monthly sponsorship donations, HSF is able to give Mali the supplies she needs to attend school – including a school uniform.
Last November, when another Holt staff member visited Lawan and her daughters at their home in Nakhon, Lawan asked to send a special message to Phil. “Thank you,” she said. “Without your support, it would be very hard for my children and me. Expenses are very high, and I could not afford to provide for two children and their education. My main concern is the education of my children.” Mali and her sister started preschool in August 2011, and are now in Kindergarten.
At home in Eugene, Phil’s family keeps a picture of Mali in a little magnetic frame on their refrigerator. As new child reports arrive from Holt’s child sponsorship program, Phil and his wife share the updates about Mali with their three children and pass pictures of her around the dinner table. From a distance, little Mali has become a part of their family.
Today, for the first time, Phil will have the opportunity to meet Mali and her family.
Lawan joins us as we travel to Mali’s school. As our car rounds a corner, a school for kindergarten-aged children comes into view. Hundreds of children dressed in brightly colored school uniforms play, jump and run on the playground. As the children gather around us, Mali’s mother wades in to find little Mali and her twin sister. Seeing Phil, the girls become quite shy. Lawan explains that Phil is Mali’s sponsor and he has come by for a visit.
Still unsure of us, the young girls politely put their hands together in a traditional greeting and give Phil a quick little bow. Sensing their shyness, Phil kneels and pulls out pictures of his family. The social worker translates as Phil introduces his family, bringing special attention to his daughter.
“She is about the same age as you,” he says, pointing to Mali.
To get out of the sun, we move to a nearby gazebo, where Phil shares more photos of his family. Although shy to meet Phil in person, Mali and Kanya knew he was coming to visit. They even made some play dough animal figures to give him as gifts. As she grows more at ease with us, Mali presents her gifts – meowing like a cat and clucking like a chicken to tell Phil about each of the brightly colored figures she and her sister made.
Phil also offers a gift for each of the girls – a pair of matching dresses with shiny sequined cherries on the front. Mali “oohs and awes” over her new treasure, and holds it up to show her mommy and the surrounding HSF staff. She asks her mom to help her put it on, who complies – slipping the dress over Mali’s school uniform. Excited and giggling, Mali and her sister quickly take off running around the gazebo!
Pausing for a moment, the little girls stop before Phil and give a traditional bow to say, “Thank You”. Phil asks to have a picture with the girls and they bounce up on the bench next to Phil and their mom.
During our visit, Lawan shares with Phil her personal goals for herself and her children. Lawan would like to continue her education in the civil service – giving her the resources and skills she needs to one day care for her children independent of HSF’s support. Helping families become self-reliant and stable is always the ultimate goal of Holt’s family strengthening programs, and Phil later shares how moved he was to learn of Lawan’s plans for her future. “To hear of her dedication to her two girls and to hear of her ambitions to continue with her education in the civil service is an inspiration that I will go home and share with the rest of my family,” he says.
All too soon, it’s time to get back to school. Mali shows Phil where her classroom is located and they walk in together – Mali still wearing her new dress to show her friends. Phil is introduced to Mali’s class and the children respond with a hearty, “Good Morning!”
Before we leave, Mali comes out of her class to give her mommy her dress. Phil kneels down to say goodbye, and is surprised when Mali comes to give him a big hug.
“This has been a real blessing to see Mali and the rest of her family,” says Phil. “We have seen her reports and have all her pictures, but to see her in person has been an incredible experience.”
Before we leave, Phil and Mali pose for one last picture. Mali tilts her head toward Phil, looking perfectly content and at home next to her sponsor – a member of her family, now not quite so far away.
* names changed