Philippines Ambassador Update

 In October, seven Americans traveled to the Philippines for a week with Holt’s third annual Philippines Ambassador trip. Holt started this pilot adoption program in 2011 as a way to increase home-finding efforts for 13 older children and sibling groups living in Holt’s care. The ambassadors, chosen by Holt, spent a week bonding with the children, then returned to the U.S. to help the children find their forever families. Holt’s Jessica Palmer, Director of SE Asia Adoption Services, led the trip and reflects on the group’s experience here.

A group photo of the U.S. ambassadors with the 13 children in the 2014 program.

I was the first of the group to arrive in the Philippines. I waited up as long as I could for the rest of the ambassadors to arrive late at night, and when I didn’t think I could stay up any longer, there they were, arriving safely from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Our first day was supposed to be a fairly easy one — to catch up on rest and jetlag since we wouldn’t meet the children in the ambassador program until the following day. I should have known that making stops at two of Holt’s partner, Kaisahang Buhay Foundation’s, most powerful programs might not make for an easy day though!

The first stop was KBF’s Nazareth Home, a house where single, expectant mothers live with other women in similar situations, receive the prenatal care they need, and grapple with the decision of what to do with their unborn child. One of the girls, who seemed to be a sort of informal spokeswoman for the group, shared her story with us, unable to fight back tears. She explained how she had been going to college until she became pregnant and didn’t know what to do. She found KBF’s single mothers’ program. She has regained hope, happiness, her spirituality, and is planning to move in with her parents and her newborn child.

The ambassadors meet with scholars in the ILEA program.

Our second stop was the Independent Living and Educational Assistance program (ILEA), where a group of scholars receive assistance from KBF to help them finish high school and go on to college while they live independently. The ambassadors came to ILEA with lots of energy and curiosity, and that encouraged the teens to tell their stories vividly — how hard they work each and every day, and how thankful they are for the opportunity given to them. It was wonderful to see what amazing work KBF is doing, and the ambassadors were excited that they would help to raise awareness about this program and the teens who benefit from it this year. It was also important for myself and the Ambassadors to see an alternative possibility for the children who may not find an adoptive family. The generous spirits and giving nature of the Ambassadors confirmed that this was going to be an amazing experience, even though day one was not quite as low-key as I had anticipated.

On day two, we met the 13 children in this year’s program — kids who have been waiting to be matched with an adoptive family, and who we will advocate for upon our return to the U.S. Along with their social workers, the children all gathered in KBF’s large meeting room. Ambassador Nadine summed up the day well: “They were shy and timid at first.  I cannot imagine what thoughts are going through their heads. As the day wore on, though, and we started in on activities, the personalities started to show. We decorated the canvas drawstring bags that my church shared.  Each bag turned out awesome. They each had amazing artistic abilities. Through art we got our first glimpse of who they were.”

The next day, the kids joined the ambassadors on a road trip to a resort not far from Manila, where we spent three days of quality time getting to know the children. Ambassador Anthony shared that this was the highlight of the trip for him: “I believe for many of these children, it was the first time they went on a vacation, so watching the excitement in their eyes when they saw the facility for the first time was a treat. There were so many great things for the kids to enjoy, like water slides, five large pools, kayaking, wave pools and a zip line.  For some of the kids, especially the little ones, they did not know how to swim, but it certainly did not stop them from enjoying the water. The wave pool was another big hit for the bigger kids in the group who, on a daily basis, ensured we did not miss the opportunity to enjoy the waves.  But I think the biggest hit of all for the kids was the zip line. Naturally, some of the kids were a little scared with the idea of climbing five stories into the air, but at the end of the day the kids worked together and encouraged each other to go.”

The day after we returned to Manila, the ambassadors split up to visit all four of the children’s care centers. This was a unique, important and emotional experience for all of us. It was wonderful to see the kids in their element, meet their friends and caregivers, and have them show us where they sleep and eat, but at the same time, the reality of their situation set in. We were no longer at the resort, away from the children’s daily lives. Here, we were reminded that even at a wonderful care center with loving caregivers, it is not the same as a permanent family. A permanent family is not just a roof over a child’s head and food on a cafeteria table, but the warmth and one-on-one nurturing that — at this point for these older children — only adoption can provide.

It was not easy to leave the children without knowing if one day each of them would have an adoptive family. It was not easy to come back to our homes and normal lives to advocate for them, while we remembered all we had seen, and thought about the children’s faces and their deep desire for love. The good news is that three of the 13 children have already been matched with adoptive families! Ten children, however, still wait and hope that they will soon be able to say the words, “I Have a Family.” These waiting children include sibling groups and single children who live in group-homes and in orphanages. They are girls and boys, ages 6-14.

It is a comfort to know about programs like KBF’s ILEA, and the possibility that a child who is not adopted may have the opportunity for a supportive transition into the adulthood. But now, while these children still have a chance to experience the nurturing that adoption can bring, we will continue to keep trying to find a wonderful family for each of these amazing children.

To view the profiles of the children who still wait, please request a password for the protected site by visiting the Philippines page on Holt’s website. You can also contact me for more information about the Ambassador program at jessicap@holtinternational.org.

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