A City of Angels

Holt Sahathai Foundation — Holt’s trusted partner in Thailand — celebrates 40 years of commendable service to children.

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Andy Voelz was adopted from Thailand in 1986 at the age of 5 to a loving family in Paris, Illinois. In 2005, he returned to Thailand with his dad to reconnect to the culture and visit Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF), Holt’s much-respected and sole partner in Thailand since 1975, and the agency that placed Andy with his family. On his trip — a college graduation present from his parents — Andy was able to reconnect with his foster family and HSF staff.

“I remember my parents used to send donations to HSF and letters of how I was doing as I grew,” Andy says. “Meeting them was a profound experience. It was a surprise even to my dad to discover that all the same workers that had diligently worked on my case were still active in new roles at HSF.”

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Andy Voelz

In 2010, inspired to “give back,” Andy moved back to Thailand and began volunteering at HSF. In the six years since his return, Andy has proven to be an incredible asset to the organization, serving as volunteer liaison and key speaker at an annual seminar for prospective adoptive parents. “As key speaker, Andy has helped adoptive parents in the preparation process tremendously,” Jintana Nontapouraya, HSF executive director, says. Jintana added that Andy is also a successful professional basketball player and coach and is planning to offer his expertise at one of the boys’ homes under the Department of Children & Youth. “Andy has a strong belief that this will be a great tool for orphaned children to develop their self-esteem,” Jintana said.

Last month, Andy, once again, got to serve as honored speaker and guest, this time at HSF’s 40th anniversary celebration. At the celebration, Andy — one of the over 800 children who have joined families in the United States with HSF’s assistance — spoke of his admiration for HSF staff and the impact the organization has had on his life.

“HSF and Holt have given me every opportunity in life,” Andy says. “The staff nurtured me, found a good Thai family to foster me and finally, in 1986, found me a great home and a beautiful family in the USA to call my own. HSF is truly a city of angels, and they are, indeed, my guardian angels.”

Also joining the anniversary celebration was former HSF director Acharn Darawan Dhamaruska, who in 1975, as a professor of social work, led and mentored the staff that built HSF into a leading child welfare and family strengthening agency in Thailand. Darawan now serves as HSF’s board chair. Representatives from the Department of Social Development and Welfare, the Department of Children and Youth, Child Adoption Center and other NGOs leaders were also in attendance, as well as Thoa Bui, Holt’s senior executive for South and Southeast Asia programs.

Thoa Bui, Holt's
Thoa Bui, Holt International’s senior executive for South and Southeast Asia programs, was in Thailand for the celebration.

“It was a wonderful occasion,” Thoa says. “Very inspiring to see everyone come out for this special day.”

Four decades ago, having recently built a program in Vietnam, Holt International sent a survey team to Thailand, and eventually allied with a group of Thai educators and social workers to establish Holt Sahathai Foundation — or United Hearts Foundation. On the belief that every child deserves to grow up in a permanent, loving family, HSF quickly became a prominent provider of child welfare and adoption services in Thailand, and implemented the first foster care program in Thailand. Today, HSF serves as a leading child welfare organization while their foster care program is considered the model for foster care services in Thailand.

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An HSF foster mother holds her foster baby after the monsoon.

Although many HSF foster families lost their homes five years ago when the worst monsoon season in more than 50 years hit the region, they never wavered in their devotion to their foster children. “My foster children are my family,” said one foster mother after the disaster. “There was no question that I would continue to provide for their care.” But even greater than their dedication in times of disaster is the everyday dedication of HSF foster families to the children who have been temporarily entrusted to them — children who may only spend a few short months in their care.

“When you wonder if your time together meant something or if the pain of her absence captures you in the years to come,” adoptive mom, Libby Wendland, wrote in a letter to her daughter’s foster mother, “may you always know: You may have only loved her for a moment, but your love will be with her all the days of her life.”

In 1976, HSF began providing family strengthening services in Thailand. Today, HSF serves 9,456 families by providing microloans to start small businesses, community support groups, vocational and skills training development, parenting training and educational and nutritional sponsorship services. Ratchapon, a beneficiary of HSF’s educational sponsorship program, also spoke at HSF’s anniversary celebration last month. He is now a mechanical engineer. “He talked about how much HSF had given to him, and how he can now give back to the people of the community,” Thoa says. “It was really quite touching.”

Today, along with continuing to provide exemplary adoption and family strengthening services, HSF also provides specialized support and counseling for unprepared mothers. HSF provides educational support or nutritional support to help struggling mothers care for their children and prevent unnecessary separation. And in the late 1990s, as HIV/AIDs grew to epidemic proportions in Thailand, Holt began providing assistance to HIV-positive single and expectant mothers while HSF piloted a system of caring for HIV-positive children in foster care.

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Phil Littleton presents the Harry Holt award to Jintana.

“HSF’s expertise and comprehensive care for children has led the way for hundreds of orphaned children to join loving families through adoption,” says Phil Littleton, president and CEO of Holt International. “And their ambition to continually improve and expand on the services they provide has led to remarkable foster care, support for struggling families and hope for all of the recipients of their loving and dedicated work — they really do incredible work.”

Complementing HSF’s anniversary celebration, Phil presented Jintana with the Harry Holt award last week, in honor of her 40 years of dedicated service to HSF and the countless number of children and families she has blessed with her caring heart.  “We are honored to be able to call HSF our partner for the last 40 years,” Phil says. “And we are honored to have Jintana, along with the amazing HSF staff, leading these efforts.”

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Ratchapon, who received HSF educational services, spoke at the 40th anniversary celebration.

For 40 years, HSF has served as the recognized child welfare leader in Thailand. And today, Andy Voelz and Ratchapon are among thousands of individuals whose lives and stories illustrate HSF’s determination to provide the best quality care for children and struggling families — no matter where they find themselves in life.

“Hearing of HSF’s 40-year campaign to better the lives of my own people, to see the results of their careful work — to be the result of their love — you can’t help but feel proud of that,” Andy says. “You can’t help but feel blessed.”

At Holt, we too feel blessed to have HSF as our treasured partner in Thailand for the last 40 years! Congratulations on this admirable accomplishment, and thank you for joining with us as we work towards our vision: a world where every child has a loving and secure home.

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