When Holt staff member Celeste Snodgrass had the chance to meet her sponsored child, it affirmed her belief that sponsors are the key to keeping children out of orphanages — and with their families.
Celeste slipped off her sandals and swung her legs out of the SUV and into the squishy, dark mud. Looking at her surroundings, she couldn’t believe she was here. Lush palm groves lined the rutty, narrow dirt road that led her to a small collection of thatched houses raised on wooden stilts.
“I live in South Dakota,” Celeste says. “Rural is not new to me. But when we went to visit this family, it was the true definition of rural.”
To cross the marshy area surrounding the family’s house, Celeste and her team — social workers from Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF), Holt’s local partner organization in Thailand — had to wait until low tide. Even then, they would have to wade through knee-deep water and walk on narrow wooden planks to get through the deeper spots.
Ready for the adventure, Celeste rolled up her pant legs and started trudging through the mud. She was about to meet her sponsored child, Panit*!
As Holt’s director of clinical services, Celeste Snodgrass had traveled to Thailand two weeks earlier to meet children waiting for adoptive families. To get to know as many children as she could, she traveled from orphanage to orphanage throughout the country — learning about each child’s personality and special needs so she could find the very best adoptive family for each of them.
A year and a half ago, Celeste also became an adoptive mom to a child from Thailand when she and her husband, John, adopted 9-year-old Max. While the Snodgrasses have sponsored Panit for five years, this relationship became even more meaningful once Max joined their family. Before her trip, Celeste asked Max if he wanted to write Panit a letter. Hoping to start a pen-pal relationship, Max wrote a note in Thai — introducing himself, sharing about his life and asking about Panit’s.
When Celeste arrived at HSF, she asked if someone there could send Panit the letter.
“Do you want to give it to him yourself?” Tuk, one of the HSF staff members, responded.
“Really?” Celeste answered. “Of course!”
So that afternoon, they went.
Panit lives in southern Thailand with his mom, dad and older sister. His father is a fisherman, doing work their family has done for generations off the coastal shores where they live. But today, their livelihood is being threatened by large commercial fishing operations that leave little left over for their family — and other families in their village — to catch. With such depleted stores of fish, Panit’s family barely nets enough each day to make ends meet.
When Celeste and her family first began sponsoring Panit five years ago, Panit’s mom was also very sick. She had breast cancer, and little hope of survival. During this difficult time, Panit and his sister didn’t go to school. Instead, they spent each day working at the fishing docks with their dad. Stressed, overwhelmed and unable to meet their children’s most basic needs, Panit’s parents considered placing their children in an orphanage.
But then Celeste began sponsoring Panit, and everything changed.
Because of the monthly gifts she sent, Panit received the uniforms and school supplies he needed to attend school, and an HSF staff member came alongside Panit and his family to help them through such a tough time.
Today, the difference is obvious.
“I’ve seen it,” Celeste says.
As Celeste walked up the tall concrete steps into Panit’s one-room home, she took a seat with his family on the smooth wooden floorboards. They sat and talked about how the family was doing. Panit and his sister drew Celeste pictures. Celeste gave Panit Max’s letter and Panit promised to write back.
Before Celeste left for Thailand, the Snodgrasses decided they wanted to give Panit’s family a special gift. While their sponsorship gifts cover his family’s most critical needs, they knew there were other ways they could help — and during her visit, Celeste took the opportunity to ask what would help them most. Together, Celeste and Panit’s family made plans to add a partition in their home to give more privacy to Panit’s sister, and add a door and windows to keep their belongings from getting soaked every time it rained.
Most people would consider a wall, door and windows to be necessities in any home, but Panit’s family had gotten by without them for so long. Finally having them would change their everyday lives for the better.
Unfortunately, weeks after Celeste left, Panit’s house flooded, ruining nearly all of the family’s possessions. Now, instead, Celeste’s gift will go to replacing mattresses, blankets, fans and other necessities that the family cannot do without. While the home additions will have to wait for another time, Panit’s family is so grateful they can replace these essentials.
“I’m just glad that I was able to be there and visit,” Celeste says, “and that that money was already there and able to help them in a time when they really needed it.”
While Celeste primarily works in adoption, she says that meeting Panit and his family solidified her belief that, whenever possible, it is best for children to stay in the loving care of their birth families. It’s a belief that’s central to how Holt, and Holt sponsors, serve children. Always, before seeking an adoptive family, we strive to keep children in the loving care of their birth families.
“Panit’s mom clearly loves her kids and does everything that she can to take care of them,” Celeste says. “It was so obvious that these children should remain in the care of their family instead of the alternative.”
This alternative — parents, forced by poverty, to abandon or relinquish their children— is what Holt sponsors fight against on their sponsored child’s behalf. While you provide lifesaving food, safety, education, clean water, clothes and so much more, most of all, you help your sponsored child have a family — either by helping them stay in the loving care of their family, or by providing for them until they can be adopted. Because for a child, nothing is more important than the love, stability and sense of belonging that only a family can provide.
And as Celeste saw firsthand when she met Panit and his family, all it takes is some extra help.
“If all it takes is a little support from us for them to remain an intact family,” Celeste says, “then that’s what we should do.”
Megan Herriott | Staff Writer