While traveling on this year’s Korea Gift Team trip with Holt, adoptive mom and donor Seri Boettcher kept a travelogue to tell her friends and family about the programs she visited and the children, families and individuals she met.
Holt Morning Garden Shelter
We travelled back to Seoul yesterday afternoon after a VERY moving morning in Daejeon (where we spent the night) at the Holt-sponsored Achimddeul Mother and Child Shelter. It seems with every Holt trip I’ve taken, there is one day that just hits me emotionally and I truly did not anticipate it would be this day on this trip.
This shelter — called “Morning Garden” — provides a safe and positive environment for single mothers and their children in need. A team of dedicated social workers provides counseling, support and medical services. In addition, the home has facilities for continuing education and vocational training for their residents.
Culturally in Korea, it is very shameful to be a single mom so the pressure is on to place their child for adoption. These women are accepted into the shelter with no judgement — only instruction and encouragement to move forward in their education/careers to support their child. This shelter has actually received the government’s top award for best practices.
They began our visit with a video explaining their purpose and they played the Contemporary Christian song by Selah, “You Raise Me Up to More Than I Can Be,” as the background. I wasn’t the only one in our group with tear-filled eyes. In a culture that tells these single mothers you can’t, with God’s help, these women CAN!!!
They have 10 families in their facility and 19 receiving support to help them live independently. We did meet some of the mothers and children, but many of them, they explained, were off at university taking exams. This just shows how strong these women are — that they would still pursue their educational goals while coping with a difficult situation. (Although university tuition is free, you have to pass an exam to get into university and your exam grade determines what your major will be — you don’t get a choice).
So obviously, many of these single moms are smart enough to get into university and the shelter covers their cost of books and fees as well as any needed tutoring, while local volunteers watch the children while they are at school — and the shelter even provides a lunch for them to take to school.
The shelter is a government-licensed “school” so the girls can get their high school equivalency if needed. Also, they receive vocational training in pastry baking. They had prepared a lovely array of pastries for us to enjoy when we arrived, along with a type of “detox” tea.
We each were called forward and the mothers presented each of us with a lovely bag with calligraphy on it, a small loaf of bread they had stayed up late the previous evening to make, two handmade soaps they had made in a beautiful box, and a hand warmer. We knew how to properly receive it with both hands. And yes, more tears. They then asked us to introduce ourselves and through our words — some of us are/were single moms — hopefully we could encourage these young moms. It all was so humbling. Tears — happy tears.
We got to meet some of the mothers and their children. They can stay at the shelter for 2-3 years and are ages 14 up to 40 years old. Some of them aren’t just single mothers but mothers coming out of domestic abuse and/or abandonment. They do a lot of counseling/training around being a parent since often, these girls have been raised in dysfunctional families.
Every effort is also made to integrate the extended family, but the girls are never truly abandoned again because they can return for help indefinitely — so this shelter and the personnel become their permanent extended family, too. Some of the girls have actually come back as volunteers/mentors to the younger ones.
The bottom line is THIS IS A HOME — it’s not an institution.
We got a tour of the facility. Each family has their own room, but there is a darling play room and outside play area. Nice, warm heated floors and a small kitchen to prepare meals if they don’t want to eat communally.
I asked if the discrimination of being a single mom in Korea extends into the workplace and Paul Kim, Holt’s director of Korea programs, explained that yes, it does, but a, the director works with various businesses to find jobs for the young women and b, Paul can see through popular media that the culture is changing to more of a culture of acceptance. So there is hope.
The staff and some of the mothers came to lunch with us. It was a great time for the mothers to chat with some of the adoptees in our group. It delighted my heart to hear them giggling and just being typical young ladies with our young ladies, especially the adoptees.
Director Chung told Paul when we left that “your coming from so far away means so much to the girls and gives them strength to keep going.” WOW, that is awesome. Again, part of my heart was left there.
The Ilsan Center
It’s Friday morning here in Seoul, Korea. Yesterday, we were at what I call “Ground Zero” for Holt — the Ilsan Center. This is where it all started after Harry and Bertha Holt saw those Amerasian children on the streets of war-torn South Korea, changed the laws in the U.S. so they could adopt eight children when their eight children were already grown, and then started the Holt organization.
Harry bought this land, which is not far from the North Korean border, fairly cheap because it was so close to the border and was then so far out in the country that they had no electricity. Not today. It is now sitting in the middle of a huge city that runs right into Seoul.
Harry and Bertha and their daughter, Molly, a nurse who spent her life serving the disabled residents of this care center her parents built here in the early 1960s, are all buried here. And what a humbling moment to climb the steep steps (one for every year of Harry’s life) to their burial site. As an international adoptive mother, I have these people to thank for laying the groundwork for Sarah becoming my daughter. Thank you, Jesus, for the servant heart of this family.
There are approximately 200 residents with physical and/or developmental needs at Ilsan. Harry promised them when he set this up that they would never have to leave here if they could not live on their own — and that is still the foundation of Ilsan today. Some of the younger ones still have the chance to join an adoptive family. Holt never stops advocating. For example, a 13-year-old boy with Down syndrome who stayed at Ilsan went home to a family in the U.S.
Residents receive most of the medical care, as well as the physical, occupational and speech therapy, they need on site. With funds from the government and donors, a hospital that will serve the residents as well as the community is also now being built on the site. There is so much more I could tell you about the impact Holt has had and continues to have here, but on to the fun stuff.
We started the day in a party room where the residents of one of the homes — they all live in separate homes on the premises — were patiently waiting for us. We got to sit among them and “chat,” which of course we really couldn’t do, but love speaks a universal language. Then the “Voices of the Soul,” the Ilsan residents choir, performed Christmas songs for us. Wow, so impressive and with such enthusiasm, you looked beyond their special needs and embraced their hearty singing.
My big thrill was seeing this young girl play the piano for us. Her infectious, continuous smile just so warmed my heart. Through a translator, I had the opportunity to tell her I also play the piano and that she played so well.
Two of us (Sue, a Holt adoptee, and I) accepted the gifts presented to our team from the director. This was an honor for me to be selected since I am so humbled by the adoptees we have in the group who have “come home” and have thrived in their lives.
We got to escort the group back to their residence, some in wheelchairs. Holt Ilsan, much to my surprise, is built on a hillside, so those wheelchair pushers got a workout. Along the way, we met Dr. Cho, who was the long-time doctor who came to Holt many years ago to work with Harry. What a treasure God gave Holt.
After lunch, we donned our Santa hats and visited each residence with a bag of preselected and wrapped gifts for each resident. A Christmas song by our group was a requirement as we took off our shoes and entered the residence to exuberant squeals of excitement. Our leader, Paul Kim, and I were the unofficial song leaders. What fun!
With the help of the house mothers, we got to present each gift to the resident. They look forward to this team coming each year. Amid the chaos of it all, I knew I was touching very dear ones God loved and wanted me to be His hands to show that love. Wow!!!!
Visiting Foster Moms
When Harry Holt and David Kim were caring for these orphaned children in the 50s, they were giving them food, warm clothing, etc…, but many were either dying or failing to thrive. They actually called it “Mother’s Disease.” They realized these children needed someone to love them in a family setting, and the first foster care system in the world was established by Holt and became the “best practice” for other countries.
Holt Korea has 170 foster moms (and their families) who care for and love these babies until they go to their forever homes all over the world. These are all children who have been relinquished for adoption by their birth mothers. But happily, these babies are tenderly cared for and loved by these dear women and their families until their adoptive parents come.
Once a year, Holt Korea honors the work of these mothers with a recognition ceremony that we were privileged to participate in. As we entered the festively decorated auditorium, our eyes were splashed with color as the special awardee mothers were in their beautiful hanboks, the native dress.
Needless to say, there was lots of noise with the babies from less than a month old to probably 3-4 years old. As we observed each mother and child (and for some, the foster father too), there was no doubt that these children were loved. They were proud parents and the photos sure reflect this.
The ceremony included a beautiful prayer asking God to watch over the babies, the birth families, the foster families and the adoptive families. What a blessing. One of the honored mothers spoke and through translation, she shared how hard it is to hand the child to their forever parents, no matter that this is the real goal. But as she related, she took a break to heal her heart and then stepped up to do it again. Wow!!!
They honored the women who have done this for 5, 10, 15, 20, and yes, 25 years. And if there is any doubt the children attach to their foster mom, one toddler cried for her mama when her mama was on stage receiving her award.
Our team had brought gift bags to give to these mothers to tell them thank you. How fun to present these gifts. A buffet lunch followed so we got to mingle with the families and, of course, hug and hold babies!!!!
During the ceremony, there was a young boy there with his foster family. I guess he was about 3 or 4. Darling. He had caught all of our eyes as his table was near us. We all fell in love with him when the Ilsan Voices of Soul (whom we’d heard the day before) were singing and he was up in the front dancing and “directing” the choir through the entire performance.
During the meal, two members of the team made friends with him. His foster mom, through the translator, asked “Why doesn’t he have an adoptive family?” (Is there any doubt these foster families love these kids!!!)
Yes, we had noticed he was older than the other toddlers, but cute as a button. And actually, Holt in the USA has been actively trying to place him but no family has come forward. So like a bunch of protective mother bears, our team has taken on the task of finding him his forever family. Holt will get us more information so we can each in our own sphere of influence share his story. God has a plan for this young boy. Please pray for him, too. Thank you.
I know I have some overall closing thoughts about this trip, but I need to cogitate on them first. As I told many of you, my prayer was to see, hear and say what God wanted me to and that I would most importantly share His love with each person I met. I believe I did this but, in turn, have received back way more love than I gave out.
As the plane lifts its wheels off the ground today at 4 p.m., there is part of my heart that is staying behind forever to be here with Holt Korea’s children, mothers, families and staff. Thank you, Jesus, for opening this opportunity for me.
Seri Boettcher | Adoptive Mom & Holt Donor