Thank You For Seeing My Life

Before leaving on Holt’s inaugural Mongolia Heritage Tour this past summer, John Clark and his family donated the funds to build a new ger — a new home — for a vulnerable family living beside a garbage dump in Ulaanbaatar. Below, John shares what inspired his family to give, followed by a radio interview with the family who received a new ger. 

Standing in front of the brand new ger they built, the Clark family poses for a photo with the family who received this new ger. From left: Ariana Clark, Carver Clark, Enkhjargal, her husband and three children, and John and Janette Clark.

The most memorable time for me on the Mongolian tour was being able to help a family in need of permanent housing in Ulaanbaatar.

Before we left for our tour, I was moved by the Holt video showing how others had donated funds to help build gers for needy families. I didn’t consider the expense. I felt we should do this. Continue reading “Thank You For Seeing My Life”

Never Their Fault: Part One

When a team of Holt donors travels to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to build homes for four of the most vulnerable families in the poorest district of the city, something so unexpected happens — so stunning and so moving — they decide on the spot to build one more.

Amin-Erdene zips up her cousin’s vest on a 30-degree day in Ulaanbaatar. They live next door to each other in the ger district of Mongolia.

Amin-Erdene kneels down to zip up her little cousin’s vest — a shiny, hot pink, sleeveless thing that looks far too flimsy for the weather, which has dropped 40 degrees since yesterday. It’s early spring in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, a high desert region where the temperature can swing dramatically from both season to season and day to day. Yesterday, it reached the high 70s. Today, it’s in the low 30s, but feels even colder — a face-numbing, paralyzing cold that makes you want to curl into yourself like a potato bug.

But 7-year-old Amin-Erdene and her cousins seem unfazed.

In a country where in the depths of winter the temperature can drop 40 degrees below zero, this is nothing. Amin-Erdene blankets a heavy coat over her little cousin, who sits in an old car seat outside the crowded ger where they’ve been living. Her feet poke out of the coat, in socks and white-heeled dress shoes that make me think of something our local partner said — how parents will often keep their kids home from school in winter because they’re worried about frostbite, and they can’t afford warm shoes. Amin-Erdene’s older brother picks up another little cousin and snuggles her close to him, kissing her on the cheek. Continue reading “Never Their Fault: Part One”

Never Their Fault: Part Two

When a team of Holt donors travels to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to build homes for four of the most vulnerable families in the poorest district of the city, something so unexpected happens — so stunning and so moving — they decide on the spot to build one more. 

Read part one of this story!

A couple miles from Amin-Erdene’s ger — down a hill, past a gulley, right of a small store and up another hill — sits the school where Amin-Erdene and her 10-year-old brother walk every day. There are no street signs in the ger district, and Gantuul expertly navigates the rough terrain by memory — taking shortcuts to families she has visited countless times.

The school is an informal, one-room schoolhouse for kids who have dropped out — or never attended — public school. Many of their families make a living from scavenging recyclables from the trash dump that sits atop the hill, overlooking the city. Some are homeless, or near homeless, living in makeshift shelters built of scraps found in the dump. For these kids, this school is more than just a school. It provides the things a home should provide — hot cooked meals, often their only one each day, water and soap to clean up with, freshly laundered clothes, and a warm, bright place to study next to an electric radiator.

For many children in this community, lunch at the Red Stone School is the only hot meal, and sometimes the only meal, they receive each day.

About 30 kids attend this school, called the “Red Stone School,” in two shifts each day. They know each other well, and they understand each other. Here, no one is bullied for smelling bad or having filthy clothes or having parents who dig through trash to survive. Here, they belong. Continue reading “Never Their Fault: Part Two”

Never Their Fault

When a team of Holt donors travels to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to build homes for four of the most vulnerable families in the poorest district of the city, something so unexpected happens — so stunning and so moving — they decide on the spot to build one more.

Amin-Erdene kneels down to zip up her little cousin’s vest — a shiny, hot pink, sleeveless thing that looks far too flimsy for the weather, which has dropped 40 degrees since yesterday. It’s early spring in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, a high desert region where the temperature can swing dramatically from both season to season and day to day. Yesterday, it reached the high 70s. Today, it’s in the low 30s, but feels even colder — a face-numbing, paralyzing cold that makes you want to curl into yourself like a potato bug.

Amin-Erdene zips up her cousin's vest on a 30-degree day in Ulaanbaatar.
Amin-Erdene zips up her cousin’s vest on a 30-degree day in Ulaanbaatar. They live next door to each other in the ger district of Mongolia.

But 7-year-old Amin-Erdene and her cousins seem unfazed.

In a country where in the depths of winter the temperature can drop 40 degrees below zero, this is nothing. Amin-Erdene blankets a heavy coat over her little cousin, who sits in an old car seat outside the crowded ger where they’ve been living. Her feet poke out of the coat, in socks and white-heeled dress shoes that make me think of something our local partner said — how parents will often keep their kids home from school in winter because they’re worried about frostbite, and they can’t afford warm shoes. Amin-Erdene’s older brother picks up another little cousin and snuggles her close to him, kissing her on the cheek. Continue reading “Never Their Fault”

Because Every Child Deserves Somebody

Around the world, most children come into care not because their families don’t love them, but because they can’t care for them. And far too often, the reason they can’t care for them is because their children have special medical or developmental needs. But through the innovative programs of one longstanding partner in Mongolia, Holt supporters are working to help children thrive — and keep them in the loving care of their families. 

Typically, if a family intends to take their child home — like this little one abandoned in a taxi — they will be back within a month. If their somebodies don’t come back, they become “social orphans.”

This one was left in a taxi, May says, motioning to a months-old baby girl gumming her fingers from inside her crib. Her father told the driver he would be right back. He just needed to get some cash to pay his fare. He never returned.

May Gombo is the adoption/social service program coordinator for Holt Mongolia. She comes here often, and knows each child’s story.

This girl was found in an open market area, she says of a crusty-nosed little cutie with wispy black hair pulled into a pointy topknot. Her parents are homeless and both are alcoholics — “and they live,” May says, “in a hole.” Like so many of the city’s homeless, this girl and her family are part of the subterranean civilization that seeks heat underground during Ulaanbaatar’s frigid winter months, when temperatures can drop below 40. Continue reading “Because Every Child Deserves Somebody”

They Had Little. They Gave to Those With Less.

When children at an orphanage in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia learned about other children growing up in the city’s largest garbage dump, they felt more than compassion. They felt moved to act. 

Parents, you’ve probably been there.

You enter your child’s room and look down at what was once only carpet. Now, piled before you, are action figures, Barbie dolls, pieces from five different board games, dress-up clothes and school clothes, and about a million Legos.

After trying to decipher which toy piece goes with which toy, and inevitably stepping on a Lego or two in the process (ouch!), you decide that it’s time for some major spring-cleaning.

And, hopefully, a lesson in generosity to go with it.

You bring your preschooler into his or her room, and gently tell them that it’s time to pick out some toys and clothes to donate, maybe to a daycare, or a secondhand store, or a homeless shelter — for kids and families who need a little extra help.

Now, the question to your child: “What would you like to give away?”

The answer: Give away? Nothing … these are my toys and clothes.

Suddenly, that toy that hasn’t been played with in almost a year is now your child’s favorite toy, and he just can’t bring himself to part with that two-sizes-too-small T-shirt. This might be a tough process, but, hopefully, if it becomes a common practice, your youngster will begin to understand the significance of giving back, of not living in excess, and of how it feels to make someone’s day — and possibly life — a little brighter.

Still, it can be a hard sell asking a 3-year-old to give up his toys for the first time in his life. Generosity doesn’t always come easily.

But for a group of children at the Big Family Institute in Mongolia, it does come easily. Perhaps because life hasn’t. Continue reading “They Had Little. They Gave to Those With Less.”

A Place Where No Child Should Ever Be

Amid the desolate hillsides outside Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia is a place no one should call home. It is the city’s largest garbage dump, where hundreds of families reside, making a living from the refuse. Until recently, the children of this impoverished community mostly avoided school — fearing bullying and discrimination. But now, for the first time, they have a safe space to learn, where they are loved and embraced by everyone.

Hop in the car. We have somewhere to take you.

You’re in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia — an arid tundra and bustling city, home to the largest concentrated group of people in this historically nomadic country. It’s icy cold outside. But now, you’re fastening your seatbelt in the backseat of an SUV and driving up into the crisp air of the hillsides just outside the city.

As deep ruts turn the car nearly 45 degrees, you hold onto the door to try and keep yourself upright. Dust billows outside your window where you begin to see plastic bags spotting the scraggily roadside — more and more of them the farther you drive.

The car summits one last hill and you see your destination — a concrete and wire fence enclosing a space of several square kilometers, every foot of it overflowing with trash.

You are at Ulaanbaatar’s largest garbage dump. But to the families and children you are coming here to visit, this place is home.

IMG_9371_edited
Spotted throughout the garbage dump, shelters like this one — built around the second post from the left — are home to an estimated 100 children and their families.

 

“It’s brutally magnificent in its desolation,” says Paul Kim, Holt’s director of Mongolia and Korea programs. “It takes your breath away, but in a really sad kind of way.”

Continue reading “A Place Where No Child Should Ever Be”

Top 16 Blogs of 2016

This past year, our organization celebrated 60 years of serving orphaned and vulnerable children and families in countries across the globe. Over these six decades, our work has touched the lives of thousands of people — people whose lives collectively tell the story of who we are as an organization. Their stories are the story of Holt International. And in 2016, many of these people once again graciously shared their life experiences with our readers.

For the first time, we held an adoptee essay contest, asking adoptees to share how adoption shapes or has shaped their identity. We received a number of thoughtful submissions, and featured the winning essay by Noel Hincha in our annual adoption magazine. I am happy to share that the essay penned by one of our runner-ups in the contest is among this year’s top most-viewed blogs of 2016!

Following last year’s trend, stories written by and about adoptees once again topped the list — receiving thousands of views on Facebook and the Holt blog. Among them is a letter one adoptee wrote to her late birth mother, grieving the fact that it was too late for them to meet; a story about a first-generation adoptee reuniting with the man who cared for him in Korea; and a piece by an adoptee from China who describes what the adoption experience was like for her.

Among our Top 16 Blogs of 2016, we also included five stories about our overseas programs — from a story written by a trailblazing woman in our unwed mothers program in Korea to a story about a boy who learned how to express himself for the first time at the Yesus Mena Deaf School that we support in Ethiopia.

And of course, stories by and about adoptive families are always popular among our readers — particularly among families new to the process who appreciate the insight and wisdom that veteran families have to offer. This year, six adoption stories had the most impact on our readers, including, at the top of the list, a heartfelt piece written under a pseudonym by an adoptive mom who wanted to share the truth about raising children with HIV. As more and more families adopt children with more involved and complex special needs, the experiences of these families become increasingly influential — inspiring other families to adopt children with HIV, congenital heart disease or, as one of our top stories explores in detail, Thalassemia.

As we reflect on the year 2016, and on the last 60 years, we thank the many, many adoptees, families, sponsors, donors, staff members, partners and children and families in our programs for your willingness to share what can be very personal and sometimes heart-wrenching experiences. You moved us. You inspired us. And perhaps most importantly, you instructed us. Every year, we continue to learn and grow from what you share with Holt staff and supporters. And we are so, so grateful for your being a part of our story, the Holt story. — Robin Munro, Managing Editor

Top Five Adoptee Stories

Korean-and-adopted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Krista in Korea: A Letter to My Birth Mother

Over the summer, Holt adoptee Krista Gause traveled on the Holt Heritage Tour to Korea. Before her departure, she wrote an honest and heartfelt letter to her birth mother, sharing about her life and grieving the fact that it was too late for them to meet.  Continue reading “Top 16 Blogs of 2016”

Living Her Dream

DJ You started her career working with families and children in 2000 as a social worker for Holt Children’s Services of Korea, a separate but closely tied organization to Holt International . Recently, she accepted a position as Holt Korea’s outreach program director after serving as a social worker in Seoul for the last 16 years. “I’m very happy to still be serving children in different countries,” DJ says. “I was called to love the children of the world.”

Below, DJ shares about her cherished career uniting children with families through adoption — many of them Holt families in the U.S. — and what it has meant to her to work with the organization Harry and Bertha Holt founded 60 years ago in her native South Korea.

dj-you-child
DJ and her older sister.

Since I was in 6th grade, I’ve wanted to be a social worker. Serving orphaned children has always been my dream, and I know God called me to care for orphans. My mother was a social worker and great role model for me. She ran an orphanage with my aunt in Seoul, South Korea, and I was around children all the time.

My mother’s love and passion for orphaned children was unstoppable. One of her friends introduced her to the Holt reception center that was not too far from my mother’s orphanage. Whenever my mother had some extra time, she went there and volunteered to take care of babies. She remembers working with Harry Holt. She said he always took care of the most vulnerable children — loving them, feeding them and “making them chubby,” then giving them back to the caregiver when they were healthy enough. Then, he would take care of the next vulnerable child to come into care. My mother still remembers the children’s names and nicknames. They are all probably grandparents now.

Like my mother, I had hoped and dreamed to work in an adoption agency one day, especially an international adoption agency. When I was a junior in college, my sister and I did a volunteer escort trip, bringing a baby to the United States and into their new family. Continue reading “Living Her Dream”