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.

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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

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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.

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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”

Seeking Shelter, Safety in Mongolia

Through one of our newest partnerships in Mongolia, Holt — and Holt supporters — are helping to bring shelter, stability and safety to 54 children, and their mothers, who are living in Ulaanbaatar’s largest domestic violence shelter. 

It’s late afternoon, her children just came home from school, and Sarnai* knows this is her chance. She only has a small window of time before he comes home. She’s tried to leave before, but each time the threats and fear held her back. But it is also fear that tells her she has to leave. Last night he nearly turned his rage on the children, and that’s when she knew what she must do.

She slings a hastily packed bag around her shoulder, reaches for the hands of her 5-year-old and 3-year-old, and walks them quickly, quietly out the door. The sun is setting as they walk inconspicuously through the streets of Ulaanbaatar. Adrenaline courses through her and she tries to keep from looking over her shoulder with each step, making sure they aren’t being followed. She prays they reach their destination before he finds them, and the below-freezing temperatures grow too unbearable… But she has hope. She’s heard there is a place she and her children can be safe.

“To be frank, they’re in hiding,” says Paul Kim, Holt’s director of the Korea and Mongolia programs, of the 54 children who are the newest addition to Holt’s child sponsorship program in Mongolia. Each one of these children and their mothers has experienced domestic violence, and is seeking refuge in the largest women and children’s shelter in the capital city of Mongolia.

Continue reading “Seeking Shelter, Safety in Mongolia”

President and CEO Phil Littleton Travels to Mongolia and China — A Photo Essay

In September, Holt President and CEO Phil Littleton spent two weeks visiting Holt projects in China and Mongolia. “The work we are doing exceeded my expectations,” Phil said. “It was extraordinary.”  

MONGOLIA:

Below Phil visits the Rainbow Special Baby Care Unit within a state-run infant and toddler orphanage in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Holt established ties with the orphanage in 1999. At this special baby care unit, Holt provides at-risk infants and toddlers with the proper nutrition, medical care and nurture they need to thrive.

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“When Holt arrived in Mongolia almost two decades ago, the orphanage was rather bleak,” Phil says. “Today, the center in Ulaanbaatar is a well-run, warm place for babies to come and be nursed back to health and receive proper nutrition and care.”
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“Ninety percent of the children at the care centers don’t have families,” Phil says. “Some, however, come here on a temporary basis while their families get the support they need. It’s wonderful to be able to provide a safe place for these children to come while their families become more stable.”

Continue reading “President and CEO Phil Littleton Travels to Mongolia and China — A Photo Essay”

Looking to the Sky

After a stroke left her paralyzed, one single mother in Mongolia considered taking her own life. But empowered by the support of Holt sponsors, she regained hope — and her children regained the courageous woman they call mom.

The year 2010 was an especially brutal year in Mongolia. A devastating summer drought followed by an extreme winter — a weather phenomenon known as dzud — wiped out millions of livestock and affected the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of already struggling families. While distressing for the population, this pendulum of weather is nothing new for Mongolia, where winter temperatures can plummet to as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and summers are often short but very humid.

But the 2009-2010 season was unusual in Mongolia. The winters were much colder, and the summers were much hotter.with-family-grandmother

Continue reading “Looking to the Sky”

A Book Brings Endless Opportunities

literacy-day-header_600x630Reading can take children anywhere. In the pages of a book, they can travel the world and take part in a grand adventure. Even better, reading can take a child places in their real life, too.

Today is International Literacy Day, a day when we celebrate and promote the importance of literacy.

Even today, 114 million youth around the world are illiterate — 59 percent of them girls and young women. Literacy is the foundation of education, and with an education, children can pursue their dreams and overcome poverty in their communities.

Through Holt’s educational programs, vulnerable children learn to read, write and gain other fundamental skills. As one of our most recent projects, we helped open a library for children in Mongolia.literacy-day-mongolia_600x340

But children need more than just books to learn to read and write. They need pencils and pens and notebooks and paper — supplies that many families struggle to provide.

With the gift of school supplies, you can promote literacy and education in impoverished communities in Mongolia and around the world.

Give today! 

When children can read, they are empowered to go places — both in their imagination, and in life.

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When it’s -40 in Mongolia, getting to school is difficult…

email6-Header-40 degrees Fahrenheit. A cardboard-walled house. Layers of ice, soot and snow on the ground. Miles to walk to school.

For children living in the poorest districts of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia — the coldest capital city in the world — the elements alone make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to get to school.

Help children stay in school!

And in most districts, schools are so overcrowded that classes take place in shifts, after which children must fend for themselves, with no safe or warm place nearby for them to go. This often leads to children engaging with dangerous life on the streets, and sometimes even getting separated from their families.

But with educational support from Holt sponsors, these children have a bright future.

Holt’s new afterschool program in Ulaanbaatar has a brand new library — and this library provides much more than books. Children get homework help, a hot meal and a warm, nurturing place to escape the cold. It’s not only a place to study, but a place where their curiosity and gifts can be realized.

This project is just the first of many afterschool programs we have planned as we work to reach many more children living in such difficult conditions in Mongolia. This library was opened with generous support from Holt donors, but we still need your help to fill it with more books, school supplies and other education essentials. With your gift today, you can help keep kids in school and off the streets of Ulaanbaatar.

Thank you for the light and warmth of your support. It makes all the difference for these children.

Thankful for your support,

Paul Kim
Director of Korea and Mongolia programs

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A Bright, Curious Mind

In Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Holt strives to meet the changing needs of 15-year-old Batbayar, a boy with cerebral palsy who is growing too big — and too smart — for his environment. 

Mongolia-2016-Day-1 113When I meet Batbayar*, he sits over a lunch of mutton stew, flipping through the latest fall catalog of a local department store. Although Batbayar has cognitive delays as well as cerebral palsy — a neurological condition that affects his muscle coordination and physical movement — he is obviously very bright, and insatiably curious. As he eats his lunch, the caregivers keep an eye on him to ensure he is managing the fine motor tasks needed to use his utensils. He responds to their inquiries with a smile and a glint in his playful eyes. He pays close attention to the other children, the caregivers, and the strange visitors in the room — observing everyone with utmost curiosity between bites of stew.

Batbayar is unique. As one of the few children in the Rainbow Unit who is able to feed himself, he gets the luxury of eating at a leisurely pace.

Batbayar spends his days in this colorful, sun-filled room with the nine other children with special needs who live at the National Children’s Sanatorium (NCS) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This room has plenty of windows to let in the sun and a view of the outside world. It is directly attached to their sleeping quarters, dining room and bathroom. Also, just down the hall is an extensive therapy room, where the children receive regular physical therapy. Continue reading “A Bright, Curious Mind”