Danh’s Remarkable Change

Eight-year-old Danh has cerebral palsy and lives in a care center in Vietnam. He spent most days lying in his crib and would remain laying down even when he ate — a position that, unbeknownst to his caregivers, caused him to choke on his food. But now, Danh sits up in his wheelchair to eat and loves engaging with the other children.

Danh* was born in June 2007 and was abandoned when he was an infant. He is now enrolled in care in the House of Love in Cam Ranh, Khanh Hoa. He has cerebral palsy and was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, for which he received surgery to drain the excess accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from his brain. However, his brain was affected by the hydrocephalus and resulted in stiffness and some brain damage. Despite the fact that Danh received good care and attention from the nuns at his care center, some of his specialized needs were not met due to his caregivers’ lack of knowledge and skills in caring for children with cerebral palsy. While in care, the nuns focused mostly on providing him with proper diet, medical care when he gets sick, and good hygiene. As he got older, Danh spent most of his time lying in his crib and being in a room by himself. Danh could not move, sit up or walk by himself. He ate in a laying position and depended mostly on his caretakers to meet his daily needs. The caretakers mostly showed up and interacted with him shortly during feeding or bathing time or to change his diaper. The only means of entertainment for him was watching TV. He cried when the TV was turned off and felt happy when it was on.

DanhDanh’s life changed remarkably in November 2015 when his caregivers received the ONP training to teach healthy, safe feeding for children without families organized by Holt International and the SPOON Foundation. Right after the training completed, the nuns ordered a wheelchair for Danh and some supplies needed to provide him with simple massage and physical exercise. Twice a day, Danh is given about one hour of massage and exercise using the big yoga ball. He is now fed while sitting up in his wheelchair. His caretakers share that Danh responded well and enjoyed the massage and exercise he received. He also got used to his new wheelchair after the first week. Now he can’t wait for his caretaker to come to his room every morning. He smiles happily when seeing the caretaker showing up in his room with his wheelchair because he knows that it is time to be brought outdoors with the other kids. While outdoors, he is around many other kids who stand around him, talking to him and making him laugh. Danh has been so happy and excited with these changes in his life. This is a simple change, but has made the Danh’s life significantly meaningful and full of excitement.

Hang Dam, MSW | Holt Vietnam Program

*Name changed

Binh Gains Needed Weight and Health

At 8 years old, Binh* weighed only 22 pounds. Her jaw was so tight from her cerebral palsy that she struggled to eat — causing her to become malnourished. When Holt’s nutrition program staff visited her care center, they recommended a high-protein milk formula and special exercises to relax her muscles. Just three months later, she has shown great improvement!

Binh_VietnamBinh lives in the Child Protection Center in the Ben Tre Province of Vietnam and is 8 years old. She was found abandoned as a baby and was born premature with a very low birth weight of just 3.7 pounds. She also has cerebral palsy and was severely malnourished when she first came to the center. When a professional nutritionist from Holt’s nutrition program visited Ben Tre Orphanage in October 2015, they recommended that Binh be sent to the hospital for special nutrition care and tube feeding. At the time, she was about 8 years old, weighed about 22 pounds and was 92 centimeters in height. She had a lot of difficulty eating due to CP and her jaw stiffness. She could only drink formula milk and could not eat any solid food.

In Vietnam, the hospital is limited in providing rehabilitation services for its patients. So it was not realistic for Binh to be able to receive specialized nutrition care in the hospital. For this reason, a special diet plan was recommended for her. Binh was prescribed a special milk formula that is high in protein to help her gain weight.

In the last three months, since she has received this recommended formula, Binh has shown great progress! Binh has gained more than two pounds and has grown one inch taller. Binh also now receives massage and exercise therapy every day before she is fed and is she is practicing sitting up in a wheelchair. It is reported by the medical staff in the care center that she gets sick less often and has significantly fewer respiratory issues. We all feel so glad for Binh!

As a final note, we — the care center staff in Vietnam — all feel so blessed by this training. We are now equipped with the invaluable knowledge to better care for the children with the support from nutritional specialists and Holt International. This is a big need in care centers across Vietnam, so Holt Vietnam plans to expand our knowledge and skills to serve even more children. We aim to continue to improve the quality of care for children in other orphanages and childcare centers in our country. Our strategy will include Holt’s nutrition program as a new long-term service component in Vietnam. We are glad to continue to work to make this enthusiastic plan happen.

Hang Dam, MSW | Holt Vietnam Program

*Name changed

The Top 10 Photos of 2015

We all love feel-good stories. At Holt, we are surrounded by miracles, triumphant underdog tales and inspiring success stories every day. But sometimes, the best stories aren’t told through words. Today, we look back at a few of our favorite stories of hope, love, family and incredible, life-changing impact — not told through words, but pictures. We’ve rounded up our top 10 favorite, most iconic photos of the year. It’s likely that if you’ve followed us on social media, checked out our website, started sponsoring a child, given a gift to help a child in need or started your adoption journey, you’ve seen at least one of these photos this year. Today, we share the stories behind the photos, and explain why these images exemplify Holt’s work and the incredible impact of Holt’s friends, families and supporters around the world. Enjoy!

Photo 10: Summer Camps

Every summer, Holt Adoptee Camp is both fun and inspirational for the kids and teens who attend. At four sleep-away camps across the country, adoptees spend a week hiking, swimming, playing games and enjoying evenings around a campfire with fellow transracial adoptees and adoptee counselors. This is a time and place for adoptees to just be themselves, surrounded by other people who share similar stories and family histories. Together, they explore identity, race and other adoptee-specific topics in an open, safe setting. Mostly, they have fun! In the photo below, 2015 camp director Chris McGinn — who will return to direct camps in 2016! — serves as jungle gym and friend to 9-year-old Adam Wachner during camp in Nebraska. In the background, 16-year-old Alec Zoz and 13-year-old Karl McGillvray sport Holt camp shirts specially designed by Holt camp counselors.

Photo 10 Continue reading “The Top 10 Photos of 2015”

The Gifts of Family and Food

As we prepare for another Thanksgiving feast with family and friends, Holt’s nutrition initiatives coordinator shares what she has learned over the past year about the unique nutritional challenges children face when they grow up in institutional care — and how Holt’s orphan nutrition program is working to ensure all children receive the proper nutrition they need to grow and thrive. 

ONP CHANGCHUN SAFE Practicum Training (256)
Improperly feeding children with special needs can lead to choking and aspiration. This year, Holt partnered with SPOON Foundation to provide feeding training to caregivers at orphanages in India, Vietnam and China, as pictured here.

It’s that time of year. Pumpkin-spiced everything, leaves falling everywhere, turkey, stuffing and graaaavy creeping into my daydreams. Thanksgiving is upon us.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because I truly do have so much to be grateful for. And as I reflect on the last year — a year in which I traveled around the world meeting and serving children through Holt’s Orphan Nutrition Program (ONP) — I feel an even greater sense of gratitude.

Two years ago, Holt received a four-year grant to pilot a program that gives orphanages a system to monitor their children’s growth and anemia prevalence as well as training on how to properly nourish and feed children. Continue reading “The Gifts of Family and Food”

Hope With Four Hooves

Last year, a Holt supporter purchased a cow as a Gift of Hope for a family in need. They didn’t know where it would go or who would receive it — but it went to the Tran family in Vietnam, and it drastically changed their life.

In 2013, the Tran family was in crisis.

Father, mother, daughter, son, grandmother and great-grandmother all lived together in a 100-year-old house that was becoming more weak and dangerous with each passing day. In January 2012, the father had suffered a stroke that left him physically and mentally disabled, unable to work and provide for his family. The family sold their motorbike and cow in order to pay for his medical expenses. Mrs. Tran then became the sole provider for all four generations of her household. She worked tirelessly to make a sufficient income from growing rice and catching shellfish. She loves her children dearly and has always wanted to give them the very best that she could, but despite all her hard work, it wasn’t enough. She worried continually about making enough to feed and clothe the family, not to mention the children’s education expenses.

The Tran family was in need of hope.


Mrs. Tran with her two young children.

Continue reading “Hope With Four Hooves”

MYTH: You have to be married to adopt.


So many children are growing up around the world without the love and care of a family. And so many hopeful parents — singles and couples — are waiting with love to give. At Holt, our mission is to bring you together — regardless of your marital status.

“A lot of single applicants are concerned about their ability to adopt,” says Emily Lund, who as Holt’s primary adoption counselor often fields questions from hopeful adoptive parents. “The good news is that many of our country programs permit single applicants to adopt.”

In fact, four of Holt’s country programs are now open to single female applicants!

Since 2011, when China re-opened adoptions to single applicants, we have seen a steady increase in the number of women adopting a child on their own. Holt’s Philippines program also accepts single applicants on a case-by-case basis for older children or children with moderate to major special needs or for a relative adoption. The India program accepts single applicants, and is the only one of Holt’s country programs open to single male applicants. And last year, options for singles expanded once again when Vietnam re-opened international adoption to the U.S. and selected Holt as one of two placing agencies. Now, single female applicants open to an older child or a child with special needs can adopt from Vietnam!

Although not every single mother is equipped to care for a child with involved needs, many would make excellent parents to a child with more minor needs… And recently, China expanded options for single applicants yet again by lifting the special focus requirement. This means that Holt’s China program now matches single mothers with children who are younger or have more minor or moderate special medical needs! Continue reading “MYTH: You have to be married to adopt.”

Can you guess what gift made children shriek with joy?


It’s only October. So why are we blogging about Christmas?
Because in order to create an incredible Christmas for every orphaned and vulnerable child we serve, we need you now.

This year, let’s create something truly magical for children. Miraculous, even.

So many of the children in Holt’s programs have experienced so much pain and poverty — hardships that no one should ever have to endure, but especially children. The children in our programs have an adult-like maturity. You can see the worry in their eyes.
Continue reading “Can you guess what gift made children shriek with joy?”

Holt’s President and CEO Visits Vietnam



Phil Littleton, Holt’s president and CEO, recently returned from a trip to Vietnam. While on the trip, Phil visited a daycare center and orphanage we help support in Dong Nai and met with Holt-Vietnam staff and the deputy director of adoption to discuss our work in the country.

Holt first served families and children in Vietnam through a USAID-funded nutrition program, later developing an international adoption program to help find permanent homes for the twenty-five thousand children living in Vietnam’s orphanages.  In 1973, Holt introduced foster care for children in the country’s orphanages, providing loving, individual attention to nurture their development while they await permanent placement. Despite steady growth in services, political instability forced Holt to cease work in Vietnam in 1975. Returning in the late 1980s, Holt developed programs throughout the country that enabled children to stay within their birth families, despite hardships.

“Holt has a very long history of serving children and families in Vietnam,” Phil says. Continue reading “Holt’s President and CEO Visits Vietnam”

Easing Their Transition

Holt’s clinical services director travels to Vietnam and the Philippines to teach social workers how to prepare older children for the transition to life in a family.

Huu Photo 2 - 26 May
Abbie met Hudson while in Vietnam. “He was very engaged in the group process and enjoyed saying the few English words he knew,” she says. “He worked hard in the beginning learning to say my name, practicing it over and over until he got it right.” Holt is now seeking a loving adoptive family for Hudson.

You’re 9 years old. You live in Vietnam. You grew up surrounded by other children, none of them siblings. You have never known what it’s like to have a mom and a dad. You don’t even understand the concept of parents, but all the grownups seem to think it is a good thing. You have no idea how you would respond to the actual love and affection of a family. You are fiercely independent and have learned to keep your emotions stuffed deep inside. All you’ve ever known is life inside an orphanage.

Now you live in a house in Minnesota. You have a brother and a sister and parents and grandparents. You have your own room that’s so quiet and dark at night, you can’t sleep. You grew up in heat and humidity, but here, a thick powdery blanket of snow covers everything in sight. Everything is foreign. The weather, the food, the language and most of all, the onslaught of love and attention from people you have known only a couple weeks.

This is your new normal. But everything feels new. And nothing feels normal. Continue reading “Easing Their Transition”

From Our Family to Yours

Moved by the plight of one family in Vietnam, Holt board member Ken Matsuura and his wife, Diane, provide the resources needed to help them build a safer home.

Early this year — in January — we joined a group of Holt board members for a 12-day trip to see the work of Holt in Vietnam. Led by Thoa Bui, Holt’s senior executive of SE Asia, and Hang Dam, Vietnam country director, we visited family strengthening projects, orphanages caring for children with special needs, day care centers supporting ethnic minority children through a milk program and participated in a house building project — as well as taking time for sightseeing in beautiful Vietnam.

Ken Matsuura presents an envelope to Mrs. Tran with the extra funds needed for the family to build their home.
As we met each family and child, we were impressed with the level of care and commitment provided by the Holt Vietnam staff. They showed personal concern for each of their specific needs and expressed genuine hope that they could help meet those needs — enabling the children and families to have a brighter future. Continue reading “From Our Family to Yours”