Holt is My Second Family

Kyle Witzigman, a Holt adoptee from Vietnam and student at the University of Notre Dame, reflects on his summer as an intern at the Holt International offices in Eugene, Oregon.

Kyle Witzigman with his parents, Todd and Cindy, outside the Holt International office in Eugene, Oregon.

Every August 3, my parents and I celebrate Family Day. In 1995, it was the day my adoptive parents signed paperwork in Hanoi, Vietnam, and I officially became a Witzigman. Since I was 18 months old when I moved to the U.S., I only remember one thing about living in Vietnam – sitting on a courtyard bench swing at the orphanage. Exciting right? Continue reading “Holt is My Second Family”

The Best Birthday Party Ever!

With help from sponsors and donors, Holt threw special parties for children around the world on June 1st, the International Day of the Child.

Every child deserves to feel special on their birthday. It should be a joyous, fun-filled day, celebrated with family and friends.

But for homeless and vulnerable children around the world, birthdays sometimes go without much notice or celebration.

Many don’t even know what a “birthday” is.

That’s why, last month, we launched a campaign to help give orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children the best birthday ever. We asked Holt sponsors for their help by sending a special greeting and goodie bag to their sponsored child. Some sponsors also gave an additional donation above and beyond their normal monthly sponsorship to help with the parties.

This year, we also asked our many other friends and supporters to contribute to the parties – either by sending a special greeting to a child who doesn’t have a sponsor, or donating to the celebrations.

We were overwhelmed by the responses we received from thousands of wonderful, caring people! Together, we made it happen.

On Saturday, June 1st – the International Day of the Child – Holt threw spectacular parties for children in care as well as children living in the communities where we work around the world, from Haiti to China and many countries in between!

Thank you to everyone who helped make the celebrations fun and special for nearly 10,000 children. The parties went off without a hitch!

VCT, one of our legacy partners in India, writes: “Our children had a lovely time on the 3rd of June celebrating International Children’s Day. This was a special day because kids were made to understand that this was a day earmarked just for them. With beaming faces, they set out to thoroughly enjoy the day…They played games, sang songs, enjoyed the bars of chocolate, cookies, chips, etc…” This was a special treat, as fruit is usually served at snack time.

After lunch, the party commenced! Continue reading “The Best Birthday Party Ever!”

In Celebration of Foster Families

May is National Foster Care Month! In celebration, we bring you two stories — the first from the Larson family, whose a little girl overcame the challenges of early malnutrition while in the loving care of her foster family in Vietnam. In the second story, Holt adoptive mom Debbie Dunham shares how foster families serve as a “bridge of love” to children awaiting adoption in Korea. Enjoy!

A Home Full of Love For Sophie

by Linda and Steve Larson

When we were in the process of adopting our second daughter, Sophie Lan, we learned that she had been in both the orphanage and a couple different foster families.  The last one she was with, in our eyes, made such a difference in shaping Sophie’s future and who she is today.

It was February 4, 2001 – the day we were to go to the Danang Rehabilitation Center for Malnourished Orphans to see and hold our Sophie for the first time.  It was an amazing feeling to see this little girl of 21 months old for the first time.  We were able to hold her and introduce her to her new big sister, Sadie.  We also got to feed her and try to get her to drink some water.  She looked at us with those big, deep brown and curious eyes…very seriously…afraid to crack a smile…afraid of what was going to change in her life…again.  We had to leave her there that day and come back the next for the adoption ceremony at the Department of Justice.  It was so very hard to say goodbye – even if just for a day.

Sophie with her foster parents during their reunion visit in 2008.

During our time in Vietnam, we were fortunate to have our Holt representative take us to meet our daughter’s foster family.  As we approached the front door and took off our shoes, they respectfully invited us into their home with such kindness.  The look in the mother, the father and the son’s eyes told us that their home was filled with love. This was the home where our daughter Sophie learned to be a fun-loving girl with the personality of a comedian. Here, she also overcame many of the challenges and delays she developed in early life.

When Sophie came into care, she was seriously malnourished and had iron-deficiency anemia. She was smaller in size than others her age, had moderate motor skill delays, and could not sit unsupported. She could not bear her body weight on her legs. Her language skills were also delayed.

In her foster family’s care, Sophie thrived. They fed her at the same times every day with food abundant in vitamins. They assisted Sophie in learning to bear weight on her legs, and helped to develop her motor and language skills – teaching her to identify and name different objects. They also played with her and took her for walks. They interacted with her like she was their own child – taking every measure to ensure her healthy development.

Continue reading “In Celebration of Foster Families”

Taking Stock in the Lives of Families in Vietnam

Mother’s Day is just a month away! In honor of your mother, help a struggling family in one of Holt’s programs. Give a sow (or a cow!) and help a family get back on their feet!



 In January, Thoa Bui, Holt’s senior executive for southeast Asia, traveled to Vietnam to visit multiple Holt-supported programs. She met with children and families in Holt’s family strengthening program, all who had different stories to tell. Here, she shares the story of a child named *Vi. Through much heartache and many trials, Vi’s family, with assistance from Holt-Vietnam, has stuck together.

 By Thoa Bui

Vi’s story is a heartbreaking one. Last year, Vi’s mother was killed tragically and her father was admitted to a psychiatric ward. Vi and her three older siblings were left without parents. Fortunately for the children, Vi’s extended family was determined to care for them. Vi and her older sister went to live with their grandmother, *Hang. Her two other siblings went to live with their aunt and uncle.

Both teachers, Vi’s aunt and uncle have stable incomes and could comfortably provide for the two children entrusted to them. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Hang, who, with a very limited income and additional family members to care for, struggled to provide for Vi and her sister.  Still, she took her grandchildren in and did the best she could.  “Our dream was to be able to provide for them so that they can grow to be healthy, learn, and play with the other children in kindergarten one day,” said Hang.

Eight family members currently live in Hang’s house.  The entire family is dependent on 5 quintals of rice produced every six months on their small piece of land.

Working in partnership with the Government of Vietnam, Holt provides emergency assistance, counseling and the basic financial, nutritional and educational support needed to stabilize struggling households like this. Our goal:  To keep families together, and make them stronger.

When Hang’s story was brought to Holt’s attention, steps were taken to help the struggling grandmother.


Continue reading “Taking Stock in the Lives of Families in Vietnam”

Adopting an Older Child: Is Fear Holding You Back?

 Shila Ann Henderson is the mother of 10 children, five adopted through Holt, three of whom came home after the age of five. “Some people think it’s too late for older children to be adopted, especially kids who have always been waiting,” says Shila. “Some think children who have experienced a harsh life will never overcome the effects. Those people have never met our Lan Lan, adopted at the age of 11, our Ningjie, adopted at the age of 10, and our son, Vu, adopted from Vietnam at the age of five — the sweetest, most loving children in the whole world!”

By Shila Ann Henderson

Christmas is going to be extra exciting this year with our recent addition of 8-year-old Ningjie. She is already talking about what Santa might bring and I can imagine her huge eyes, filled with delight, seeing gifts surrounding the glimmering tree. Gifts with her name on them. My husband and I will marvel at our own gifts—ten children, including five adopted through Holt International, and three of them after the age of five.

Lan Lan’s referral picture.

Last year, I felt God calling us to adopt two children. As soon as we were matched with then 11-year-old Lan Lan, I kept coming across a Bible verse and felt an absolute certainty that God had two children for us to bring home (which in retrospect, proves, once again, that I have no future as a prophet!).

At that time, in June 2010, China’s Special Focus program hadn’t yet been instituted. China still had the ruling of adopting only one child, at one time, unless they were related. Our agency had the same rule.

And yet . . . I was so certain about two that my husband agreed to pursue the possibility. We had our social worker write our homestudy for two. She probably thought we were strange for this request, because as already stated, it wasn’t possible to adopt two at once, and we already knew Lan Lan didn’t have a biological sibling.

Over the course of our adoption of Lan Lan, we inquired about the possibility of adopting two older children. China began the Special Focus program in September, making it a possibility. We even reviewed the files of several children aging out, but always decided it wasn’t meant to be.

It was confusing. Continue reading “Adopting an Older Child: Is Fear Holding You Back?”

The Greatest Gift a Mother Could Hope For…

After losing her husband in a construction accident, a struggling mother of two in Vietnam receives assistance from Holt in the form of chickens and four months of feed — the basis for a small, but thriving, business. Greatest of all, both of her daughters are now well-nourished and attending pre-school. Jennifer Goette, Holt’s director of programs for South and Southeast Asia, reports.

This Mother’s Day, honor your mother by helping a mother! Many of the gifts in Holt’s Gifts of Hope catalog help struggling mothers to care for their children.

by Jennifer Goette, Holt Director of Programs for South and Southeast Asia

Luang's mom with Luang's younger sister, Kim.

In the remote community of Phu Duong, a two-hour journey outside of Hanoi, most families rely on subsistence farming for their livelihood.  The average monthly income here is 750,000 VND ($30.20 USD).  Supporting early education and family preservation programming is one way that Holt is helping to keep vulnerable families together.

To understand how Holt-Vietnam’s programs have impacted the lives of families, you need only to hear the story of 5-year-old Luang and her family.  Although their story is similar to the stories of many families in Holt’s family preservation program, this is a female-headed household that was truly in a crisis situation when they came to the attention of Holt-Vietnam social workers.  I met this family at their home during a visit to Vietnam in December 2011 – just three months after tragedy changed the family’s life forever.

I am impressed and touched by the strength of the woman seated next to me.

At only 21 years old, she became a widow and the sole caregiver for her two young daughters, Luang and Kim.  I consider what it has been like for her to have the entire future turned upside down by a tragic accident – and I know that it takes more than assistance from a child welfare agency to pick up the pieces and create a new life.  This woman is strong and determined.  She is bold and willing to work hard to survive.  And she is the perfect example of how a few hundred dollars can go a long way to changing a life – in fact, three lives.

Until last year, Luang lived with her mother, father and younger sister on the outskirts of town in a tiny, one-room house constructed of bricks.  Although the family was not able to save money, Luang’s father earned seventy-five dollars each month at his brick-laying job – which brought in just enough income to provide for the family’s immediate needs of food, shelter and clothing.  Luang’s mother alternated her time between tending a small rice field nearby and providing care for her two daughters.

Luang, thriving.

When tragedy struck last year, the situation changed.

In a terrible turn of events, Luang’s father was killed in a freak accident at work.  The family was devastated.  Not only had they lost their beloved father and husband, but they

also lost their means of earning income.  Very soon, there was little to eat and not enough money available to pay the small tuition fee to send the children to pre-school.

In September, Holt-Vietnam learned of the family through the local authorities.  During an assessment of the family’s situation, Holt-Vietnam identified that the family was at risk of separation due to their economic difficulties, but that Luang’s mother was hard-working and motivated.  At the time, she was trying to find work as a day laborer, but was not able to find stable employment.

In discussion with Luang’s mother, it became clear that her dream was to raise chickens.

Holt-Vietnam staff worked with the family to develop a business plan and provided funds for the start-up costs of a chicken-raising business.  Fifty chicks were purchased, along with corn and bran to feed the chickens for four months.  When the chicks have matured, they will be sold at the market or their eggs will be harvested for sale – and new chicks will be purchased.  It is expected that the family will reinvest a majority of the profits to expand the business.  Over time, more and more money can be allocated toward providing for the family’s basic needs.

Continue reading “The Greatest Gift a Mother Could Hope For…”

One Step Closer to a Family

Angela Chapman, an international studies major at the University of Oregon, is currently working with Holt in Vietnam through IE3 Global Internships. Every week, Angela journeys to one of the government-run child welfare centers that Holt helps support in the region. Here, she writes about a child she met on her first visit, and how Holt’s sponsorship program is helping this little girl to reach her potential — and grow ever closer to finding a family of her own.

Through physical therapy funded by sponsorship, Nguyen is learning to walk!
Just off a bustling street in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam, my co-worker and I drove down an eroded, red dirt road toward a Holt-supported child welfare center. From where I sat on the back of her motorbike, bumping over potholes, I was full of anticipation.  After volunteering to take on weekly visits to the orphanage to document the children’s progress, I knew that what I was soon to face would be nothing short of life-changing.

What I did not prepare myself for was the impact one specific child would have on my perspective of life, opportunity and hope.

As I walked through the tall French doors of the welfare center into a room full of toddlers, one particular child caught my eye.  Most of the children were playing games on the floor, but when they saw my co-worker and I enter the room, they eagerly flooded around us. Although all adorable, enthusiastic children, one child stayed put.  From where she sat in her crib, this little girl shot me the most fantastic, bright-eyed smile I’ve ever seen – one that will be imprinted in my mind forever.

Come to find out, this amazing child’s name is Nguyen Thi A* and she suffers from cerebral palsy – a physical disability that has rendered her with very limited cognitive and muscular control. The disorder has especially shown an effect on her limbs.  With one glance at her crossed legs as she was delicately seated in her crib, I could tell her tiny ankles and calves were beyond fragile.  The array of motor conditions that characterize the disorder are all caused by lack of oxygen to the brain in the womb or during infancy, and symptoms – like delayed development or limited vocal ability – begin to show typically around key developmental times.

At about 2 years of age, Nguyen was found abandoned at a local bus station and admitted to the center on the 15th of February, 2008.  Because no one could locate her parents or other close relatives, her technical birth date remains unknown. But when she entered care, the center determined that developmentally she was around 2-years-old, and gave her an estimated birthday of January, 11 2006.

As I study Nguyen’s sweet face, I wonder why her mother might have left her.

Did she realize that her daughter wasn’t developing properly? Was she too poor to provide for basic necessities, or proper nutrition? Perhaps she was a young, unwed mother. In Vietnam, the stigma of unwed motherhood remains strong, and often compels single mothers to abandon their children. Did she not want to face the shame? These questions will perhaps never be answered. At least here, Nguyen receives the care and support she needs.

Through Holt’s child sponsorship program, she is ensured food, clothing, shelter and loving care in the arms of trained caregivers.

Continue reading “One Step Closer to a Family”

Children Who Give: Hunter’s Story — Our Gift

Welcome to our first post in the “Children Who Give” blog series!  In the coming weeks and periodically throughout the year, we will feature stories about children who raise funds for Holt, and parents, grandparents and others who raise funds on behalf of the children in their lives. As Mary Li Creasy illustrates so well in the following story about her son, Hunter, children are a gift — a gift that often inspires us to give back. In this story, it is Hunter who was inspired to give back. His love and appreciation for his family inspired him to write an award-winning essay about Holt, to which he then donated his winnings so that we can help more children have families of their own. Thank you Hunter, and thank you Mary Li for sharing this beautiful story!

Hunter in July 2011, age 8.

One year to the day we adopted our daughter, Lily – from China through Holt – we got the call about a 4-year-old boy named “Hung” in Vietnam. Holt thought he would be a good match for our family. We had applied to the special needs program only a few months earlier, knowing we wanted to adopt an older child and also that we did not want to wait the 13 months it took to bring our daughter home from China between 2005 and 2006. We had gone to committee once before, but Holt’s social workers decided another family was a better fit for that child. After that, we felt greatly discouraged and weren’t sure we would ever be matched.

We were shocked to receive the call only a month later about Hung.

With a 10-year-old and 2-and-a-half-year-old at home, 4 seemed on the lowest end of the age spectrum we would consider.  And we knew nothing about the Vietnam program.  After praying about it and talking it over as a family for a few days, we requested the file.

One look at Hung’s beautiful brown eyes and we were in love.

In September of 2008, fifteen months after we accepted Hung’s referral, the U.S. and Vietnam decided not to renew their Memo of Understanding regarding adoptions and subsequently suspended all international adoption from Vietnam. We managed to endure the next seven months with the help of weekly telephone calls with Holt staff, hundreds of supportive e-mails, and several visits with our online Holt Vietnam friends and Dong Nai waiting parents group. After our case was finally resolved, we traveled to Bien Hoa, Vietnam, where on April 13, 2009, we met and adopted our son Hung, who we named John “Hunter.”

Hunter came to us with a huge smile and an open heart. Continue reading “Children Who Give: Hunter’s Story — Our Gift”

Season of Love, Gifts of Hope: Chickens and Pigs Keep Children Healthy, Families Together in Vietnam

Sometimes, all a family needs is a little help.

Many of the children who enter Holt’s care have living parents or relatives whose lack of resources, not lack of love, compelled them to seek outside care for their child. Rather, relinquishing a child is an act of love. What parent wouldn’t rather separate from their child than watch their child grow sick and malnourished?

At Holt, we believe poverty – or disease or discrimination – should not prevent children from growing up with otherwise loving birth parents. That is why, everywhere we work, we strive to keep at-risk families safe, stable and together.

To that end, we provide basic nutrition and medical care for physical health, and counseling for psychological wellbeing. We assist with education, sending children to school and training parents in income-generating trades. And through microloans for small businesses, we help families achieve both self-reliance – and lasting stability.

One small business is particularly adaptable to many of the regions we serve: raising livestock. After Holt provides the resources and know-how, families can quickly take the reins.

Here are three short family stories from Vietnam, a country where – with international adoption suspended – family preservation efforts have become a major focus, and livestock a major source of support. All three of these children are supported by Holt’s sponsorship program as well:

 A few little chicks can make a big impact…

When Cara’s* mother died in November of 2009, she and her three siblings went to live with her grandmother and aunt. For income, the family harvested rice and raised a few chickens. This barely provided enough to meet their basic needs, however, let alone pay the fees for the children to attend school. Cara and her siblings were at risk of dropping out of school when the local district referred the family to Holt-Vietnam.

To ensure that Cara and her siblings could stay in school – and with their family – Holt provided funding to support the family’s chicken-raising efforts. Holt social workers regularly visit Cara’s family to check on their health and wellbeing, and to advise her grandmother and aunt on how to manage their small business.

Today, Cara and her family are doing well. Now 4, Cara attends kindergarten and is developmentally on track. “She walks, runs and jumps without any problem,” a Holt social worker wrote in a recent sponsorship report. “She is learning colors and counting from 1 to 100.” Continue reading “Season of Love, Gifts of Hope: Chickens and Pigs Keep Children Healthy, Families Together in Vietnam”

From Oregon to India to Vietnam

coordinated efforts to serve children and families span around the globe

In the spring issue of Holt magazine, Minalee Saks, executive director of Birth to Three, described a workshop she led last February – in India. Birth to Three is a non-profit organization in Eugene, Oregon that provides parenting education and support for families of young children. Organized by Holt, the workshop drew 19 social workers from six countries for a four-day training in Birth to Three’s “Make Parenting a Pleasure” curriculum.

At the end of the workshop, the participants returned home to put Minalee’s practices to work – making the act of parenting both more enjoyable, and more effective, for families from Ethiopia and Uganda to the Philippines and Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the two social workers that participated are making quick progress.

With the lessons still fresh in her mind, Holt social worker Nguyen Thu Ngan led a one-day training session for fellow social workers and staff in Vietnam. In turn, the Holt-Vietnam staff will soon begin training families we serve throughout the country – beginning with 50 struggling families we support in the north, near Hanoi. The children of these families are all in preschool, and all at risk of neglect or separation from their parents. Through basic support services, we are helping these families give their children a safe, stable home. And now, thanks to Minalee Saks and Birth to Three, we can help them become better parents for their children as well.

Read about Minalee’s time in India….