Chahel, Sabal and Ibha Saved Through Nutrition

DSC0709-980x653When Holt International’s Child Nutrition Program team traveled to India in spring 2015, they came back with reports of children whose lives and health had been transformed due to nutritional intervention.

Chahel* would not have survived. Born premature with a serious heart condition, he came into care shortly after birth at a rural branch site of our legacy partner outside the central India city of Pune. Transferred to Pune for better care, Chahel needed constant hemoglobin testing and regular blood transfusions. Fortunately, Holt had recently equipped the staff at his care center with a Hemocue machine and training to measure hemoglobin for iron-deficiency anemia. Chahel received the medical interventions he needed and today, he is able to stand with support and recently took his first few steps. This care center is now seeking a loving family for him.

Sabal* and Ibha* were frail and seriously underweight when they came into care. At 15 months, Sabal weighed just 18 pounds, while Ibha at nearly 2 months weighed under 5 pounds. This brother and sister were always tired and struggled to adjust to life in care at BSSK. Well fed at BSSK and fully treated for their health conditions — Ibha was living with HIV, and Sabal wore an eye patch over his infected left eye — their continued failure to thrive puzzled the caregivers and staff. When staff from Holt and our partner SPOON Foundation visited BSSK in February 2015, they helped to correct nutritional deficiencies in Ibha and Sabal. With adjustments to their diet, today they are full of joy and life and the staff feel confident they can find a loving adoptive family for them.

For children like Chahel, Sabal and Ibha, help by way of the ONP came just in time. As early nutrition is so crucial to development, meeting the nutritional needs of these vulnerable children can prevent life-threatening illnesses and even prevent permanent special needs.

*Names changed

Read more about the Holt International’s Child Nutrition Program here.

Participating in a Meal

Ajay being fed by his caregiver.

When Holt’s nutrition initiatives coordinator, Aloura DiGiallonardo, visited one of Holt’s legacy partner care centers in India, she got to know 4-year-old Ajay — and she got to see him enjoy a meal for the first time.

Ajay* is a sweet young boy whose potential and personality were long unrealized. He lives in a care center in Pune, India and has cerebral palsy in addition to other physical and mental disabilities. He is almost 4 years old, but appears small and skinny for his age — a result of malnutrition. Ajay’s days are pretty uneventful: he lies in his crib and when he is fed, also while lying down, he is barely able to choke down his food.

But one day was different. On this day, he sat up in a chair for one of the first times ever. Although he can’t speak, the expression on his face and the light in his eyes seemed to clearly shout: “Hello world, here I am!”

This day took place in spring 2015 when Holt and the SPOON Foundation did a Safe Assessment of Feeding Environments (SAFE) training at Ajay’s care center as part of Holt’s Orphan Nutrition Program (ONP). During the SAFE training, orphanage caregivers are taught about safe feeding positions and methods for children depending upon the child’s age and special need. To demonstrate proper feeding positions, the trainers shined a spotlight on Ajay.

Like many other children with cerebral palsy or other special needs who are living in orphanages, Ajay had always been fed while lying down because his caregivers simply did not know that there was another way. They didn’t have the resources or training to help him sit up. And they didn’t know how to engage with him — to find ways to communicate with this unique and beautiful individual.

Aloura DiGiallonardo, Holt’s nutrition initiatives coordinator, was there to see the joyous moment when Ajay first sat up. Once he was stabilized in a chair, trainers fed him, demonstrating for the caregivers the correct way to do so. “He’s very slow and very messy and he takes a lot of convincing [when he eats],” Aloura says. “But for the first time, he wasn’t simply just tolerating his meal. He was participating in it.”

Aloura said that being fed in an upright position helped Ajay to see the world in an entirely different and better way. She said he laughed as he was being fed, absolutely thrilled with the attention he was receiving.

After the feeding, there was also a moment that deeply moved Ajay’s caregivers. Beth Williamson, SPOON’s occupational therapist, pulled out her phone and showed how Ajay could track the screen’s changes with his eyes. The caregivers immediately started to cry — it was the first time that they realized Ajay’s abilities, and that he, just like all other children, needed interaction and love.

“They just didn’t know,” says Aloura. “And they didn’t know how to do the things to make his response possible.”

Because of the ONP training, Ajay’s nutritional needs, body and spirit are now cared for in an entirely different way.

Megan Herriott | Staff Writer

*Name changed

Overcoming Malnutrition

BSSK-Nutrition-480x720During a visit to India with the SPOON Foundation, Holt’s former director of strategic initiatives, Jennifer Goette, got to hear numerous stories about children whose lives have been saved from nutritional intervention. Below, they describe one little boy named Rajeesh*, who was an especially tough case.

Rajeesh* is a staff favorite at his school in Bangalore, India. A 4-year-old charmer with deep brown eyes that gleam with an impish twinkle, Rajeesh bounces around from one activity to the next and often offers to help his teachers in class.

Rajeesh was 2 years old when he was found abandoned and referred the care center.  Rajeesh’s initial medical examination diagnosed him as having severe anemia and moderate cognitive delays. At the time, Rajeesh was not able to speak and could not sit up without assistance. He had a protruding stomach, often a sign of protein deficiency.

This little guy was immediately given a blood transfusion for anemia and started on iron, zinc and calcium supplements.  With a balanced diet and regular monitoring of his anemia, it took more than one year in care before the staff noticed significant improvements in his energy and his iron tests reached normal levels. A few months before his third birthday, Rajeesh was transferred to Bangalore, where he now lives with a loving foster family and has access to speech therapy twice a week.  Although Rajeesh continues to struggle with concentration and has some difficulty speaking, signs of the irreversible damage caused by early malnutrition, he has shown vast improvements in his energy level and overall health.

I [Jennifer] meet Rajeesh when he comes to the care center for informal school. He is quite the character, teasing the other children while bouncing around from one activity to the next. His deep brown eyes have an impish twinkle.  He knows how to charm the caregivers — you can tell he is a staff favorite. As the mid-morning snack is passed around, he is quite the helper, passing out orange wedges and collecting plates when snack time is finished. As the other children wash their hands and return to classes downstairs, Rajeesh is the last child remaining. We giggle as we watch him take a cup out of the cupboard, help himself to a drink of water, and then place the unwashed cup back in the cupboard. He flashes a big smile and skips off. One of the cooks shakes her head and smiles as she retrieves the cup and washes it. What a cheeky kid!

At the time, Rajeesh was matched with an adoptive family and has since come home to his family in the United States. He is one of the lucky ones — a child who has survived and thrived in spite of the difficult circumstances of his early life. While we may not be able to counter all of the ill effects of malnutrition in children coming into care, we want to do whatever we can to give children the best start in life. Rajeesh, and other children coming into care, deserve the very best treatment we can offer.

Jennifer Goette | Holt’s former director of strategic initiatives

*Names changed

Supported Feeding

image4While doing a SAFE feeding training in China, Holt and the SPOON Foundation helped orphanage staff practice feeding techniques on a little girl named Ru*.

Ru has cerebral palsy and is about 9 years old. Trainers and caregivers huddled around her as she let them practice safe feeding methods on her. To keep her body supported in a safe feeding position, participants stuffed pillows and towels around her body and head, during which she remained incredibly tolerant — and even liked it!

“What I like best about the feeding portion of this training,” says Aloura, “is how it gives caregivers the technical expertise to engage and interact with these children who are otherwise difficult to engage with if you haven’t had prior training or experience.”

Aloura laughs as she describes how Ru’s face completely changed as soon as she was raised up to a sitting position. “Her face was so funny! You could tell that there was a sage little soul in there,” Aloura says. “She just had a little smile and was happily looking around — it was so sweet. She was just so happy the whole time because of the attention she was getting.”

During this training, Ru acted as a model to help her caregivers practice SAFE feeding. But she was also there as a representative of all of the other children in her care center who will now grow healthy and strong as they are fed properly with the nutrients they need to thrive.

*Name changed

Daycare Gives Saleem the Nutrition He Needs


When Holt International’s Child Nutrition Program did a training at Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT), one of Holt’s longest-standing partner agencies in India, *Saleem’s life and health were dramatically changed for the better.

Saleem was 2-and-a-half years old in 2014 when he first came through the doors of Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT), one of Holt’s legacy partners in Bangalore, India that focuses on family strengthening. Saleem has special needs due to seizures that he experienced shortly after birth. The asphyxia during the seizures caused him to be visually impaired and to have cerebral palsey. Saleem belongs to a middle-class family and is his parents’ firstborn child. His father works for a software firm and his mother as a consultant at a slimming center. They were devastated and sad when they learned that their child had these challenges and did everything that they possibly could to help him. They spent hundreds of thousands of rupees and visited and consulted with many doctors with the hope that Saleem would be alright. But this was all in vain. The young couple wondered how they would juggle looking after Saleem with managing their careers. That’s when they found out about VCT’s daycare program. They were more than happy and relieved to find a daycare for their little boy.

When he was first admitted, Saleem was very cranky and did not like being carried. He cringed and cried when anyone stroked his face and his body was stiff and he would not open his mouth during feeding. But during this time, the staff at VCT received training on nutrition and feeding practices from Holt and the SPOON Foundation. Beth, SPOON’s occupational therapist, instantly fell in love with Saleem and wanted to do all she could to help him. She instructed the caregivers about sitting Saleem up in a highchair and helping him get used to being fed in a sitting position. Beth also demonstrated and taught the caregivers how to massage his face and the insides of his mouth in preparation for feeding.

When Saleem was first strapped in and made to sit on a chair, he definitely didn’t like it and he cried when they tried to massage his face and mouth — gritting his teeth and refusing to open his mouth. But this was all because sitting up and being fed differently was an entirely new process for him and it would take some getting used to. It took some time for Saleem, but eventually he began to cooperate.

Throughout the process of working with Saleem and his family, we learned that at home his mother would add a lot of sugar to his food so he would eat. We had to educate the mother that it was a bad idea to add sugar as it would lead to a lot of other problems. In the beginning, he would gag all the food out as he did not like the bland food. But as the days passed, he got accustomed to the food that was less sugary and more nutritious.

It has been over a year since Saleem first came to VCT and started a life of better nutrition and feeding — and there have been tremendous changes in him! Now he loves sitting in his chair, opens his mouth when he is fed, doesn’t gag and eats well. He loves it when people comfort him and stroke his face. He is able to recognize voices and responds when spoken to with a smile or gurgle of glee. He receives occupational and physical therapy to help relax his muscles and make him more flexible and special educators are teaching him to be more aware of his surroundings and recognize different sounds. He loves music and enjoys listening to songs and rhymes. He is also very attached to his caregiver and enjoys being with her. Saleem is thriving physically and emotionally as he receives the care he needs to be healthy.

Joyce Ranjan | VCT’s Educational Coordinator

Want to help other children around the world like Saleem? Give to Holt International’s Child Nutrition Program.

* Name changed

Preventing Family Migration and Child Trafficking in Cambodia

In Cambodia, poverty often forces parents to migrate for work — sometimes hundreds of miles away — which puts children at greater risk of malnutrition, trafficking and exploitation. But, by supporting microloans and women’s self-help groups, Holt sponsors and donors are helping families learn sustainable agriculture skills so they can independently provide for their children, without having to travel.

Cambodia garment factories
Trucks waiting to transport workers home from a garment shop in southwest Cambodia. Employees pay a monthly fee for this transportation.

At 4:30 p.m., the garment factories in southwest Cambodia are letting out for the day. Beyond the fences and gates that surround each giant, metal warehouse, a row of industrial flat-bed trucks wait, some already filling with women in bright pants and T-shirts. The two-lane road leading from the nation’s capital city, Phnom Penh, to the small fishing town of Kampot is stacked with these trucks — some with 20 or 30 passengers who sit in the back, shoulder to shoulder, their legs stretched straight. Some have more than 100 passengers, mostly women, who are packed so tightly they must stand with their stomach and back pressed into the women around them. The air is dusty as they drive, and many cover their faces with medical masks or scarves.

Cambodia garment factory women
During rush hour, the two-lane road connecting rural Kampot to Phnom Penh is packed with hundreds of trucks like this one transporting garment factory workers home. Some are even larger and transport more workers.

“When a truck wrecks, many women die,” Kosal Cheam, Holt’s director of programs in Cambodia, says grimly, shaking her head.

In Cambodia, poverty is so widespread that thousands of families are forced to migrate from rural areas to large cities like Phnom Penh or even bordering countries like Thailand to find work — often low-paying jobs in crowded garment factories. Agriculture, mainly rice production, is the dominant economic driver in the region and many families survive on what they grow. But drought is a common occurrence. And when nothing grows, many families are out of work. Continue reading “Preventing Family Migration and Child Trafficking in Cambodia”

Top 15 Stories of 2015

The year 2015 was an excellent year in stories on the Holt blog — so much so that we expanded our Top 10 list to a Top 15 of the year!

In 2015, Holt’s creative lead, Billie Loewen, and I traveled to India, where we witnessed the incredible impact of Holt’s child nutrition program, gained new understanding on how Holt’s local partners are helping some of their country’s most vulnerable children and families, and met profoundly inspiring young women who refuse to accept the gender inequities that are far too common in their native India. In 2015, China announced major changes to their one-child policy — inspiring an essay by Chinese adoptee Lillian Schmaltz — and significantly expanded options for single applicants such as Vicky Baker, whose story of opening her heart and home to a son was among the most viewed of the year. Perhaps what’s most exciting this year is that a number of submissions from adoptees topped the list. In fact, the top four most viewed blog posts of 2015 came from Holt adoptees! 

Without further ado, we are so excited to share Holt’s Top 15 Most Viewed Blogs of 2015, including five adoptee stories, five adoptive family stories and five stories about efforts to strengthen families and uplift orphaned and vulnerable children in our programs around the world. — Robin Munro, Managing Editor Continue reading “Top 15 Stories of 2015”

How Nutrition Changes Lives

Holt International’s Child Nutrition Program has seen amazing success since it began 3 years ago in India, China and Vietnam. But even more amazing are the stories of individual children whose lives and health have dramatically changed with better nutrition and feeding methods. 

Ajay* is a sweet young boy whose potential and personality were long unrealized. He lives in a care center in Pune, India and has cerebral palsy in addition to other physical and mental disabilities. He is almost 4 years old, but appears small and skinny for his age — a result of malnutrition. Ajay’s days are pretty uneventful: he lies in his crib and when he is fed, also while lying down, he is barely able to choke down his food.

Ayush with his care giver-2
Ajay, being fed by his caregiver.

But one day was different. On this day, he sat up in a chair for one of the first times ever. Although he can’t speak, the expression on his face and the light in his eyes seemed to clearly shout: “Hello world, here I am!”

Continue reading “How Nutrition Changes Lives”

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”