The Secret of Their Lives

A little girl at the HIV group home looks out the front door to a sunny courtyard.

Most of the children here don’t know they are HIV+. It’s too risky.

Their teachers don’t know. Their neighbors definitely don’t know because if they did, they would have to move again. They’ve moved eight times in ten years, all 28 children. If their teachers knew, they would be isolated and discriminated against or even kicked out of their pricey private school — a school they attend because they don’t have to inform the principal of their disease.

Most of these children don’t even know about the disease in their blood, the disease that killed many of their parents, robbed them of their life in their villages and that was likely passed to them at birth.

They just know that they have strict rules to follow.

Absolutely no fighting. No rough housing. If they get a cut or a scratch, they have their own first aid kit. And they have Mr. Huang.

“The kids are happy now,” Mr. Huang says, his face worn and tired, his spiky, graying hair hinting at his age.

When children pass through the living room of the apartment, they stop to grab his hands or talk to him and his eyes soften as he greets them lovingly.

“They are too young,” Mr. Huang says. “They don’t understand their fate. But as they get older, they will learn. The discrimination will start. They will always have to keep their secret.”

Continue reading “The Secret of Their Lives”

Uniting Families and Building Opportunity in India’s Slums

Through family reunification and sponsorship, children living in orphanages or in the slums of New Delhi receive the love, support and resources they need to thrive.

 

Paavai’s parents died when she was 2 years old, and for the past 10 years she and her two brothers have lived with their elderly grandmother. Her grandmother has a tea stall, which is their only source of income, and she worries what will happen to her grandchildren when she passes away someday.

Eleven-year-old Vaishali lives in an orphanage. Her mother passed away and her father is incarcerated. Vaishali would live with her grandparents, but between her grandfather’s leg injury that left him unable to work and her grandmother’s meager salary, they don’t make enough to support her.

Ever since Aadita’s father passed away from tuberculosis, her mother has had to work two jobs — one at her tea stall and the other as a door-to-door housemaid — in order to support Aadita and her four other children. Aadita’s mother cares deeply for her daughter and hopes she will not have to be a housemaid someday, too.

These three girls all live in New Delhi. And for one reason or another, they are vulnerable — vulnerable to growing up without a stable family, vulnerable to dropping out of school and vulnerable to extended poverty.

Continue reading “Uniting Families and Building Opportunity in India’s Slums”

China’s Advocacy Gap

It’s very hard to advocate for children you can’t see. That’s why Holt’s registration status in China is so critical.

Jian holding a little girl at Holt’s medical foster home in Beijing, Peace House.

Jian stands leaning on a crib in a dimly lit room with high windows, while a half-moon of neatly dressed men and women hang on her every word.

All around her, more cribs, each filled by a small child bundled in heavy winter clothes and tucked beneath layers of comforters and knit blankets. Children coo quietly and stare around wide-eyed at the uncommon commotion in their room.

Jian’s voice is low but firm, and even without understanding Chinese, her tone communicates that she is delivering a serious message.

The three leaders of this orphanage — a home to more than 200 children at any given time — listen intently, wide-eyed, too, nodding along.

“I’m asking them why they haven’t sent this little girl’s file to Beijing,” Jian says, motioning to a toddler with Down syndrome dressed in a thick coat, contently snuggled against a caregiver in worn out lavender-colored scrubs.

Jian Chen lives and works in the U.S. as Holt’s vice president of China programs. But she was born in China, spent half her life in China, and has developed a solid reputation through the years working with the Chinese government and social welfare community to advocate for the rights of orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children. When Jian speaks, people listen.

The little girl Jian told orphanage staff Holt could find a family for, if only they would prepare her child file and send it to Beijing for adoption processing.

“I tell them that we can find a family for her,” she says of the toddler with Down syndrome, “but they are so surprised to hear that.” Continue reading “China’s Advocacy Gap”

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”

How The Pieces Fall Into Place

The story of a boy named Spencer and all the people who came together to help him become the active, independent, outgoing kid he always had the potential to be.

Spencer fishing

I met Spencer Morrow seven years ago at an orphanage in northeastern China. It was my first trip for Holt as the senior writer for the organization, and I had never traveled to China before.

I had never seen the inside of an orphanage.

And I had never met children growing up in institutional care, without the love and security of a family.

For many reasons, this experience is as vivid in my mind as many of the experiences I’ve had traveling for Holt in the years since. Continue reading “How The Pieces Fall Into Place”

Holt Secures Grants to Reunite Children With Families in Cambodia

In Cambodia, there are many threats to family stability, and when parents or grandparents fall into hardship, they are forced to make difficult decisions about how to ensure their child or grandchild’s basic needs are met. In desperation, many parents will take the last resort — relinquishing their child to orphanage care. But through research and community collaboration funded by Save the Children, USAID and GHR Foundation grants, Holt hopes to create a model of services that keeps children out of institutions and with their families.

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Sinat’s home in Krasaing Mean Chey Village near Kampot, Cambodia. Sinat, dressed in green, waves as Holt staff leave. Sinat’s grandson is standing in the front of the frame, wearing the Holt schoolbag his child sponsor in America helped purchase for him.

Last January, I was sitting under a tin-covered porch on a rough, wooden platform. Red-faced and sweating, I was not cutout for the heavy, exhausting heat of the Cambodian summer.

The shade of Sinat’s porch was welcome relief. Sinat’s house is a single-room structure, with green tin walls. Unlike many of the homes in rural Cambodia, her home is not built on stilts, which typically protects homes from flooding. For that reason, Sinat and her 15-year-old grandson sometimes sleep in their rice storage room, an additional structure behind the main house, elevated about four feet off the ground on thick, wooden stilts. Continue reading “Holt Secures Grants to Reunite Children With Families in Cambodia”

Changing the Face of Thalassemia

Even 10 years ago, children living in orphanage care in China with treatable conditions like thalassemia were considered so difficult to place with adoptive families, many caregivers wouldn’t try to find families for these children — nor secure the medical care they needed. Through advocacy and education efforts, international adoption is changing the face of special needs. But the fight to ensure that every child receives the love, care and family they deserve is far from over. Continue reading “Changing the Face of Thalassemia”

A City of Angels

Holt Sahathai Foundation — Holt’s trusted partner in Thailand — celebrates 40 years of commendable service to children.

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Andy Voelz was adopted from Thailand in 1986 at the age of 5 to a loving family in Paris, Illinois. In 2005, he returned to Thailand with his dad to reconnect to the culture and visit Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF), Holt’s much-respected and sole partner in Thailand since 1975, and the agency that placed Andy with his family. On his trip — a college graduation present from his parents — Andy was able to reconnect with his foster family and HSF staff.

“I remember my parents used to send donations to HSF and letters of how I was doing as I grew,” Andy says. “Meeting them was a profound experience. It was a surprise even to my dad to discover that all the same workers that had diligently worked on my case were still active in new roles at HSF.” Continue reading “A City of Angels”

The Story Behind The Photo: Celebrating Progress

At first glance, there may seem to be nothing out of the ordinary in this photo of babies resting in their cribs in an orphanage in China. But if you could step inside this room, inside this moment 20 years ago, you would notice something not quite right. You would not hear a single sound. It would be as silent as the photo you see now on your screen. 

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On her first visit to China in 1997, Holt’s senior director of adoption services, Susie Doig, holds a child awaiting adoption in orphanage care.

In December 1995, I began my career in adoption working in Holt’s newly formed China program, helping families adopt baby girls living halfway around the world. In the early 1990s, Holt and many other U.S. agencies became aware of the urgent need to find families for children in China, and quickly put the staff and infrastructure in place to start meeting this need. Orphanages in China were overflowing with infant girls — girls unable to remain in their birth families because of China’s one-child policy and the society’s longstanding need for a male child to ensure a family’s long-term wellbeing.

While I understood on an intellectual level that a great need existed, it wasn’t until 1997, when I took my first trip to China, that I came face-to-face with that need. During my stay in a rural province in China, I was able to visit some of the children waiting to be adopted. It was truly a trip of a lifetime, but one moment in particular stands out from all the others. Continue reading “The Story Behind The Photo: Celebrating Progress”

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”