When You Educate a Girl…

For most girls in the slums of Pune, India, the idea that they could become a teacher or a public officer or a computer engineer — or that they could choose when, if and who to marry — is a huge shift in thought. And it’s happening right now in the one-room community center of Holt’s legacy partner BSSK.

At a summer camp in the central India town of Pune, teens and pre-teens from a nearby slum sit cross-legged on the floor in groups of four or five. Each group receives a question written in Marathi on a little slip of paper. The question is to be read aloud and discussed.

“When do you want to marry?” is the question put to one group of girls.

One 12-year-old girl in a collared shirt and jeans says she will marry when her parents want her to and when they find a good boy for her. “When I become a teacher and financially independent,” says a reed-thin 13-year-old with tiny hoop earrings and a long braid down her back. Another girl — 14 and serious — says she doesn’t want to marry at all. Her father is very dominating, she says, and her mother has no say. This girl wants to be an administrative officer in the public service once she finishes school.

This 12-year-old girl says she will marry when her parents decide it’s the right time and they find a suitable match for her.

Continue reading “When You Educate a Girl…”

Because No Child Should Ever Feel Alone…

Abhijeet, in orange, stands outside his home in Pune, India with his mother Vimal, his grandmother and his youngest brother.

Every afternoon, 30-year-old Vimal picks up her three boys from school. Her 12-year-old son Abhijeet climbs on her back, and she carries him up, up, up …

Up three flights of steep, rickety stairs — so narrow, you have to turn sideways at places to fit. She ducks under electric wires, and is careful to avoid the sharp, cutting edges of serrated tin.

Three flights up, and the family arrives — exhausted — to their single-room house in a slum community in India.

Abhijeet, the oldest son, has always struggled to walk because of a leg deformity. He also has a learning disability, and rarely speaks. The children in his neighborhood exclude him from games and festivals. Already struggling financially, Vimal and her husband couldn’t afford his school fees — much less resources to care for the specialized therapies he would need to help his legs and communication.

Vimal and her mother climb down the stairs from their home. Vimal has to carry her 12-year-old son up and down these dangerous stairs each day.

Vimal said she doesn’t mind carrying her child up the stairs, but it breaks her heart to see him teased and harassed. Vimal’s youngest son dreams of being a doctor, but she feared that Abhijeet would never dare to dream because of his learning disability. Continue reading “Because No Child Should Ever Feel Alone…”

In Booming Bangalore, Children with Special Needs are Left Especially Vulnerable

In the progressive tech capital of India, jobs and work are plentiful — and while this is good news overall, some of the adverse side effects from rapid urbanization and an increasing migrant population make caring for orphaned and abandoned children with special needs particularly challenging. During a visit to partner program Swanthana in April, Holt Creative Lead Billie Loewen met the children and caregivers most affected by these challenges.

16-year-old Alyssa lives in a care center for children with special needs in Bangalore, India. Alyssa says she would like to be a teacher some day.
Sixteen-year-old Alyssa lives in a care center for children with special needs in Bangalore, India. Alyssa says she would like to be a teacher some day.

A pair of deep, brown eyes peer curiously around the corner of a dark hallway. Pushing herself through a doorway, a small girl with short hair and a long purple dress appears in an old, metal wheelchair. She keeps her head low, her eyes shielded behind a red headscarf. Her short hair is held back with a barrette and a bindi decorates her forehead.

Alyssa is 16 years old, and she is paralyzed from the waist down. Abandoned by her family years ago, likely due to her disability, Alyssa has lived in a home for children with profound special needs for three years. She is one of the few residents at her care center who is able to express her thoughts verbally. Her voice is quiet, but in English she will tell you about her dreams.

Alyssa wants to be a teacher, someday, and teach little children how to dream big. She wants to live independently.

Sadly, at the moment, Alyssa’s dream is just that — a dream. She doesn’t receive any life skills training because her caregivers are too busy for that kind of one-on-one attention. She never travels beyond the very limited borders of her care center. She is stuck in a world that has forgotten her, and it isn’t her fault. Continue reading “In Booming Bangalore, Children with Special Needs are Left Especially Vulnerable”

A letter to sponsors from China!

Dear Sponsors,

Today is the Chinese Lunar New Year and all of my family members are gathering together for a family reunion. On this most important holiday in China, I can’t help but think about you and the children who benefit from your sponsorship.

Because of you, in 2014, a total of 304 children from Longchuan, Yunnan province were able to stay in school — their daily nutrition guaranteed. Because of you, none of these children had to worry about the cost of school supplies, health insurance, immunizations or school uniforms. Because of your sponsorship, they didn’t have to face the risk of leaving school due to the extra cost. As part of Holt’s family strengthening program, the elementary students who attend boarding school in Yunnan were also able to go home for a family reunion on Chinese holidays and school breaks. Without your sponsorship, they could not afford the round-trip fare home. I still remember a time when I visited the school and saw one girl crying very hard because all her classmates were able to go home for the holiday to visit their parents, but she wasn’t sure if her grandmother would show up to take her home.

This Chinese New Year, she could visit her family with the help of her sponsors!China-2 Continue reading “A letter to sponsors from China!”

If the Rain Must Fall

Through the generous donations of Holt supporters in the U.S., 18 families in Cambodia receive critical roof and home repairs — protecting them from annual monsoon floods.

Hout Rung is a 34-year-old widow with six children. She lives in Cambodia, in a rural mountainous province marked by stunning landscapes and deep poverty. Every year, during monsoon season, the roof of her home leaked constantly. During floods, water would sometimes wash over their entire space — soaking all of their possessions, and leaving not a single dry spot for her children to sleep at night.

From June to October, Cambodia receives nearly 75 percent of its annual rainfall — often in sheets of heavy downpour nearly two out of every three days, with as much as 15-21 inches of rain per month. Monsoons dominate the climate during the rainy months, making even rainy places in the U.S. look relatively dry. To compare, notoriously rainy Seattle, Washington receives an average of 37 inches of rain each year, while southern regions of Cambodia — where Holt serves families — averages 51 inches.

For families like Hout Rung’s who live in the impoverished region where Holt works, the rain is a big worry. During monsoon season, flooding, erosion and heavy wind often cause tremendous damage to homes and streets. And although many homes in Cambodia are built on stilts to avoid the water, sometimes flood levels reach higher than the home’s floors. In time, the wooden stilts that support the home will grow rotten and decayed, and may eventually wash away.

Hout Rung[1]
Hout Rung is a 34-year-old widow with six children. The roof of her home leaked constantly, and during flooding, water would sometimes wash over their entire space. Now, their home is built on higher stilts and the zinc roof keeps the space dry.
Continue reading “If the Rain Must Fall”