Because They Are Brave

For generations, women and girls in Cambodia were taught not to speak their minds or stand up for their rights. But step by step, and with the support of sponsors and donors, they are learning to stand up, speak up and go after their dreams.

Sela sits in the Holt Cambodia office in Phnom Penh.
Sela sits in the Holt Cambodia office in Phnom Penh.

Sela’s voice quivers a bit as she speaks. She is slight and girlish, in jeans and a V-neck shirt, her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and long bangs swept across her forehead. A large, black, practical watch overwhelms her slender wrist. Continue reading “Because They Are Brave”

To the Warm-Hearted People

After her father died, Hyeon Ji relied on Holt child sponsors to help her finish school. Now, she has a message — and an update — to share with them. 

In early 2012, at 13 years old, Hyeon Ji began receiving support from sponsors to help her stay in school.

After Hyeon Ji’s parents  divorced, her mom left — and never tried to reconnect  with her.

But her dad was loving and kind and devoted to his daughter. He struggled to find work, but when he had the money he would take his daughter out for sushi dinners. When Hyeon Ji was in her early teens, he began working nights as a taxi driver — leaving Hyeon Ji home alone. She always felt safe, though — knowing he would eventually come home.   

When her father got sick, Hyeon Ji took care of him as best she could. For a while, he got better. Then, he got worse. When he passed away, Hyeon Ji was just 15. Continue reading “To the Warm-Hearted People”

Watching Her Grow Up

Linda and Jim Vail have sponsored You Jun since she was 9 years old. Now 18, You Jun wants to say thank you for supporting her all these years.

When Linda and Jim Vail first “met” their sponsored child — when they received her photo in the mail and first read about her life — she was 9, and in crisis.

You Jun’s mother hadn’t been in her life for years, her father struggled with substance abuse and died the year before, and not long after, her uncle passed away too. She and her grandmother were the only ones left.

“The little girl and her granny depend on each other,” her social worker wrote in a sponsor report from 2009. “They lead a hard life.”

You Jun and her grandmother live on less than one acre of land near the Chinese border with Burma. They grow rice to feed themselves — selling any surplus to pay for necessities. But it has never been enough to afford school for You Jun. Continue reading “Watching Her Grow Up”

The Gift of Hope

When Tieu endures a horrific accident at work and loses her source of income, she fears her daughters will be forced to drop out of school because she can’t afford their fees. But when she receives an unexpected gift, in an unusual size and shape, she begins to feel hopeful again.

Tieu lightly rests her left hand on her right arm. Her skin is painful to look at. Marbled and pocked, shiny and red and raised about an inch above her healthy skin, a severe burn runs the length of her arm, serving as a daily reminder of the gasoline fire that nearly took her life. Tieu is 40 but looks much younger, with shiny black hair parted down the side. She has five daughters — the youngest of which sits beside her now, giggling and bouncing with excitement to have visitors in her home. Another of Tieu’s daughters sits on the other side of her giggly sister, watching her mom with worry as she talks about her burn.

“This daughter,” Tieu says, looking solemnly at her older daughter, “wants to become a doctor so she can treat my hand.” Continue reading “The Gift of Hope”

The Story of My Life

Through the Independent Living and Educational Assistance Program in the Philippines, young adults aging out of institutional care gain the skills to live successfully on their own. Marlon Cruz was once an ILEA scholar. This is the story of his life, as told by Marlon. 

I was 5 years old when I got lost in the market of Marikina City and never found my parents again. That was the start of my struggles in life. I did not know where I would stay and how I would eat. I came to the point that I was sleeping anywhere I could. To survive, I started to carry baskets and bags of goods for people in the marketplace so I could get money for food. When authorities learned that I had no parents, they put me in an orphanage and they started to look for my parents.

But nobody was found and nobody came back to claim me.

The barangay authorities sent me to Boys Town Complex in Markina City, an institution for children without parents. I was admitted in Mahay, a section in the institution where children like me are housed. I had mixed feelings, happy but sad. Happy because there were people who would care for me and there was food, so I did not have to wonder how I would find food to eat. Happy that I would not experience again what I had been through, I experienced playing again. I focused my attention on playing to avoid thinking of my lost parents and continuing to wonder why I no longer have parents. Continue reading “The Story of My Life”

A Life She Chose

Most girls growing up in poverty in India have one of two choices: marry young or work as a domestic helper while their brothers go to school. But Ashwini believed in herself, and so did her sponsor.

Seventeen-year-old Ashwini could be married right now. She could have a baby and stay at home cooking and cleaning all day for a husband she didn’t choose and doesn’t particularly like.

Or, Ashwini could be working full time as a “domestic helper” — as a maid in the home of a family that has no problem employing an underage girl who should be in school.

If Ashwini had a brother, she might have had to watch him go to school every day while she stayed home and helped with housework.

For thousands of girls growing up in poverty in India, these are their choices.

But Ashwini chose a different path. Continue reading “A Life She Chose”

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 4 or 5. 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.

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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…”

A Mother’s Resolve

Taking full advantage of every opportunity offered by Holt’s legacy partner in Pune, India, one hard-working mother pursues a better life for herself and her children.

Ms. Mangel Mhaske knew she had to do something. She had three children in elementary school and no way would she allow for any one of them to drop out. Although her husband earned some money taking cooking orders and driving a rickshaw, he was a regular drinker — and irregular at work. And besides, the income he earned was never enough to ensure they could pay their children’s school fees. It was hard enough just to keep them fed.

So Ms. Mhaske got resourceful. She knew how to sew, and she could afford to invest a few rupees in some new quilting fabric. For stuffing, she collected used clothing from friends and neighbors, and she began to hand-stitch quilts to sell for a small profit. This small business earned the family a little extra income.

But still, it was never enough.

_DSC0607 Continue reading “A Mother’s Resolve”