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”

Anh’s Story

Anh* loves the color pink. She looks for it everywhere. In pictures. On toys. In the basket of colorful bouncy balls the children play with at her care center in northern Vietnam. So when her caregiver asks her to select a pair of shoes from the cupboard, her eyes naturally fall on the hot pink heels peeking out of the pile. Anh slips her feet into the pink sandals and practices walking along the balcony and up and down the stairs — her heels click-clacking on the hard ceramic tile.

For Anh, walking in heels is more than playing dress-up. For Anh, learning to put on shoes, walk down stairs, take off shoes and put them back in the cupboard is part of the occupational therapy she receives every Monday-Friday. With each step, she is learning a new skill.

Hanoi 2014 202
Anh in June 2014 with Holt’s in-country Vietnam director, Hang Dam.

A 6-year-old girl with short silky black hair and milky skin, Anh is the only child with special needs at her care center. Found abandoned at about 3 years old in the streets of Hanoi, she was diagnosed with autism shortly after coming into care. Anh cannot speak, but she engages the world in other ways. She does not hesitate to jump in your arms or sit in your lap, and easily takes the hand of her therapist or responds in kind to a “high five” — raising her arms and gently mirroring the gesture. Continue reading “Anh’s Story”

So Every Child Can Grow and Thrive

In one southern province of Vietnam, an alarming number of children are born with special needs — especially cerebral palsy. To help address the growing need for services, Holt is working alongside one local orphanage to provide daycare and vocational training for children with medical and developmental needs who are living with their families.

With the vocational skills she’s learning in orphanage care, Lan may one day be able to live an independent life.

Lan* rests her foot on the peddle and pauses a moment before pulling the next piece of thread through the loom. This task requires concentration and dexterity. But she has repeated these same steps enough times now to feel confident in her skills. It’s unusual that the orphanage has a few visitors on this overcast Saturday morning, and they observe her now as she carefully demonstrates how to make the colorful woven bags that they admired earlier in the glass case at the front office.

Lan learned to loom as part of a vocational training program for older children with special needs at the Binh Duong orphanage in southern Vietnam. This orphanage is also her home, and will be until she turns 18. Lan and her classmates keep all the profits from the bags they weave, which they sell to customers in the community. Weaving is a fun activity that provides Lan with a little spending money — especially during Christmas and other holidays, when local companies order in bulk. But more than that, the vocational skills Lan is learning can help her to support herself and possibly go on to live a fully independent life when she leaves the orphanage.

The vocational training program teaches the children how to weave these colorful bags, which local companies order in bulk during holidays.

The Binh Duong Child Welfare Center has provided vocational training for many years — often with support from Holt. In the late 1990s, Holt worked with Microsoft to donate computers and provide skills training to youth living in the orphanage. As a result, over 500 children went on to get jobs that required computer skills. The textile training program began about ten years ago. Programs and services like these are vital to helping young people succeed when they leave institutional care, and they are helping to address a growing need in the community. In recent years, this region has seen an alarming increase in the number of children with special needs, especially cerebral palsy. As a result, the orphanage has also seen a large influx. By 2013, a quarter of all children in care had some kind of special need.

Although the cause of this increase is unknown, the orphanage director points to one explanation during our visit.

This little girl came into care severely malnourished. With more outreach to pregnant mothers in crisis, the director believes that fewer children will be born premature, malnourished or with special needs.

Continue reading “So Every Child Can Grow and Thrive”

This Little Girl Needs Your Help

You wouldn’t know it from looking at her, but this little girl is severely malnourished.

She lives in an orphanage in southern Vietnam, where she recently came into care after recovering at a rehabilitation center in nearby Ho Chi Minh City. She is as light and soft as a feather — and eager to rest her downy head against the shoulder of anyone who will hold her.

In this picture, you can see her clinging to Holt’s vice president of marketing, who met her two weeks ago while visiting our programs in the region. She was so cuddly, he said. But although her eyes were bright and alert and responsive to nurturing touch, her health and her future remain uncertain.

She is still under intensive care at the orphanage, where caregivers are doing all they can to help her thrive. Despite their efforts, however, she is still severely malnourished and will very likely experience cognitive delays.

She is the reason why I am writing to you today — and why I have been writing to you over the past couple of weeks, asking for you to partner with us to strengthen nutrition and feeding for children we serve overseas.

Malnutrition remains a chronic problem among orphaned and abandoned children. Very often, they are born premature or underweight to young mothers who lacked the prenatal care so vital to their baby’s early development. When abandoned at birth, these babies also miss out on the essential nutrients in their mother’s milk — weakening their immune systems and setting them up for lifelong struggles.

This is why a child’s first 1,000 days are so critical.

This is also why our partnership with SPOON Foundation is so groundbreaking. SPOON’s nutrition scientist has already visited this orphanage in Vietnam for an initial assessment. Very soon, she will return to begin assessing the children one by one, and develop a plan to help combat malnutrition and ensure every child reaches his or her full potential.

I have every confidence that SPOON’s plan will work, as it already has at our partner orphanages in India — where the small changes they made to diet and feeding have already dramatically reduced both anemia, a major threat to children’s health, and malnutrition among children in care.

Right now, we are in a tremendous position to make a huge difference for thousands of children. Just at this one orphanage in Vietnam, ten children in care are severely malnourished — including the cuddly girl pictured here. And these ten are among thousands of children we serve in countries around the world — many of them at risk of or already suffering from malnutrition, which is hands-down the biggest killer of children under 5.

Together with you, we can face malnutrition as a united front — working with our partner SPOON to train orphanage staff in the most innovative feeding techniques, and providing the vital nutrition children need to grow, learn and rise out of poverty.


SNAF Stories: It’s A Wonderful Life

Feeling grateful and inspired after adopting their daughter, Zoe, from Korea in 2010, Maryann and Cap Post decided to have a celebration — inviting 150 friends and family members. Instead of gifts, they asked for donations to Holt’s Special Needs Adoption Fund.  What happened next, quite simply, blew them away.

by Robin Munro, Senior Writer

When Maryann and Charles “Cap” Post came home from Korea in October of 2010 – their newly adopted daughter Zoe in their arms – they didn’t expect fanfare. But as they pulled into the driveway of their New Jersey home around 10 p.m. that night, flashbulbs greeted their arrival.

Zoe and Maryann at Zoe’s baptism party!

“My friends were in our driveway with cameras flashing,” says Maryann. “People were so happy for us that we adopted a little girl.”

Over the previous 2-and-a-half years, these same friends had stood by their side as they navigated the demanding and – at times – trying adoption process. “They knew the whole story of what it took, a lot of paperwork,” Maryann explains. So naturally, when Miss Zoe Ann Post finally came home, they couldn’t wait to meet her.

But after the excitement of their first night home, Maryann and Cap decided not to subject Zoe to any more excitement or over-stimulation – not for a while anyway.

After nearly a year had passed – and Zoe had settled into her new life – the Posts decided it was finally time to have a celebration. “It was time to plan her baptism, so I thought, well why don’t we make this a really big party – the party that we held off on having?” says Maryann.

By now, Zoe had become something of a local celebrity. Continue reading “SNAF Stories: It’s A Wonderful Life”