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A Story From My Recent Trip to Mongolia

Thoa Bui, Holt vice president of programs and services, shares a message with Holt sponsors about her recent trip to visit Holt-sponsored children and families in Mongolia.

You’re not used to hearing from me, but I am so pleased to have this opportunity to write to you — and thank you for your caring support of the children in our programs around the world!

I have worked at Holt International for over 20 years. The first seven of those years, I worked with the Holt Vietnam team in my native Vietnam, where I worked directly with children and families. I moved to the U.S. with my family in 2008. And today, I have the privilege of serving as Holt’s vice president for all of our international programs and services.

Through the years, I have traveled to many of the countries where you help care for vulnerable children as a monthly sponsor. I have held the hands of children who lost or were separated from their families, listened to struggling families as they shared the hardships they face, and have seen some of the worst poverty you can imagine.

Children in child sponsorship in Mongolia live in this ger.
The family lives in a traditional “ger” dwelling near the city garbage dump in Ulaanbaatar.

Recently, I had the chance to travel to Mongolia for the first time. I have never seen anything like what I saw in the communities we serve there. There’s one family in particular who I would like to share with you about. They live on the edge of the city garbage dump in Ulaanbaatar

I have not seen a family like this in any other country programs. There are 15 different members in the household, including 11 children, ages 4 to 17, and four adults. The grandmother cares for the children while their parents work at the dump, sorting through the garbage for items they can use or sell.

A bag of meat that a family of 15, including sponsored children, eat in Mongolia.
The bag of meat that a family of 15 shares for a week. This is all they have to eat.

When I visited this family, the grandmother showed the bag of food that she recently bought for her large family to eat over the coming week. It was just a bag of meat. Vegetables are very hard to grow in Mongolia and are expensive even for middle-class families. Imagine what it’s like for a family living in poverty — they can hardly afford them. 

I was happy to see that we would enroll some of the children in our sponsorship program. Because of sponsors like you, the children in this family will be able to attend the Red Stone School, which Holt donors helped renovate and support for children living near the garbage dump. Social workers will provide counseling, and the family will receive basic necessities such as warm clothing and nourishing food — including vegetables.

This family has a lot of challenges. But what I see is a family that is very committed to the children. Love is there, care is there. They just need some support to raise these children.

This program in Mongolia is a true example of Holt’s mission – providing support for children and families so they can stay together. I could tell that if this family of 15 didn’t receive support from sponsors, many of these children could end up in orphanages

Several sponsored children live with this family of 15 in Mongolia.

Holt has developed similar family strengthening programs in Cambodia, a country where I directly oversaw program development for many years. We worked with parents who can’t read, can’t write, have no access to funding or education — and it creates barriers to their future. But within one generation of providing educational support to the children, we have seen a huge change with the children’s generation compared to the parents. The kids can read and write and have opportunities that their parents did not have.

The need in Mongolia is really vast. But through sponsorship, the change we see in the children is also vast. That’s where the hope is, and the future is. 

Holt vice president Thoa Bui with sponsored children in Mongolia.
Holt vice president Thoa Bui (center) with some of the children she visited in Mongolia.

As a sponsor, you really are giving a child a more hopeful future. I have seen this change with my own eyes. It’s beautiful. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.

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