2021 Annual Report: Helping Children & Families in Pandemic-Year Two

How Holt donors created stability for children and families in 2021 — a time of global crisis due to COVID-19.

“I want to share with you that we are going through a kind of an apocalypse environment which the world has never seen…”

This is how Jim De, director of Holt’s partner organization in Delhi, described India during their second deadly wave of COVID-19 in April 2021.

There weren’t enough hospital beds, ventilators or oxygen for the sick. Schools and workplaces shut down once again. Children and families locked down in their homes, wondering where their next meal would come from.

Half a world away, Holt donors in the U.S. wondered how they could possibly help with a crisis of this magnitude. In faith, they gave what they could — and within days raised over $147,000. Right away, our partner organizations in Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru used these funds to deliver emergency food and medicine.

“Without the support of Holt, we would never have been able to bring resources together,” says Jim. Within a few months, they helped an estimated 10,000 people. And this was just in Delhi.

Emergency COVID Response

In 2021, Holt donors, staff and partners responded to help children and families affected by second and third waves of COVID-19 across the globe.

A woman in Mongolia receives a bag of food and medicine from a Holt social worker.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” a mom in Mongolia said through tears when she received an emergency food and medicine delivery while quarantined at home.

One mother in Mongolia whose entire family was sick with COVID broke down in tears when a social worker handed her a bag full of medicine and food. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she repeated over and over.

In Haiti last summer, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake followed by a massive tropical storm devastated communities — and threatened to increase the spread of COVID among this already-vulnerable population. In addition to providing clean water and hot food to children and families, Holt Haiti delivered hygiene and COVID-19 prevention kits full of masks, soap and sanitizer to help curb the spread of the virus.

A mom and two young children in Haiti pose with their kit of emergency food and supplies.
A family in Haiti receives an emergency food and hygiene kit following an earthquake and tropical storm in summer 2021.

COVID affected every area of Holt’s work — from adoption to orphanage care to efforts to strengthen families. In this second year of the pandemic, the difficulties children and families faced also became larger and more complex. But Holt’s programs evolved to meet these new and increasing needs, in the end bringing lifesaving, life-changing help to over one million individuals.

“I think where we’ve been able to really shine over the course of the past two years is to insert some stability within the orphanages and the family units.”

Sarah Halfman, senior executive of international programs

“I think where we’ve been able to really shine over the course of the past two years,” says Sarah Halfman, Holt senior executive of international programs, “is to insert some stability within the orphanages and the family units.”

Caregivers & Supplies for Orphanages

Orphanages remained at varying degrees of lockdown this past year, with strict protocols in place to keep children safe. But Holt donors helped maintain a high standard of care for the 3,529 children in Holt-supported orphanages, foster families or group homes.

“One of the things that we do is increase the caregiver-to-child ratio so that there is more one-on-one and individualized care and support,” says Sarah. “We try to increase the number of children who are being cared for in foster families and decrease the number of children who are institutionalized, because developmentally it makes a big difference.”

“We try to increase the number of children who are being cared for in foster families and decrease the number of children who are institutionalized, because developmentally it makes a big difference.”

For children waiting to be adopted, travel delays and more complicated processes meant a longer time waiting in orphanages — and more strain placed on orphanage facilities. Thankfully, Holt donors helped address this as well, providing the critical funds needed to buy food, diapers and other basic care items that became more expensive due to inflation.

While orphanages experienced the effects of lockdowns and inflation, these same factors took a toll on family units across the world.

Microgrants Stabilize Families

When the pandemic hit Cambodia, Mou and her husband couldn’t return to work and didn’t know how they would support their four children. Things got so bad, they considered placing them in an orphanage.

A mom and her two children pose with supplies to start their small business.
With help from a Holt microgrant, Mou began selling cakes and noodles in the local market. With this income, she was able to keep her family together.

But through a donor-funded microgrant, Holt’s Cambodia staff was able to help Mou start a small business she could sustain during COVID — selling cakes and noodles in the local market. With this new and reliable income, their family stayed together.

This same story played out time and time again — through families in Vietnam who raised livestock, Thai families who planted vegetables to eat and sell, and mothers in India who received sewing machines to work as tailors. Whatever form it came in, this help empowered parents to feed and care for their children — ultimately keeping children out of orphanages and in the loving care of their families.

International Adoption in a COVID-World

One of the biggest and most dramatic instabilities Holt faced in 2021 was in the world of international adoption.

International adoption in 2021 was still “exponentially more challenging” than normal, says Sarah. But while the China adoption process remained paused due to travel restrictions, Holt’s 10 other regional programs made pathways for adoptions to move forward.

In Vietnam, our staff coordinated with the Vietnamese and U.S. governments and two other adoption agencies to ensure that all U.S. families arrived, quarantined and departed together in cohorts. While it was a great challenge for all involved, seeing children and families come together against so many odds made it all worth it. This outcome fueled each of Holt’s adoption programs this year, including in Korea.

A Korean adoptive family
The Lee family was overjoyed to finally unite with their son, Elliott, after their adoption process was delayed by COVID.

Hannah and Paulo Lee’s adoption journey included months of delayed travel, one expedited visa, two weeks of quarantine and eight weeks in country before finally getting to travel home with their son. “It was surreal that we were here, and he was in my arms,” Hannah says about finally meeting Elliott in Korea. “The rest of the process went smoothly … Elliott has adjusted so well.”

In 2021, Holt helped to joyfully unite 143 children with their adoptive families in the U.S.

Responding to Unexpected Pandemic Outcomes

For many children and families in Holt programs, the stresses of the pandemic exacerbated issues they already faced. One issue was a significantly higher rate of domestic violence. As families struggled to feed their children and pay rent, family members were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol — and more likely to commit acts of violence. As a result, Holt’s violence prevention and support programs for women and children became more important than ever.

In Mongolia, the number of cases reported to the National Center for Domestic Violence rose by 39 percent. One of the women represented by this number is Bolormaa, who arrived at a Holt-supported domestic violence shelter in Mongolia along with her three young children.

At the shelter, Bolormaa and her children received food, clothing and a warm, safe bed — all provided with support from Holt sponsors and donors. In 2021, mothers and their children across Holt’s programs received similar help, and the chance to start again in safety.

The True Champions

Around the world in 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the needs of children and families. While the task at times felt insurmountable, the generous and tireless response of Holt donors, staff and partners made all the difference.

“They were the true champions last year,” says Sarah. “Their dedication, hard work and personal sacrifice allowed our programs to adjust to each new circumstance that arose.”

Children grew healthier and stronger as they continued school in class or at home, graduated, overcame malnutrition, received health care, found safety, and experienced the love and care of their permanent families.

106,636 children and other individuals received COVID-specific support in 2021

It is with strength and resolve that we continue into 2022, striving for a better world for children, no matter the obstacles. “We can be an incredibly agile organization,” says Sarah. “And we have seen clearly over the course of the last two years that continuing in this manner will be critical to providing high quality care and support services to children and families in need.”

boy standing in front of his family

Help a Child in Greatest Need

Give emergency help to a child who is hungry, sick or living in dangerous conditions. Your gift will provide the critical food, medical care, safety and more they need when they need it the most.

Stories Up Next

All Stories