a single mother with her two sons

In many countries, single mothers face the stigma of unwed motherhood. But at Holt, we believe every mother should have the help and support she needs to raise her child. Read five ways Holt empowers single mothers here.

Around the world, single-parent families are among the families at greatest risk of separation. When one parent leaves the family, the remaining parent is left to support the children on a single income. The single parent — most commonly, the mother — may struggle to find or pay for safe childcare while she works during the day. If she can’t afford enough food or medicine or school supplies, worries about her children’s safety while she’s away from home, and feels like she can’t do it alone, a single mother may feel compelled to place her children in an orphanage. 

In many of the countries where Holt works, single mothers also face an additional — and powerful — source of pressure and stress: the stigma of unwed motherhood. 

mother walking her young son holding hands
In South Korea, the stigma of unwed motherhood is one of the leading reasons women relinquish their children for adoption.

No matter where in the world she lives, a single mother faces greater pressure and stress than a two-parent family. But in many of the countries where Holt works, single mothers also face an additional — and powerful — source of pressure and stress: the stigma of unwed motherhood. 

For single women facing pregnancy and parenthood alone, this stigma is often so oppressive that they choose to relinquish their children for adoption rather than face a lifetime of discrimination — toward both themselves and their children.

In South Korea, the stigma of unwed motherhood is one of the leading reasons women relinquish their children for adoption.

But at Holt, we believe every child should have the opportunity to grow up in the loving care of their birth family. And every mother should have the help and support she needs to raise her child. Across Holt programs, we work to strengthen and empower single mothers so they can independently parent and provide for their children. 

Read about five of the ways Holt sponsors and donors support and empower single mothers around the world:

two single mothers in Haiti at job skills training
In Haiti, jobs that pay the best tend to be considered “men’s jobs.” But with the support of Holt donors, one hard-working group of single moms is proving that they can do any job just as well as a man — especially for the sake of their children.

Job Skills Training

So often, what a single mother needs most is a stable income so she can pay for food, rent and clothing, cover the costs for her children to attend school and take them to the doctor when they’re sick. But for women living in the impoverished communities where Holt works, finding a stable job with a sufficient income can be the biggest challenge they face. Through Holt’s economic empowerment programs, women can attend job skills training programs and learn skilled trades that earn a higher income. They may receive a microgrant and training to start a small business. Holt donors may give them the gift of livestock, such as cows, chickens or goats, so they can nourish their family and sell the surplus milk and eggs. With the support of Holt sponsors and donors, single mothers are equipped with the tools and resources they need to become financially stable and independent, and meet their children’s needs!

Financial Literacy

Across Holt programs, sponsors and donors empower women to earn the income they need to support their children. But Holt’s economic empowerment programs do not end there! In many countries, Holt social workers also lead financial literacy trainings to teach parents how to save their money and sustain a stable household income. In the rural villages of Uganda, for example, Holt leads savings groups that teach parents, particularly mothers, how to earn money and save together. With a small initial investment from Holt donors, these women pool their money together and are then able to take out loans from the group to grow their business or address an urgent need such as a home repair. As they pay the money back, they replenish the group fund so other women can borrow as needed. 

Members of a financial savings group in Uganda, pictured dancing with their children.

Counseling to Cope With Stigma

In many of the communities where Holt works, single mothers face stigma, discrimination and isolation when their children are born outside of marriage. In Korea, the stigma is so culturally entrenched that single women may be shunned by their families and communities. A woman may struggle to find employment, and may not even be able to marry. If she chooses to openly parent her child as a single mother in Korean society, the greatest fear these mothers face is that their child will also face a lifetime of shame and discrimination. 

Holt sponsors and donors help to

empower women and show them

that they do have a choice.

Through our partner agency in Korea, Holt sponsors and donors help to empower women and show them that they do have a choice. Holt Korea operates several shelters for mothers and their children where they can receive free housing, nutritious food, comprehensive health care, counseling and educational support in a safe and positive environment. While in care, they also receive therapy to help them cope with the stigma of single motherhood. The overall mission of the shelters is to help each mother gain the skills she needs to successfully parent, provide for her child and care for herself. Today, a majority of the women who stay at the shelter ultimately choose to parent their child.

The same is true in Thailand, where every year Holt sponsors and donors help support over 250 women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. Many women first reach out to our local partner, HSF, through a 24/7 support hotline. HSF social workers will meet with her, connect her with safe housing and provide counseling to help her cope with discrimination. About 80 percent of the women who receive HSF’s support ultimately decide to parent, and many continue to receive ongoing support as they work to independently provide for their children.

Safe Shelter

Like so many women and children living in poverty in Mongolia, Gerel and Erhi stayed in an abusive situation because they had nowhere else to go. But with help from Holt Mongolia, Gerel and her daughter now have a new, safe home, far from their abuser.

For single women facing unplanning pregnancy, safe shelter is often an immediate concern — especially if they live in a community where they face stigma and discrimination. In many countries, Holt social workers connect women with safe housing or work with local partners to directly provide shelter to single mothers and their children. But unplanned pregnancy and the stigma of single motherhood are not the only reasons mothers and their children need safe shelter. In many cases, they need to escape an abusive partner.

Mongolia has among the highest rates of domestic violence in Asia, with 47% of children and 1 in 3 women having experienced violence in the home. To address this crisis, Holt sponsors and donors directly support three domestic violence shelters for women and children in Ulaanbaatar. When they arrive, each woman receives housing and support to rebuild her life, giving her shelter until she can find a way to safely live on her own. Women and children receive mental health counseling and support as they recover from trauma. Through the National Center Against Violence, women also receive legal representation to help sever ties with their abuser and gain custody of their children. The women are empowered with information and training in the legal protections afforded to them under Mongolian law. Every year, Holt donors help provide care and services for between 200-300 women and children at the shelters. 

Free Childcare

For a single mother earning poverty

wages, lack of safe and affordable

childcare can be devastating.

For many low- and middle-income families, childcare is often one of the biggest (if not the biggest) expense they face — and a leading reason why one parent, often the mother, chooses not to work. But for a single mother earning poverty wages, lack of safe and affordable childcare can be devastating. In the countries where Holt works, it’s not uncommon for single mothers to be shunned by their family due to the stigma of unwed motherhood. Without family support, she may have nowhere to leave her children while she works during the day. She may bring them to work — exposing them to dangerous work environments such as construction sites. Or if she leaves them at home unsupervised or in the unreliable care of neighbors, her children will be at risk of trafficking and other dangers. A single mother without safe and affordable childcare can feel powerless, and like she has no choice but to place her child in orphanage care.

a single mother in Colombia with her two sons
When she was growing up, Sandra’s parents were drug addicts and she got into drugs in her early teens, too. At 20, she got clean. He two young boys attend the Holt sponsor-supported daycare program in Bogotá while she works to graduate high school.

In many countries, Holt sponsors and donors help ease the burden on struggling single mothers and two-parent families by providing free or low-cost childcare. Through Holt’s early childhood care and development programs, children living in impoverished communities attend preschools and daycare centers where they develop social and cognitive skills, eat nutritious meals, receive therapy and support for special needs, and learn the importance of education at a young age. These programs also provide a safe environment for parents to bring their young children while they work to provide for their families. When both parents in a household can work — and their childcare is free or low-cost — the impact on the family’s capacity to provide for their children is tremendous. But for a single mother, having safe, affordable childcare can mean the difference between choosing to parent and choosing to place her child in an orphanage. 

Haitian woman holding drill on ladder

Give Job Skills Training

Job skills training is one of the most effective tools you can give a parent struggling to support their children. Parents in Holt’s programs around the world have chosen courses in tailoring, construction, computer programming and more. Within months, they can make a reliable income to independently support their children, overcoming poverty for good!

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