It Takes a Village: Holt Sponsors Change Kids’ Lives in Thailand

A photo essay about the impact Holt sponsors and donors have created in the lives of children and families living in one coastal community in Thailand. 

Thick, sticky mud swallows your shoes as you approach the shoreline, where about five wooden boats dock in southern Thailand. After school, the kids of this community toss their shoes aside and let the mud squish in between their toes as they run to climb up onto their fathers’ boats. Fishing is the livelihood and lifestyle of the people here. It has been for generations.

But now, their livelihood is in danger.

Commercial ships from neighboring countries have begun to anchor in these traditional fishing waters, creating competition for fish and forcing local fishermen to travel farther for their daily catch. They wake before sunrise to go out to sea, but often return hours later with sparsely filled nets. With such an unsteady income, families struggle to pay for food, medicine and education for their children.

In this small fishing village of southern Thailand, families are rising to change their circumstances — all because of their children’s sponsors.

But in this small fishing village of southern Thailand, families are rising to change their circumstances — all because of their children’s sponsors. Seven years ago, Holt initiated a peer support and financial savings group for the mothers of children in sponsorship. Together, families learn how to save and budget, grow and cook healthy food, educate their children, and more. Not only do these sponsor-supported groups foster community, but they empower families to adapt to their changing economy by teaching them how to conserve their income — helping them rise above uncertainty and, one day, poverty. 

“I am very proud to help my father,” Anis, 7, says as he helps untangle a squirming purple crab from the fishing net and drops it into a shallow rubber tub. Thanks to his sponsor, Anis is in school. But after school, he loves to come down to the docks, both to play and help his father with the day’s catch — a chore that earns him 20 Thai baht for his savings. 

“I never have to buy vegetables or spices from the market, like before,” says Maisha as she gives a tour around her garden, a luscious patch of cultivated greens where Holt staff taught her to grow peppers, cumin, potatoes, ginger, beans and much more. Not only does she save on her food bill, but her children are no longer malnourished. A model of success, Maisha leads the sponsor-supported savings group in her village.

“The fishing people, they don’t pay good attention to savings. So I try to encourage them to be more disciplined, to be a good example to the children, ” says a man villagers call “Grandpa.” Active in the local movement against the commercial fishing that threatens their village, Grandpa also encourages families to be financially responsible, and join sponsor-supported savings groups to help them cope with the changes in their economy.  

“Your family misses you. Your children miss you.” This is a line of the Likay Hulu, a traditional folk song and dance. After school, 20 children in this fishing community gather to practice this ancient performance. Sitting cross-legged on a black tarp, they bounce their knees up and down and rhythmically roll their arms like ocean waves to the upbeat music from the stereo and the tambourine. Local Holt staff encourage children and families to hold onto this “village wisdom.” The words of this ancient song call their fathers home from the seas of Malaysia, where they sailed to find fish.  

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