A Family of Scholars

While visiting Holt’s ILEA program in the Philippines, Holt’s director of adoption services for Southeast Asia finds a hopeful answer to the question: what happens to children who don’t find families?

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ILEA scholars live together in independent group housing while working toward high school diplomas or college degrees.

“What happens to the children who are not matched?”

In my six years at Holt, this is one of the most thought-provoking and haunting questions I ever received.
Not until recently — on a trip to the Philippines — did I find an answer.

Six months ago, I transitioned from Holt’s waiting child program to the S.E. Asia adoption program, which includes the Philippines. This May, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Philippines.

Here, the answer to that haunting question had been waiting for me all along.

I knew of Holt’s Independent Living and Educational Assistance (ILEA) program long before visiting. Seeing it in person, though, is something altogether different. It affects you to the core, and you think about it long after you return.

Here, I saw the genuine hopefulness of the young adults in the program. They never joined adoptive families of their own. But through ILEA, they have a makeshift family to support them.

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The ILEA program is managed by Kaisahang Buhay Foundation (KBF), Holt’s partner agency in the Philippines. Holt helped to found KBF in the 1970s. In the years since, KBF has developed an impressive array of Holt-supported services for children and families, including family and community outreach, sponsorship, a single mothers’ home, day care, nutritional support, foster care, and ILEA. KBF thinks of the child every step of the way — from the womb to adulthood — always striving toward the goal of helping the child remain in or find a permanent family.  The ILEA program is a natural extension of that thought. KBF developed this program for children who never do find permanent, loving families, providing for them an informal family of other teens in the same situation and of the KBF staff themselves. Through KBF and Holt, the scholars receive support for everything from tuition and school supplies to food, medical care, transportation and job search assistance. Currently, the ILEA program is composed of 19 “scholars” — age 16-22 — many of whom are in college. They do not have house parents or someone to buy groceries and do their laundry. This is truly an independent living program, in which they are accountable primarily to each other.

Listening to the KBF staff talk about former ILEA scholars — now ILEA graduates — and their successes in life, you would have thought they were speaking of their own children or grandchildren. ILEA scholars go on to get advanced degrees, get married and have children. And they often stay in touch with their KBF family.

While in the program, some of the scholars stay at the KBF office, closer to their college, so they get the chance to interact with the staff on a more frequent and informal basis. Those interested in business or nonprofit work also get to see how an office runs. One of these scholars couldn’t help but sneak over to ask me questions as I was eating my dinner one night at the office. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Do you like basketball? Who is your favorite NBA team?” To his dismay, the Lakers had recently been knocked out of the playoffs.

Although they've never been placed in adoptive families of their own, the 19 ILEA scholars are like family to each other. They share household chores, meals and often perform songs and dances together as a group.
Although they’ve never been placed in adoptive families of their own, the 19 ILEA scholars are like family to each other. They share household chores, meals and often perform songs and dances together as a group.

This young man is ready for his last year of college, where he is studying community development. He is spending his summer volunteering at some of KBF’s other programs. One day, he could be working at KBF — a thought that has crossed his mind. In fact, during my visit, I was surprised to learn that an ILEA graduate had been in my midst the whole time! He now works as KBF’s IT specialist.

During ILEA’s second anniversary at their current location, I was able to see all the scholars sing, dance and share their dreams for the future. I also met a benefactor of sorts. She owns the building where the scholars live, which she provides rent-free. She also visits the scholars every Saturday for a Bible study. As we were discussing what a wonderful program we support, she asked me how many similar programs Holt has in the other countries where we work. I knew the answer immediately, but I racked my brain for a few seconds just in case. Then, I confidently answered, “None.” Although Holt does have programs in other countries to provide vocational training and other services for children who come of age in care — such as those at the extraordinary Ilsan Center in Korea — the ILEA program is truly a unique and model program for children who were never placed in a family. Finally, they have a non-traditional family of their own.

Jessica Palmer | Director of Adoption Services, Southeast Asia


  1. I am so glad at what Holt International is continuing to do to uplift the social situation of the Filipino children. Holt has been at it since the beginning, and I am also proud to say that I was there when they started, and I wish Holt International and KBF all the success and support for the coming years to come! May God bless you all abundantly!

  2. Lisa Twiggs says:


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