Vietnamese adoptee Clare Larson reflects on her life, her family and her hopes and dreams for the child she now sponsors in Vietnam.
In January 2017, Holt’s sponsorship team received an unusual email from a woman named Clare Larson.
“In 1993,” it read, “I was fortunate enough to be adopted from Vietnam at 9 years old and went through the Holt adoption agency. At 33 years old with a career in management consulting and a student at Cornell’s Johnson MBA program, I am finally able to give back. I would like to sponsor a child from Vietnam.”
Our team soon reached out to Clare, who began sponsoring a little girl who lives with her single mom and grandparents in an impoverished district of northern Vietnam — the same part of the country where Clare lived for the first eight years of her life. Her name is Tuyen, and she is about the same age as Clare was when she came into orphanage care as a child.
“My parents had passed away by the time I was 5 and my maternal family couldn’t take care of me so I spent two years in an orphanage,” says Clare. “From there, I came to America.”
Today, over two decades later, Clare leads a very outwardly successful life. But most importantly, she has a loving and devoted family — a mom and a dad, who made every effort to make up for the lost time she spent in an orphanage, and a brother she adores.
“I’m very thankful that I’ve had a supportive circle and a family that loves me,” she says.
But Clare stops short of characterizing her life as purely a “success story.”
“It’s a story of finding what you need to feel secure with the past and make the best of the opportunity provided looking forward,” she says. “It’s a testament to [the idea that] whatever you were born into, it’s possible to grow and come out in a very positive light.”
After graduating college with an engineering degree, Clare returned to Vietnam for the first time since she left at 9 years old. She visited the orphanage where she lived for two years and caught a glimpse of a different future if she had not left Vietnam.
“I saw children who would never have a family, an education … or an opportunity to live up to their potential,” she says. “I saw a very bleak future if I hadn’t been adopted.”
In her family in the U.S., Clare found love, support and encouragement. She went through therapy, took piano lessons, and her parents worked to ensure she had every advantage in school.
“[My parents] put in so much time and effort in my development,” she says.
But for children like Clare’s sponsored child and the ones she saw in her orphanage — children who are growing up in poverty or without a family — the deck can feel stacked against them. Although they may love and support them, their families often can’t afford the fees, uniforms and supplies they need to send their children to school, or provide therapy to overcome special needs. By sponsoring Tuyen, Clare hopes to empower her to overcome the difficult circumstances she was born into — most critically, through education.
For children like Tuyen, Clare says, education can be a way out.
After 10 years as the victim of a human trafficking ring, Tuyen’s mom managed to escape, and she now sells grocery items to support her daughter. But she barely earns enough to pay for food, much less Tuyen’s school fees.
“The [sponsorship] funds are for food and resources so that she can go to school,” Clare says. “I’m hoping that she finds a way out.”
In the countries where Holt works, including Vietnam, sponsors are the key to helping children like Tuyen overcome the obstacles they face. While some sponsors support children who have lost their families — children growing up in orphanages or waiting for an adoptive family — most sponsors support kids like Tuyen, who need help with food and clothing and school fees while their families work to achieve stability and self-reliance. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure children can thrive in the loving care of their families, and Clare also hopes that Tuyen will find a way to escape the poverty of her family — without losing or separating from her family in the process.
“My hope is that she stays with her family,” Clare says of Tuyen, “so that she can have that stability and love.”
Clare can still remember the loss she felt when her aunt took her to the orphanage after her parents died. “Putting me into an orphanage could not have been an easy decision,” she says of her aunt. “She came every Friday night and took me home for the weekend … But being left at the gate on Sunday nights was beyond difficult.”
Today, Clare understands her aunt’s decision. “Knowing my life now,” she says, “I can look back and be grateful.”
By sponsoring Tuyen, Clare hopes to honor the impact her parents have had in her life.
“I wanted to do something to give back — maybe not to the extent of what my parents did,” she says, “but in some small way.” Clare says sponsoring Tuyen is an insignificant financial commitment in comparison to the difference it will make in her life. “Living in America,” she says, “I don’t think we realize how fortunate we are until we have lived in a third-world country … and we’ve been in the emotional shoes of a child left behind.”
Tuyen may never seek an MBA like Clare. She may not even go to college. If she does, Clare hopes to help with her expenses. But no matter what path Tuyen chooses in life, Clare hopes Tuyen will use her beginnings as an avenue to a bright and positive future.
“Whatever she plans to do in life,” she says, “I hope she takes advantage of opportunities provided to live to her potential.”
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