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Holt Staff Share Stories and Successes at Philippines Adoption Conference

Hang Dam, director of programs for the Philippines, met with many government representatives who attended the conference. Luisa Barnes, director of adoption for the Philippines, shared about an adoption initiative that Holt hopes to expand in the coming years. Nate Schiffer, Holt Adoptee Camp director and a Filipino adoptee, was personally invited to share his adoption story!

Members of the Holt team recently returned from the “17th Philippine Global Consultation on Child Welfare Services.” This conference was put on by the National Authority for Child Care (NACC) in the Philippines. Hang Dam, director of programs for the Philippines, Luisa Barnes, director of adoption for the Philippines, and Nate Schiffer, Holt’s camp director, traveled to Quezon City.

As the NACC is a newly established government body, Holt’s adoption team aims to strengthen their relationship with the organization so they can better advocate for children waiting for families in the Philippines.

This conference was a wonderful opportunity!

Recent Success of the Philippines Special Needs Project

Luisa presented about the Philippines Special Needs Project (SNP). This is a new initiative in the Philippines designed to help find families for children in the Philippines who are older, have special needs or are part of a sibling group. It is modeled after a similar project in Thailand that Holt has run for many years. 

Speaker presents with a power point, microphone and lectern

Through these unique special needs projects, Holt social workers travel to meet and assess the children in person. This enables them to learn about each child’s personality and offer a personalized recommendation about the kind of family in which they believe they would thrive.

“I think moving forward, all of us are on the same page that adoption is moving toward older children and children with special needs. We want to advocate by being collaborative and creative in talking to the NACC about paths to make that happen.”

Luisa Barnes, director of adoption for the Philippines

Holt social workers traveled to the Philippines in February 2023 to establish the Philippines SNP. As Luisa shared in her presentation, 11 children from the Philippines SNP have been matched with families in the last six months! The youngest child was 9 years old, and three of those 11 children were a sibling group — an especially amazing success!

“Our goal was to share some of these findings with in-country participants, like orphanages and the NACC,” Luisa says. “Since the NACC is a newer organization, we are working hard to build trust with them and demonstrate that we are a leader in child matching.”

Holt adoption team leaders like Luisa and Hang are working especially hard to develop this relationship so that the Philippines SNP, and other child advocacy initiatives like it, can grow!

Holt Hopes to Expand the Philippines SNP

The next phase of the Philippines SNP is to welcome new children into the program. There will be another round of in-country child assessments conducted by Holt social workers. To do so requires permission and support from the NACC.

“Overall, the government in the Philippines supports this initiative,” Hang Dam says. “Because it is a way to advocate for children who have been waiting for a long time to find families.”

The NACC has been looking for new initiatives to help find families for children. They focus on children who are older, have special needs or who are part of a sibling group. Because of the program’s proven success at uniting children with families, Hang and Luisa are hopeful that the SNP will continue to expand in the Philippines!

Group of people sit on a couch on a stage for a panel interview

“I think moving forward, all of us are on the same page that adoption is moving toward older children and children with special needs,” Luisa says. “We want to advocate by being collaborative and creative in talking to the NACC about paths to make that happen.”

One of the ways the NACC brought innovation to the conference was by inviting adoptees to share their adoption stories. This was the first year they invited Filipino adoptees to speak!

Nate’s Adoption Story — Why He Shared It

Toward the end of the conference, Nate Schiffer and a fellow Filipino adoptee from Wisconsin, Hannah, both shared their stories. They stood in front of a packed room of government officials and talked about how adoption had influenced their lives.

Two adoptees talk at a table at a conference
Nate and Hannah before presenting at the conference.

Nate is Holt’s current adoptee camp director, which is part of why he agreed to travel so far to talk about something he hasn’t always thought about much — his identity as an adoptee. The first time Nate shared his adoption story was on the Holt blog. The blog went live soon before he left for five weeks to run Holt Adoptee Camp 2023 in Oregon, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

“I wouldn’t have shared if I didn’t think that it would help spark conversation with other adoptees, especially adoptees who have questions. I want them to know that I’m comfortable sharing my story. When leadership can share, it helps everyone.”

Nate Schiffer, Filipino adoptee and Holt Adoptee Camp director

“I wouldn’t have presented at the conference without the blog, honestly,” Nate says. “But a lot of the campers saw the blog and asked about my story and about my reunion with my birth family. We all want to talk about those things at camp, but we don’t always. It takes so much vulnerability.”

After reading Nate’s story on the blog, many kids approached him at camp with their deepest questions. They asked things like: What was it like meeting your birth family? How did you do a birth search? What did you think about? What were you thinking when you met all your biological siblings, but your adoptive family was there too? Would you do it again? How would you prepare if you did it again? What advice do you have for me?

At camp, Nate was struck by how his willingness to share his story invited so many campers to open up about the feelings and questions burning inside them. He had many deep, vulnerable conversations with campers that were some of the most meaningful parts of camp for him.

“Those conversations never would have taken place without that blog post,” Nate reflects. 

Which is why, anticipating another summer of camp, Nate agreed to speak at the NACC’s 2023 conference.

“I wouldn’t have shared if I didn’t think that it would help spark conversation with other adoptees, especially adoptees who have questions,” Nate says. “I want them to know that I’m comfortable sharing my story. When leadership can share, it helps everyone.”

Nate also says that speaking at the conference was meaningful because he sees it as coming full circle.

woman smiling

Did you know Holt provides support to all adoptees?

Every adoptee has a unique and complex life experience. Holt strives to support all adoptees, regardless of their placing agency, by providing help with birth search, citizenship and more.

Coming Full Circle for Nate

“It felt full circle that the first time I ever shared my story publicly was in my birth country,” Nate says. “Being placed in an orphanage the day I was born and then coming back 22 years later to share my story at a conference in the Philippines with government officials and politicians was very surreal. I never dreamed that I would be doing that, but I’m so glad for the opportunity.”

When Nate thinks about his childhood and adolescence as an adoptee, he knows he would have benefitted from more opportunities to talk about his adoption.

“Adoption was never who I was,” Nate says. “For me, this identity is new, but now it is an important part of my life. I didn’t have an adoptee mentor to help me navigate my adoptee identity when I was campers’ age. I didn’t go to camps. It would have been so amazing to have those resources, and now I and my camp staff are that resource.”

Taking Insights Back to Camp

Nate knows how much it takes to be vulnerable with others. He wants to do everything he can to model this openness to campers.

“As a camper, it takes a lot to be vulnerable to adult adoptees, let alone adoptee peers,” Nate says. “Most kids don’t have adoptee friends growing up until they get to camp. I think if we want to give these kids a chance to be vulnerable, we need to be willing to be vulnerable ourselves.”

Group of campers and counselors in purple and pink t-shirts gather for a group photo
Group photo from Holt Adoptee Camp in Wisconsin summer 2023.

In his presentation, Nate walked the audience through his story. He talked about what it was like growing up in a predominantly white community and growing up with adopted siblings. Nate also reflected on his reunion with his birth family, and shared things he recommends that parents know before adopting. He finished by talking about camp and Holt’s post-adoption services department — and what they’re doing to support kids.

“This is the first year Filipino adoptees spoke at the event,” Hang says. “I think that representation gave a very strong impact on the participants. Everyone was so quiet and rapt during their presentations. It was so powerful.”

The Take-Away

Hang, Luisa and Nate all appreciated their time at the global conference in the Philippines. They came home feeling accomplished and touched by what happened there.

Group of people with name tags smile at camera at conference

“It was really amazing to hear how many people had a heart for what we’re doing. There are so many partners in our mission of finding permanent, loving families for children,” Luisa says. “One of the biggest take-aways we had is that we can work together to find homes for children in need of permanency and love.”

As the landscape of adoption continues to shift, Holt is grateful for opportunities to advance the conversation and advocate for children. Because every child deserves a loving, stable home where they can thrive!

adoptive mother and father holding daughters adopted from China

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