Malini Baker was adopted from India when she was 3 years old. But before she came home to her family, she was cared for and loved by someone she had never met — her Holt sponsor.
“That’s me!” exclaims Malini, her long black hair falling over her shoulders as she leans closer to the photo on the table before her. “And that’s Blair, Kavya Chaitra, Robert — we were playing fire around the mountain.”
For most teenagers, looking through their baby and toddler photos is happenstance at least and embarrassing at most — especially if your parents pull them out to share with prom dates or out-of-town-guests. But for 16-year-old Malini Baker, a Holt adoptee who joined her family from India in 2003, looking through her early childhood photos is a rare opportunity, and one she doesn’t take for granted.
Even more rare for adoptees is the opportunity to talk with people who knew them in those early moments — someone who held them as a baby, remembers their first steps and heard their first words. For Malini, this person is Mary Paul, who for 19 years served as executive director of Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT) — Holt’s long-time partner in Bangalore, India. Last summer, when Mary Paul traveled to Eugene, Oregon for Holt’s 60th anniversary celebration, Malini and her mom were more than eager to drive the four and a half hours from their home in Steilacoom, Washington to reconnect with her.
“Being adopted, you kind of don’t really have the full story,” Malini says. “So the fact that someone knows [about me], that’s amazing — it does fill in part of my life.”
On this same day, Malini also learned of another person who knew about her while she was living at VCT in India. Someone who provided care for her, tracked her development and maybe even had her photo hanging on her fridge — Malini’s sponsor.
For one year, Malini was sponsored by Angie Wharfield Ford — Holt’s Oregon and Washington branch adoption director — along with one of Angie’s friends who wanted to team up with her to sponsor Malini. And on this summer day at the Holt office in Eugene, Angie and Malini got to meet.
“I think it is super cool to have met her and know that my friend and I helped to support her until she came home,” says Angie.
Meeting her sponsor filled in a part of Malini’s life that she didn’t know about until today, but that was so crucial to her early years.
“I think child sponsors are really needed,” Malini says. “People don’t realize how much time and care orphans in an orphanage need.”
Today, most of the children in Holt’s child sponsorship program live with their birth families — and sponsors provide support to ensure that they can remain together, and have everything they need to thrive, while the families work toward stability and self-reliance.
But a small fraction of the children in Holt’s child sponsorship program — about 15 percent — do live in care, like Malini once did, and are either waiting to rejoin their family or are on track for adoption, like Malini once was. For these children, their sponsor meets their needs until the day they go home to a family.
“This is going to be my fourteenth year here in the U.S.,” Malini says. “It’s been pretty great.”
So much has changed in Malini’s life since she was a Holt-sponsored child living at VCT — since Angie would have gotten the last report about her as a 3-year-old.
She came home to Washington to two doting parents and a big brother named Connor, who she looks up to to this day. Her childhood was filled with family dogs, trips to her grandparents’ house at Christmastime, ballet, gymnastics, soccer, T-ball, family clam-eating competitions and swimming in the summer.
“I was just all over the place!” Malini says.
Once a year growing up, Malini’s family would have “family day.” She and Connor would put on puppet shows for her parents, and sometimes they would talk about her adoption together.
“My dad used to tell me this story when I was little,” Malini says, “about how he got the most perfect little girl in the entire world … I think he would make it up, but I still loved it.”
Today, Malini is a gymnastics coach, on student leadership, the head of three different committees and her cheer team just got back from competing at nationals. Along with a classmate, Malini also just led a project to assemble 152 shoeboxes of supplies for homeless children in their community. Motivated and passionate, Malini has her dream school already picked out, where she wants to study to become a surgeon.
Through the years, she’s also managed to get in touch with six other adoptees from VCT who are now living with their families in the U.S. This summer, she’s flying down to California to see one of her friends from VCT graduate.
“It’s interesting learning more about kids who were in the orphanage with me,” Malini says. “It might be a little weird, but I think it’s cool.”
Listening to her share about her life and her family, it’s clear that Malini was loved deeply and has had the support to become all she was meant to be — even before she came home.
“Even though I was an orphan, I did have a lot of opportunities,” Malini says. “I’m really fortunate that I had so many people back me up and so many people fighting for me to go to the family that I’m in today.”
Malini’s life is a powerful reminder of the impact sponsorship can have on a child’s life. A powerful reminder of how when sponsored, vulnerable children can grow up to become healthy, thriving and inspiring young adults. A powerful reminder that even if you never meet your sponsored child, you can trust that your sponsorship made a difference in their life.
“[Sponsors] help a child have the opportunities that everyone else does,” Malini says. “It really is beneficial.”
Megan Herriott • Staff Writer