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Manila Times: Other Sheep

Posted by FAN Admin in International/Adoption Philippines, News on 02 18th, 2007

By Eric F. Mallonga
‘Other sheep’
ADOPTION Consciousness Week was celebrated last week by the Department of Social Welfare and the Inter­country Adoption Board. With adoption information desks set up in the malls, I was reminded about the recent anniversary celebration of a foreign adoption agency, Holt International Children’s Services, that has been partnering with ICAB for decades now. Holt celebrated its 50th anniversary by hosting an International Conference in Eugene Oregon in October with American First Lady Laura Bush as its honorary chairman.

An invited speaker in that affair, I was privileged to view audio-visual presentations and to read materials that revealed the humility of Holt’s late founders, Harry and Bertha Holt.

Following God

The work was never about them—it was always about the children and following God. Starting in South Korea after the Second World War, when tens of thousands of Korean children were starving, the Holts expanded their humanitarian services for children, recruiting child-oriented individuals in spreading their advocacies and missions. Hundreds of thousands of children in India, China, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Romania, Guatemala and so many other countries around the world have been adopted. They have loving, secure family environments because of the work begun by the Holt spouses. These children have been dramatically transformed by the philosophy that: “Every child deserves a home.”

The Holts were a regular family with six children—hardworking, practical, simple rural folk in a quiet Oregon farming community. But one day, Harry suffered a near fatal heart attack at 45 years old as he climbed a hill to size up timber. Suddenly vulnerable, the Holt couple reached out and offered their lives to God. Already practicing Christians, their faith and practice deepened. Five years later, Harry and Bertha’s 11-year-old daughter, Suzanne, came home from school with a request for the family to attend a film presentation on the plight of Korean War orphans. Although Harry had already made other plans, he prayed about his daughter’s request, and decided to go.

Thirteen children

In Seed from the East, Bertha Holt described their reactions to the documentary Other Sheep on the Korean orphans: “I looked at Harry. He was motionless and tense . . . I knew every scene had cut him like a knife. I was hurt, too . . . We had never seen such emaciated arms and legs, such bloated starvation-stomachs and such wistful little faces searching for someone to care.” Thereafter, the Holt family agreed to sponsor 13 children. When photographs of their sponsored children arrived a month later, they realized that those children needed food and shelter and clothing, but above all, they also needed love, a family to whom they could belong.

Bertha imagined children coming into their home where she could love and care for them, “I would walk from room to room thinking of how we could put a cot here . . . and another bed there. It even occurred to me that some of the rooms be partitioned and made into two rooms without depriving anyone.” Bertha shared Harry’s desire to adopt Korean children; amazingly, each independently arrived at the same number—eight. A family friend advised them to give up their plans but added an afterthought, “But if you could get Congress to agree and pass a law . . .”

Letter-writing campaign

Bertha immediately started recruiting neighbors and friends to join in a letter-writing campaign, which resulted two months later in the passage of a brief bill specifically allowing the Holts to adopt eight children from Korea. When Harry returned with the Korean children, the press was waiting and spread the Holt story around the country. The Holts planned to settle quietly but other families started immediately inquiring on how they could also adopt Korean children. As he could not forget the “tiny outstretched arms” of starving children left behind, Harry immediately returned to Korea. The Holts then launched a program to care for children until they could be placed with adoptive families.

In the 1950s, adoption was basically a secretive process. Children were matched with families according to physical characteristics in an effort to conceal the fact they were adopted. The Holts reversed such philosophies and cultural stereotypes. Although the Holts were not the first family to adopt overseas, the publicity around their adoption of Korean children opened the world’s eyes to a reality that resonated with thousands of families. This ordinary couple from Oregon showed the world that a family is not limited by race and nationality, and that love with a profound commitment to the nurturance of children are the true bonds of a family.

Philippine process

Hopefully, the Philippines will realize the need to immediately provide nurturing families for starving children rather than allowing their delayed development and consequential retardation in horrifying orphanages, hazardous streets and contaminating prisons. As of the moment, the long, tedious and litigious judicial process for adoption remains the largest impediment to these children’s integration with suitable and loving families.