At a learning center Holt supports in rural, southern Thailand, children build skills using the natural environment while parents learn how to grow low-cost, nutritious food for their families.
by Jessica Palmer, Director of Adoption Services, Southeast Asia
Stepping into an organic garden, seeing fresh vegetables ripe for the picking in a lush green atmosphere, I forget for a second that I’m not in the Holt headquarters city of Eugene, Oregon. Instead, I am in a rural part of Thailand, Tha Sala, just outside the city of Nakhon Si Thammarat that serves as the southern office location for Holt’s local partner organization, Holt Sahathai Foundation (HSF). Among the many programs HSF provides for vulnerable children and families in Thailand is a learning center in Tha Sala, which is full of sensory stimulation and learning opportunities for children in the area — including many in Holt’s sponsorship program.
During the week, a local school organizes trips to the learning center in order for the children to get more hands-on experience outside of the classroom. Today is Sunday, but there are still activities going on for many of the local children to participate in. About 25 of them are here today, between the ages of 7-14, including twin, 8-year-old brothers who live not far from the learning center. The children are participating in two activities that utilize materials from the nature around us. The first has the children making watercolors from the beautiful plants and flowers on the property. The second involves gathering rubber tree seeds, and using the seeds along with sticks and string to make two types of toys. The twins quickly finish making their toys and proudly demonstrate to the others how they operate. They also decorate their toys with the watercolors freshly made from the plants just a few yards away.
HSF has been working in Nakhon Si Thammarat province for the past 15 years. The staff want to continue seeing their programming grow. They also want to see the families they serve begin moving toward self-sufficiency. Awarding small loans is one of the ways in which HSF helps families work toward greater financial stability and self-reliance.
During my visit to the learning center, I discover that the 8-year-old boys who I witnessed so deftly creating their new prized possessions first started receiving HSF services at 3 months of age. A struggling single parent, their mom participated in the powdered milk program — a monthly support and educational group for mothers who need extra help providing adequate nutrition for their children. Later, HSF began providing educational support for the twins, and their mother began attending HSF’s single mothers support group, which provides assistance and resources and helps the women cope with discrimination. Their grandmother also lives with them and supports her daughter by providing care for the boys.
After having lunch made from vegetables straight from the garden, the twins ride with us to their home. I can see how proud their mother is of her boys, as they show their neighborhood friends how to play with the toys they just created. The HSF staff point at a few fairly young trees, which were planted from seeds from the learning center’s organic garden. I remember learning earlier that day that one of the goals of the center is to teach families how to create a garden in a little space — providing low-cost, nutritious food for their children. I am in awe of how well the many services of the HSF Nakhon office fit together.
On my last day in Thailand — also my last day in Nakhon — we visit another family whose story sounds very familiar. HSF helps support the head of this household, a single mother, with parenting her 11-month-old twins boys. Like the mom I met the other day, she is a part of both the powdered milk program, and the single mothers support group. Although she was only able to finish the 6th grade and is currently working in a fabric store, the HSF staff share with me later how much potential this 22-year-old mother has to grow and develop her skills. They plan to encourage her to go back to school so she can increase her education and earning power.
Seeing the HSF staff in action — their wheels turning to try to help families as best as they can — I am reminded of the organic garden, blossoming from a seed and helping to nourish a community.
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