Top Ten Holt Magazine Stories of 2014

Earlier this week, we shared our top ten stories from the Holt blog in 2014. Here, we share our top ten most-viewed stories from Holt International Magazine. Some of these stories also appeared in the two print issues we produced this year — our spring sponsor issue and summer graduate issue. Others appeared in our two online-only magazines of 2014, which we posted last February and just a few weeks ago in December.

While our online magazine is gaining more readers with every issue, we are still working to build an audience for this new platform. We love to read your comments and see when you like, share, repost and tweet our stories. These also give us a strong indication of the stories you find most inspiring or helpful and most enjoy reading. We are always striving to strengthen the quality of our content and produce a magazine of value to our readers. If you have suggestions for stories or ideas about how we could improve Holt International Magazine, please email Holt’s managing editor, Robin Munro, at

We hope you enjoy re-reading or discovering for the first time these gems from 2014! Not surprisingly, many of our most popular stories from this year were written by adoptees or adoptive parents themselves. We want to thank each and every contributor to our magazine for sharing your heartfelt and often very personal stories. This magazine would not be what it is without you!

Without further ado, here they are… Our top ten magazine stories of 2014!

1. One Family, Two Very Different Adoptions

In this popular post adoption story from our winter 2014 issue, one Holt adoptive mom discusses how she and her husband learned to parent their two children differently, based on their unique needs.

“I felt nervous, excited and confident we could bond with our second child as easily as we did with our first. Our 16-month-old daughter quickly proved me wrong.  My blessed, beautiful daughter is strong willed, extroverted, sometimes anxious and certain she can manage things better than the rest of us.  She’s going to make an awesome leader as she matures, but gosh, what a handful to parent!”

Continue reading “Top Ten Holt Magazine Stories of 2014”

Top 10 Blog Posts From 2014

To sum up 2014 at Holt International in one word — family.

It makes sense. That’s what we are all about at Holt International — the firm belief that every child deserves to grow up with the love, support and security of a family. This is a belief that brings people — and families — together. Families enduring tremendous hardships, but working hard to stay together. Children waiting to reunite with their families, or join a loving family through adoption. Foster families who care for the children who wait. Adoptive families brought together through love. And adoptees, who know the love of two families — one by birth, and one by adoption.

We shared hundreds of stories about family with you this year, and we are always amazed by how diverse a picture the word ‘family’ paints. To preview 2015, we recap a few of the most-read stories about family from 2014 — based on what was the most popular with you, our readers.

Our most read stories — far and away — were about waiting children, many of whom now have families thanks to your advocacy. A few of these beautiful children are Drew and Breanna, Jaylenn, Schyler, Seamus, Julia, Jack, Jonah, Olivia, Dory, Felix and Andy — children whose stories were read by thousands of people around the country.

However, many other stories captured the hearts and minds of our readers this year as well. In order of the highest read, we give you our top 10 stories of 2014!

Courtney Young with her grandfather in Korea.

1. Written in house by one of our very own donor relations reps, Holt adoptee Courtney Young discusses the complexities of adoption, the bond of family and the meaning of fairytales.

2. Kanya Sesser, a 21-year-old Holt adoptee from Thailand, skateboards, skis, races, models and surfs. She’s also a college student studying fashion marketing, and she hopes to join the Billabong surf team soon. Born without legs, Kanya has become an inspiration to friends and fans around the world with her motto, “No legs, no limits.”

3. Holt adoptive mom Andrea tells her story of bringing home her daughter Rini from China — a little girl with severe congenital heart disease — and the struggle to save her life.

4. After adopting a little girl from China, Holt adoptive parents Eric and Andrea open their hearts to a child they never envisioned themselves raising — a boy.

Kanya Sesser has become an inspiration to friends and fans around the world.

5. The stigma against unwed mothers in Korea is so pervasive and powerful that should they choose to parent, they will likely face discrimination in all areas of their lives. They will struggle to get jobs or go to college. Their families may shun them. To support young women who choose to parent, Holt helps provide free housing and other resources as they start their lives as independent single mothers in Korea. Earlier this year, Holt’s managing editor visited the Clover House in Seoul. In five years, 20 women have stayed at this government-subsidized apartment after leaving the unwed mothers shelters where they delivered their babies. Today, all of them continue to care for their babies — all on their own.

6. For many years, Holt has, with great admiration, witnessed once-struggling mothers in our family strengthening programs achieve amazing successes for the health and wellbeing of their children — often with great sacrificial love. And most recently, in Vietnam, Sang — a struggling mother in the very poor Cay Chay hamlet of Hanoi — became the sole provider for her family after her husband fell ill. Read about Sang’s fight for the health and wellbeing of her son.

Desmond arrived home to his family in 2014.

7. Holt adoptive mom Mandie Hickenbottom-Conner shares about her journey to Korea and back to adopt her son, Desmond. A boy with special needs, Desmond is like many of the children wait too long to find the loving adoptive families they need and deserve.

8. Can you guess the biggest health issue facing orphaned and abandoned children? Every year, nearly 10.9 million children under the age of 5 die from preventable causes — nearly 60 percent from malnutrition. Malnutrition and hunger-related disease take more lives than tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria combined. In orphanage care, nearly 85 percent of children have significant nutrition and health-related problems — which is why Holt partnered with the SPOON Foundation to tackle malnutrition head-on.

9. Long-time supporters of the Peace House — Holt’s medical foster home in China —  got the chance to visit this vital program for orphaned and abandoned children with special needs. Here, they share their journey through photos.

10. This year, thousands of people also hit our blog to learn about all the ways Holt’s adoption programs expanded this year. Our Korea program can now work in several more states and the age requirements for adoptive parents eased. Vietnam adoption opened and China announced eligibility changes for hopeful adoptive parents. We also merged with Sunny Ridge Family Center in Illinois, through which we now place children through domestic adoption in the United States.





From Hardship to Hope

Through Holt’s independent living and educational assistance program, one boy graduates college and returns to work for Holt’s partner organization in the Philippines — serving children and families at risk of separation.

Marlon on his college graduation day.

When police found Marlon wandering the streets, he was only 5 — old enough to tell the police his first name, and to say he’d lost his mother, but not much else.

He was too young, though, to know many of the other things critical to helping a lost child return home — his address or last name, where he lived or even what country he was from. Or where his mother had gone.

Could Marlon remember the last time he saw her?

Was she with anyone else? Did they stop anywhere?

Could she have left him… on purpose?

Continue reading “From Hardship to Hope”

What I Am

Holt adoptee Olivia Carnaté defines her identity — not by her physical attributes, but by the journey she has taken in life.

Olivia with her son.

If you meet me in person, you will see I am about 5’3”. I have long dark brown hair with curls that don’t need hairspray. I have stick straight eyelashes, full lips and high cheekbones. I have been called “exotic” and “unique-looking,” but what surprises most people about how I look is that when I speak, I do not have an accent. I do not know my native language. I am not great at math and sometimes when asked to describe my ethnicity on paper, I check both Asian and Pacific Islander.

Self-identity is a constant battle as an international adoptee. We straddle a fine line between maintaining a connection to our heritage while embracing the culture we’ve learned to identify as our own. Our appearance says one thing, but then we act another and for some reason, society is surprised by this.

This year, I turned 30 and I will tell you that when I first meet someone, the one question I’ve been asked more times in my life than any other is: “What are you?” I field this question on a regular basis from the curious bystander on the train to the man interested in getting my number to my co-worker when she sees pictures of me with my mom. From my standpoint, it’s a weird question to be asked. Sometimes, I will get asked, “Where are you from?” or “What is your nationality?” But more often than not, it’s about WHAT I AM.

As an international adoptee, answering the “What am I” question is a double-edged sword. It’s never simple and it’s always complex. It starts with “Well… I’m Filipino but I’m adopted and that is why…” The next thing I know, I’m giving an elevator speech – defining my personal history in 30 seconds about where I’m from, blatantly pointing out that my parents are white and no, I’ve never tried Balut. Continue reading “What I Am”

A Heart for Rini

At the 2014 Holt Gala and Auction in Portland, Oregon, Holt adoptive mom Andrea stood to speak. She told her story of bringing home her daughter Rini from China — a little girl with severe congenital heart disease — and the struggle to save her life. Here, Andrea again shares the story that captivated an audience of families, adoptees and Holt supporters at the Portland event, as well as her appeal to help save the lives of other children with serious heart disease… children just like Rini.

When Rini came home from China, she was in end-stage heart disease. Today, she is a marvel — smiling, laughing and playing like any other child.

Why are we here tonight?

I am here because as I sat next to my dying child in the cardiac intensive care unit of Seattle Children’s Hospital one year ago, I made a promise to her that she would leave a legacy and I would honor it. Whether she lived or died, there would be meaning to all she had endured.  She is no more or less special in the eyes of God than any other child, no more or less worthy of a family, of hope and a future, but she survived and has a name and face and I hope that her story will inspire everyone in this room to give generously tonight so that other children may live.

Rini is our youngest child of six — five adopted from China through Holt, four with varying degrees of congenital heart disease.  Born with complex single ventricle heart disease, Rini was declining quickly as we raced to complete our adoption.  With Holt’s help and expedites granted at each step, we were ready to travel just over three months after we applied for her adoption — gratefully so, as we learned just two weeks prior to our trip that she had spent much of the prior two months in and out of the ICU of a Chinese hospital, was in severe heart failure, and her eligibility for adoption was being called into question by officials in her homeland.

On the day we were scheduled to adopt her in China, we instead learned through the tearful voice of our Holt guide, Jane Hu, that she had been readmitted to the ICU as we were flying over the Pacific.  We were taken to meet her at the hospital, where the doctor handed us a frail, sickly 22-month-old, barely able to muster the strength to cry.  We were asked if we still wished to adopt her. Of course we did!  That night, however, we learned that her adoption had been blocked.  She had been declared unadoptable. But we saw things differently. Long story very short, thanks to the fortitude and diplomacy exhibited by Jian Chen, Sue Liu, Beth Smith, Catherine Han, Jane Hu, Phoebe Xuan, Anson Su, and the entire China program staff at Holt, we were permitted to adopt Rini a few tumultuous days later. Continue reading “A Heart for Rini”

An Update on Our Work in Haiti

Despite significant changes in our adoption and sponsorship programs over the past year, we look forward to a year full of possibility for continuing our mission of ensuring stable, loving homes for children in Haiti.

Holt sponsors are now helping to meet this little girl’s needs.

At a small orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, tree limbs spread across one wall, branching in every direction. Falling from each limb like leaves are exactly 53 hearts. All but one of these hearts represents a child who died when the orphanage nursery collapsed in Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. One heart is dedicated to a nurse who died while caring for these children.

At the time of the earthquake, 156 children lived in this orphanage. Today, about 60 children remain in care. Some of them are in temporary care and will later rejoin their families. Others are eligible to be adopted internationally.

Last month, Holt enrolled every one of these children in our sponsorship program. When the earthquake hit, it severely damaged the infrastructure of the orphanage, which has struggled to rebuild over the past five years. With few resources, the orphanage staff has also struggled to provide adequate care for the children. Through their monthly donation, Holt sponsors will help meet the nutritional and medical needs of the children. They will ease the financial burden on the orphanage so the staff can focus on rebuilding the structure and making it safe for the children. And ultimately, with support from Holt, the orphanage hopes to resume an education program for children in the community that abruptly stopped on January 12, 2010.

For Holt, this new partnership highlights a new direction and new momentum for our work in Haiti.

A little over a year ago, Holt was forced to suspend our sponsorship program for most of the children we serve in Haiti. Although we continued to meet the needs of children in care at Holt Fontana Village, rising costs in Haiti hampered our ability to serve children living with their families in the community. At the same time, the Haitian government ratified the Hague Convention — changing the process for international adoption from Haiti, and creating new guidelines for partnerships between agencies and orphanages. Whereas before, agencies worked directly with orphanage partners to find families for children, Haiti’s central adoption authority has now taken on the role of matching children referred for adoption to pre-approved adoptive families on their waiting list.  Although agencies can still provide non-adoption related support for orphanages, they no longer work together to find adoptive families for children. Continue reading “An Update on Our Work in Haiti”

Cora’s Christmas Wish

UPDATE: As of March 2015, Cora has a family!

Born September 18, 2001

December is a month filled with letters — letters to Santa, writing letters to loved ones, and receiving letters from good friends.

At Holt, we receive many Christmas letters and cards from adoptive families and adoptees, and we love reading each and every one of them.

But it’s not often we receive a letter like the one below.  This letter was written by Cora, a 13-year-old girl in a Holt-supported care center in China.  Cora isn’t writing to Santa, or a friend.  She isn’t asking for a bike, a TV, a phone or a watch.  She’s writing to her future family, and asking for a permanent home.

If we can’t find a family for Cora before her 14th birthday, her chances of finding a permanent home in the United States will be lost forever.

Because of the small time frame, Cora needs a family who has started their paperwork or can reuse their dossier and complete the adoption process by September 2015. She also needs a family who has parented past her age.

Please join us in asking God for a family for Cora.  This Christmas, maybe He’ll lead you to ask for more information about her.  Maybe He’ll bring someone to your mind who would embrace Cora and bring her into their loving family.

Read Cora’s touching letter below, and contact Jessica Zeeb at for more information about her.


Dear Daddy and Mommy,

How are you?

Thank you for choosing me and accepting me as your family member. I really want to have a family, have my own parents, like other kids.

When I was born, my biological parents abandoned me. I believe they must have their own difficulties, for that, I don’t hate them. After all, they gave me the life. My fostering grandma took me home, and it was my fostering father who worked and raised me up. Although that family was poor, and I was not able to go to school until 9 years old, they gave me a home! Because I don’t have a resident registration, and they also had no idea about that, what was more, my fostering father was dead because of disease when I was 8 years old, after that, my fostering mother left the family. Then, my grandma took me to my aunt’s family.

However, my aunt’s family also had a lot of difficulties. Therefore, they sent me to the local welfare institute. The caregivers in welfare institute treated me very well, and they helped me get resident registration, and sent me to the school. I really appreciate their works and I was taking the school time as precious things. In my classroom, my scores have always been the number one or two. My teachers and classmates all like me, and they let me be the head of the classroom. From all of this, I know I’m the lucky and safe child, because I have a large family in the welfare institute.

However, I also want a real family, with Daddy and Mommy, and probably grandpa and grandma. I also dream to have my own bedroom. My parents will love me, and I will be a good girl and appreciate their love to me. I will study well, and become a useful woman to the society. I believe I will bring many pleasures to you.

My dear Daddy and Mommy, I wish I could see you soon. I love you.



*Name changed  

China Award

Center, Jian Chen, Holt’s vice president of China programs for Holt International, accepts the “Most Caring Community/Team” award at the Liuzhou Annual Charity Awards in November 2014.

Last month, about 5 million people in the Chinese province of Guangxi  and the local government of Liuzhou honored Holt China with a major award that praises Holt’s work and mission to serve orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children.

Thousands of citizens voted online for the recipient of the “Most Caring Community/Team” award, which was presented at the inaugural Liuzhou Annual Charity Awards. Holt International’s president of China programs, Jian Chen, was in China to receive the people’s choice award during a televised event.

More than 128 organizations were nominated for the award, but it was Holt China’s dedication to vulnerable children and families that garnered the most support. Holt was also the only organization nominated that provides hands-on services to children.

Altogether, 20 organizations were honored with awards, but Holt China was the only nonprofit to be publicly interviewed. The interviews featured a dance performance by a group of children who receive educational support from Holt China, a statement by Jian, and testimonies from children and families who have been deeply impacted by Holt’s work in the region.

Jian says, “I think about our team members who work day-in and day-out for the sake of the children, who should also be recognized and share this moment with me.  It is a shame that those who work hardest every day couldn’t join me on the stage to receive the award!”

As the recipients of this award are typically local Chinese organizations, this honor truly highlights the impact and significance of Holt’s 20-year history of service to the region. Last year, Holt was one of 40 organizations nominated for the “best project” award by the same organization.

In China, Holt supports more than 20 child welfare programs that provide educational support, foster care services, medical care and family strengthening services to children who are orphaned, abandoned or at serious risk of separating from their families. Holt China also takes a special focus on caring for children with special medical needs. Holt’s work in China began in 1992. Since that time, we’ve helped develop model foster care programs that provide a more family-like alternative to institutional care. We’ve also grown to become the largest international adoption placing agency in the region, and helped the Chinese government develop their own child welfare model. Our services benefit more than 50,000 children each year.

CCCWA Announces Process and Eligibility Changes for Potential Adoptive Parents

The China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) has announced changes to the China adoption process and eligibility requirements for families adopting from China.  These changes relax some of the previous requirements related to age restriction, marital status and health issues, among others.  They will also be updating and making major changes to the CCCWA website.  The eligibility changes will take effect on January 1, 2015.  Holt is excited to implement these changes in our own China program, and look forward to matching even more children in need of loving homes!

Please click here for a full list of changes: FAQs New CCCWA Guidelines