The many children of ‘Big Sister Molly’The winner of the Bichumi Women’s Prize chosen by Samsung Life Insurance Public Welfare Foundation is the head and founder of Holt Children Services, 67-year-old Molly Holt. Thinking “Holt equals adoption,” I headed to Holt Children Services in Goyang to interview Ms. Holt. When I arrived, however, I was astonished to find that most of the children were disabled.
“Holt is an adoption center. However, we do take care of and raise children who are too handicapped to be adopted,” Ms. Holt said in fluent Korean.
This generous woman came to Korea at the age of 21, and has devoted her life to serving orphans and the disabled.
The second daughter of the founders of Holt Children Services, Harry and Bertha Holt, Ms. Holt now lives with the disabled at Holt Welfare Town in Ilsan. Short, with curly white hair, she definitely looks like the stereotypical grandmother type. However, at Holt Welfare Town she is called “Molly eonni” or “Molly nuna,” which is Korean for “Big Sister Molly.”
The 20-pyeong (66-square-meter) private residence of the head of the foundation has four rooms. Ms. Holt has been using a room without a bed in order to make more room for the disabled.
Of the people here who have not been adopted because they are severely handicapped, 70 percent are more than 18 years old. Twenty-one people have been there ever since Holt Welfare Town was founded in 1961. Ms. Holt’s goal is to help the disabled develop their potential and revive their skills in the hope that they can live independently.
Ms. Holt graduated from Sacred Heart University in Oregon, with a degree in nursing. After graduating from college in 1956 she followed her parents to Korea in search of Korean War orphans, and helped out at orphanages and temporary shelters as a nurse. She has continued to help out even after the foundation of Holt Children Services. She moved into Holt Welfare Town in 1975.
For the time being, Ms. Holt’s primary concern is creating a residential complex where the disabled can live independently in group housing. She has purchased land in the vicinity of the welfare center, but the plan has not progressed due to opposition from the town of Goyang.
“There is a residential area for the disabled that is run by the city, but there’s a long waiting list and it is inconvenient for people on wheelchairs to live in,” Ms. Holt said.
Roughly 100 residents have left Holt Welfare Town after receiving rehabilitation training. Ms. Holt has posted pictures of babies of the disabled couples all over her living room.
Ms. Holt, who has lived with the disabled so long that she knows how to fix the most minor wheelchair problem, also has much to say about adoption. She especially regrets that adoption centers in Korea can’t make follow-up visits with the new family, as is done in other countries. In Korea, this isn’t done, because most people here adopt secretly and prefer not to be contacted by the adoption center again.
“Adoption is recreating a life, but there is a strong prejudice about adoption in Korea,” she said. In the United States, it’s much different, she said.
“I talked about adoption in front of (American) kindergartners,” she said. “From here and there a number of children shouted proudly, ‘I was also adopted,’ and raised their hands.”
by Lee Jie-young