Wednesday, April 28, 2010
From Half The Sky
"... If you’ve been following Half the Sky for a long time, you may remember when I wrote to you back in 2005 announcing a “milestone week for China’s orphans,” a week during which the Chinese Government publicly declared for the first time that nurture and loving attention is every bit as important and basic to the welfare of young children as are food and shelter and medical care. That recognition was huge for Half the Sky. To bring loving care to orphaned children is why we exist.
And now the story of China’s orphans takes another giant step. Last week in Nanjing, Half the Sky co-hosted a national symposium for 130 orphanage administrators from every province in China. The topic was how to better integrate HTS’ four nurture and enrichment programs into everyday life at the orphanage. Our co-hosts were the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) and the CCAA.
I’m going to share more about this extraordinary event in our upcoming Spring Progress Report newsletter. But I just can’t wait to tell you about some of the big changes that are about to happen for the most vulnerable children in China, and how big an impact the support you have given Half the Sky over the years has made.
Director-General Wang Zhenyao, head of the welfare department at MCA, told the gathering that child welfare in China is about to enter a new era and that Half the Sky’s models for child nurture and enrichment will help lead the way. He said, “Like Half the Sky programs, we must now begin from the interests of the children. We must raise the standards of care for all children.”
After weeks of talks with Director Wang, we knew these weren’t empty words. He has a plan, agreed to by China’s leaders, and Half the Sky has been invited to play a key role in its implementation. He shared some of the news at our event:
CCAA will soon become the China Child Welfare Center (CCWC), responsible for protecting the welfare of all children.
CCWC will serve the interests of all children – particularly orphans, children with disabilities and serious illnesses, children of migrant workers, single parent households and families living in poverty.
CCWC will renew its efforts to find an adoptive family for every child possible, particularly those with special needs, as the number of “healthy” abandoned children has dropped dramatically with China’s new prosperity.
CCWC will tackle a major failing of all institutionalization – that children grow up in total isolation from the real world – by opening children’s welfare institutions to the community, turning them into community centers that provide services like HTS programs for all children, especially those who are disadvantaged: preschools and enrichment classes and guidance for teens and young parents who have no other place to turn.
Looking forward, I can now imagine a time when fewer children are abandoned; when desperate families know where to go for help.
So what does this mean for the children we work so hard to help?
First, it means that the thousands of children we serve will no longer be outsiders in their own communities. They will share classes and parties and holidays and ordinary days with “regular” kids. Almost all children will be placed in families. Those who do not find adoptive families will grow up in “Family Village” homes like those run by Half the Sky, with parents and siblings, rooted in the community but with special services provided by the new community centers.
And Half the Sky made its own big announcement at the symposium. It has always been our goal to put ourselves out of business – to turn operation of our programs over to those who are the true guardians of the children – and to commit ourselves and our small resources to training and mentoring. Now we see how it can happen.
By the end of 2012, if we reach our fundraising goals, we will have met our commitment to create a model Blue Sky Children’s Center in every province in China. At that time, we will stop creating new centers and just focus on training – sharing all we’ve learned with all those, at every level, who are responsible for the welfare of orphaned children.
We will continue to ask for your help so we can support operations of our existing and our new centers for five years. That means we will cease supporting operations at our current sites at the end of March, 2015. For the centers we establish from now until 2012, our five-year financial commitment will start on the date we establish them.
During the five years of support for each center, HTS will use what it’s learned to collaborate with the directors to help them work out how they will fund and operate the programs themselves.
And, of course, even after the five years, and for as many years as we’re needed, we will be there to provide training, mentoring and guidance for all those who care for the precious children who have lost the love of family.
After so many years of writing urgent pleas for help for the children - not knowing if things would ever really change - I feel I can absolutely tell you that your support has helped revolutionize care for the most vulnerable children in China. And the day will finally come when China will shoulder full responsibility for their nurture and care.
Of course, none of it will happen overnight.
In the meantime, we must continue to keep our promise to the children. As incredible as it seems, according to the MCA, the model centers that we are working so hard to create in every province will now provide a guide to the future for the whole child welfare system.
We still have a long way to go. And the children who spend their days in the welfare institutions as this transition unfolds still need our help. We did a thorough count early this year and, given the number of child sponsorships that have lapsed and were not renewed, we now are in need of 2349 sponsors to keep our current programs going strong.
If there is any way you can become a child sponsor or add another child to your ‘sponsorship family’ there’s no better time. Mother’s Day is coming soon. What better gift to honor your favorite mom than to help a child know that somebody loves her?
It seems like only yesterday that a handful of foreigners – adoptive parents who quite simply adored these forgotten children and were prepared to do whatever it took to give them a voice in their own country – made a first hopeful proposal in Beijing. So many said that what we proposed was impossible.
I was privileged to be leading that small team. By nature, I am an impatient person. China has taught me that if you wait (still not easy) and persevere, nothing is impossible.
But I will never forget that it is you and your support that truly makes it all possible. Ordinary people like you and me are making the impossible happen every single day.
with love and gratitude,
Half the Sky Foundation