Guang Meitong, a 4-year-old girl from South China, was born with acleft palate and is autistic. She barely talks but loves being held by visitors and resting herhead on their shoulders as she clutches their clothes. Guang was abandoned by her parents at birth. But thanks to theloving care of a US couple, she has had surgery and is awaitingadoption. Her saviors are Tim and Pam Baker. |
Four of their seven childrenhave been adopted from China, with the first joining their familyin 1992, four years after the couple arrived in the country. The Bakers also co-founded the Shepherd's Field Children's Village,which has cared for more than 4,000 orphans like Guang. More than3,000 operations and medical procedures have been carried out and900 children have been adopted. Construction work began on the orphanage in June 2003 and it ishome to 86 children. The compound was built and decorated in traditional Chinese style.
All the children receive education and are under the care of 100workers, including teachers, Chinese nannies, Western doctors,volunteers and interns. The village, in Dawangguzhuang town in Tianjin's Wuqing district,is a compound of 11 buildings, including five dormitories, aschool, a workshop and a clinic. It receives children from orphanages around country. The majorityof them come from impoverished rural areas.
About 40 children are adopted annually, with most joining overseasfamilies. The village has a long wall covered with the handprints of orphanswho were adopted. "I want the children to remember where they come from, eventhough they will live abroad with their new families, speakingdifferent languages," Tim says. A vocational training center is under construction, which has beendelayed due to funding shortages. Its completion will make theorphanage the largest of its kind on the mainland, Tim says.
Itwill be home to 150 orphans with special needs. The 55-year-old from Wisconsin and his wife first arrived in Chinato teach English in Liaoning province's Fushun in 1988. They movedto Beijing to teach at a university in 1991. They volunteered atorphanages in their spare time.
An orphanage in Guizhou's provincial capital Guiyang cared for a5-month-old girl who was born with serious congenital heart diseaseand always waved at the couple. In 1992, the couple took the 50-hour train ride to Guiyang andadopted the girl. "We changed the lives of our adopted children, and they alsohave huge impacts on our lives," Tim says. "We just realized there are still many orphans who need helpand an opportunity to change their lives." In 1995, the couple founded the Philip Hayden Foundation to raisemoney for China's orphans. The foundation commemorates the USteacher Philip Hayden, who worked with them in Chinese orphanagesand died of a heart attack at age 28.
That year, they quit their jobs and moved to Langfang, Hebeiprovince, where they planned to open an orphanage. A localbusinessman offered them houses to support their plan in 1999. The undertaking was a huge challenge, especially at first. Most ofthe children had life-threatening problems and needed surgeries.The first orphan they received was a newborn with complicated heartdefects.
"The most difficult thing at first was to believe that wecould do something for the children with special needs," Timsays. "To be honest, my wife and I were a little fearful at thebeginning. Even in China, the surgeries still cost a lot of moneythen." The Bakers asked for help from friends, family and supporters, whoresponded quickly and raised money for the baby, who was lateradopted. "Now, we still have problems and challenges," Tim says. "But we take any child coming through our gate, because we areexperienced, and, importantly, more people are joining with us tohelp the children." The local government also supports their work.
In 2002, it sold theorphanage land at the unbelievably low price of 1 yuan ($0.15) permu (0.06 hectares). Shepherd's Field Children's Village receivedits first child in 2006. "Compared to the early 1990s, I saw a big improvement inChinese society to help the orphans, who need group work fromsociety," he says. "Now, I am happy to see more people and organizations join.China has the best adoption system - clear, straightforward andwithout corruption." Supporters include international companies, local enterprises,hospitals, schools and individuals.
Operations manager Li Yan says the orphanage welcomes donations ofanything the children need, such as baby formula, diapers andclothes. "Children here need love, and you can be their uncles andaunties," Li says. Most of the orphans are between 1 month and 6 years old. The Bakersare working to find solutions for the older children, who are lesslikely to be adopted. Hou Tong, who suffers from a congenital spine curvature, has neverleft bed in all of his 17 years.
He recently received surgery andis expected to walk in the future. Hou is also learning Englishfrom a US college intern. The center's workshop provides a place for older orphans to learnsuch skills as handicraft making. After six years in the Shepherd's Village, 22-year-old HuangZhongyu, who lost his fingers to a fire, will work in a localbakery. "The happiest moment for me is when I see the kids leavingwith their new families," Tim, who the children call"Papa Tim", says.
"But it's a little sad, too, sincein my heart, they are always my kids. But I wish they can have anormal family and a new life." Dr Bill Muddy and his wife have worked as volunteer physicians atthe orphanage for seven years after closing their clinic inCalifornia. "Given our medical background, we think we should be here tohelp the kids, who deserve another opportunity in life," the65-year-old says. While Baker's happiest moments are to see the children leaveShepherd's Village with new families, Muddy's are to see newchildren arrive, he says. "The fates of the kids were uncertain," he says."But once they are sent in, it means they have an opportunityto survive and start a new life.".
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