For Each, A Beautiful Childhood

Over many years of getting to know the extraordinary women

who are most responsible for the transformations we see in orphaned children, I have learned that the hardest thing about their work is  knowing they’ll have to say goodbye. I still marvel at the fortitude of the dedicated nannies in Hefei and Changzhou, OneSky’s very first children’s centers, who, since our programs began in 2000, have been opening their hearts to abandoned babies, falling in love, and then, one bittersweet day, watching each of their new charges leave them forever. How can they do this over and over again? They are the true miracle workers. And after all these years, I feel I can recognize them the moment we meet.

The first time I saw Xiamei, infinitely patient, tender and fun, working with Juanjuan a few months after being assigned this “autistic” child —a child who couldn’t bear to be touched or make eye contact—I knew our little girl had found her perfect match. I watched them for over an hour…mesmerized.

Li Xiamei now (68)
Li Xiamei now (62)
Li Xiamei now (58)
Li Xiamei now (59)

I can absolutely confirm there is nothing second best about the kind of love and trust they share.

When I asked Xiamei what Juanjuan’s life would be like in five years, she said, “I wish for her the same as every mama wishes for her child. She will be a lovely girl living a happy life and she will have a beautiful childhood.”

Watching her work, you’d think Xiamei must have enjoyed that beautiful childhood herself, but it wasn’t so. She understands only too well what it means to grow up without a mama’s love.

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Xiamei was the second child of four, the first daughter. Sadly, her mother was addicted to gambling and so was rarely home. Her father worked long hours to support the family. The children were left to raise themselves. Xiamei’s childhood was full of fantasies of mother-daughter clothes-shopping sprees and family outings.

One day Xiamei’s mother simply went away and never returned. On her wedding day, Xiamei still secretly hoped that her mother would appear.

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After that day, Xiamei stopped hoping.

To her very traditional new mother-in-law’s displeasure, the young couple’s first child was a little girl. But from day one, Xiamei adored being a mother.

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When the opportunity arose to join OneSky as a nanny, she immediately felt she was meant to do this work. She was a natural!

Xiamei grad

Shortly after the training ended and the work began, Xiamei learned that she was pregnant again. Her mother-in-law, now extremely eager to welcome her first grandson, insisted Xiamei stay at home and take care of herself until the baby was born.

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Xiamei looked at the four new babies in her charge and cried. She begged her family to let her stay. Without her, perhaps Juanjuan would never come out of her shell. Maybe nobody else would be willing to cuddle with Wenting for fear of catching syphilis. Little Anli was just beginning to smile; Duoduo to sit up. Xiamei’s husband promised she could return to work once the baby came. OneSky Infant Nurture director, Li Daoxin told her she’d always have a job at OneSky.

Reluctantly, Xiamei went home. But all she could think about was those babies and how much they needed her. Her husband tried to comfort her but her spirits were so low, she was unable to eat. She told us she worried day and night. “What if the new nanny could not take good care of my babies? How could she understand their traits, what they need? What if the children cry when they cannot see me?”

It’s impossible to know why it happened or if Xiamei’s depression somehow brought it on, but within two months of returning home, Xiamei had a miscarriage.

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Xiamei is now back at work, loving all her children and tearfully saying goodby when they move on. Both her husband and her mother-in-law told Xiamei they now understand how important her work is. They tell her they are proud of her.

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