Across Asia, as the Lunar New Year holiday draws near, in even the poorest families debts are paid, floors are swept, homes are scrubbed top to bottom and filled with flowers, fruit and candies.
Children too are scrubbed clean and adorned in bright new clothes. Everyone is ready for a fresh start…ready for spring. Maybe after a difficult year like the last, it’s not so easy to sweep away our troubles and make ready for a time of renewal. But as I reflect on all the challenges we’ve faced over the years, how far we’ve come, how much there is to celebrate… all things seem possible once again.
Looking back, I’m perhaps proudest of how a determined little group of foreign adoptive parents somehow managed to forever change the way China’s most vulnerable young children are cared for. And how today, the work those foreigners began is built upon and driven by equally determined and committed Chinese citizens.
If you follow us, you know this: Once upon a time in China, it was bad luck to be born a girl. Back when Half the Sky was founded, one out of every seventeen baby girls conceived was missing from Chinese society. A million were likely aborted. Others were abandoned, and many thousands ended up in overcrowded, understaffed welfare institutions under the indifferent watch of randomly assigned, untrained government workers.
The children, forgotten by just about everyone, spent their days without loving care or stimulation. As a result, those who survived the early years often suffered extreme developmental delays, were emotionally vacant, and ill-equipped to ever learn to function socially and thrive in their communities.
With sheer stubbornness and no small amount of good luck, we foreigners and our resolute Chinese colleagues found a way to partner with the Chinese government to make life better for those little children and the ones who came after. Working together, we have been able, over the years, to help the country re-imagine its entire child welfare system.
A great sign of success came in late 2012, when after years of effort, the government finally gave us permission to establish Chunhui Children’s Foundation, a 100% Chinese organization, but with the transparency and high standards of an international NGO. At a special launch party the following year, we happily passed the torch (actually the official torch I carried before the Beijing Olympics!) to the new Chunhui board of directors.
Chunhui, whose name literally means “the warmth of spring sunshine” and, colloquially, “a mother’s love” now is responsible for implementing all of OneSky’s work in China. It is led, not by foreigners, but by Rachel Xing, OneSky’s former head of China operations and a native of Qingdao. Not only is that as it should be—Chinese citizens running their own child welfare programs—but it also ensures that our work for China’s children will continue, despite whatever political tensions may arise between nations.
Chunhui today is a highly-respected public foundation, recipient of over 20 national awards, with a long list of accomplishments, including bringing our OneSky Approach to 115 government orphanages in all 31 Chinese provinces.
With support from both Chinese citizens and the OneSky Community, Chunhui is our “little” sister no more, not only implementing OneSky projects, but also surpassing us in the scope and variety of services offered. Chunhui continues our work with left-behind children in rural villages, trains child welfare workers, provides life-saving medical care for orphaned children, and more.
Focusing on bringing systemic change to all aspects of child welfare in China, Chunhui also designs and operates model programs in welfare institutions for children with special needs, trains caregivers for children at risk in poor townships and soon plans to serve child migrants in China’s industrial zones. Deeply important in China and fundamental to all we do, Chunhui enjoys a great reputation among government officials and is promoted by them as a model foundation that should inspire others.
If I sound like a proud mama, it’s because I am. When I began this work 23 years ago, I didn’t dare dream of such a bright future for China’s most vulnerable children. Today, it feels like nothing can stand in our way.
With Rachel’s awesome Chunhui team in mainland China, along with those under Morgan’s OneSky leadership in Hong Kong, Vietnam and Mongolia, I think it’s safe to say—we are most definitely ready for a brilliant New Year and whatever Spring may bring!