To ZZ, With Love

On Your Retirement Day—

It was a stroke of good fortune.

I was reaching out to anyone in the world who might be able to help me realize my “impossible” dream for China’s orphaned and abandoned children. It seemed nobody could. And then fate and a kind friend sent me to the China Population Welfare Foundation in Beijing. You answered the phone. You were the only person there who could speak English. That was my great luck.

ZZ in red.

From that day on, I was never alone in my quest. I had a true ally in my efforts to make life better for hurt kids. For the past 21 years, you have been my guide, my mentor, my interpreter and my voice.

As my interpreter, you always made me sound better than I was. As my partner, you never scoffed at my big ideas.

An orphan yourself, you shared your deep sorrow with me during those early orphanage visits, but you also shared my resolve to somehow change things. You showed me how to work with government, how to keep making some sort of progress, while carefully avoiding making enemies.

You shepherded endless groups of Western volunteers, you stopped big city traffic for them (they often told me they felt like baby ducks following Mama.) You ordered food for them and helped them not be afraid of trying new things. You found their lost luggage, you arranged care for their children, you helped them bargain for trinkets in the markets.

You cried for the babies with them.

ZZ in red.

Together, you and I visited every orphanage where we heard the children were hurting. Airplanes, buses and vans…we covered China. We chuckled when drivers told us “Only two hours more.” We knew it would be five.

In the beginning, we bought supplies for the new Children’s Centers ourselves. There were no credit cards then. You’d load up a backpack with cash, strap it in front like a big fat belly, and we’d head into town. We turned heads wherever we went. The locals not only stared, they’d follow us while we shopped. Foreigners were still a rarity back then.

We’d buy everything from rugs and furniture to art supplies and beads. At the end of the day, when we tried to tally up the receipts, we never could agree on the numbers and, exhausted, we’d fall apart laughing. Neither of us was great at math.

Insurmountable as the challenges were in the early days of Half the Sky, immovable as some of the government officials and orphanage directors were, with you by my side, no mountain was too high. No earthquake or snowstorm could stop us.

When things got really tough, you always told me, “One day, they’ll be knocking on our door, begging for our programs.” The very idea would make us laugh and laugh. That’ll be the day!

But you know what, ZZ?… Today they are! The doors are pretty much open wherever we go. And 200,000 children’s lives are forever changed.

The truth is, ZZ, without you there would be no Half the Sky. No Chunhui. No OneSky. No mountains would have moved. You are a gift to China’s children and a treasure to me!

Thank you, Big Sister, my jie jie, my partner. My Secret Weapon!