From time to time, as they hear stories about the work we’re doing to help left-behind babies and preschoolers in rural villages, supporters will write to ask, “Have you stopped helping China’s orphans?”
Well, we haven’t! And we never will.
In the almost two decades that Half the Sky—now OneSky—has been around, we’ve launched numerous new programs that benefit children living outside China’s welfare institutions—whether young survivors of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan or children orphaned by AIDS in Henan. All the while, we’ve kept our promise to provide lasting support to the orphaned children in the institutions where our first work began. They continue to be our inspiration and our teachers; how could we ever walk away?
When we first began, China’s orphanages were overflowing with healthy, abandoned baby girls. Today, the policies and economic circumstances that precipitated the crisis have eased. But China is large and no social problem remains small. Today, most of the children in institutions—some 95 percent—are children with special needs, suffering from cerebral palsy, heart defects, and other challenges that require expert care. Most of them were abandoned because their parents cannot afford the soaring medical costs.
In response to this new orphan population, we’ve done our best to adapt our work. A rehabilitation center in Hong Kong has helped us train caregivers with the specific skills needed to work with these children. We have set up new pilot programs, including a very popular sports program for older kids funded by Adidas that not only gets children moving, but also makes them smile. Special work goes on with blind children, children with Downs Syndrome, and those with orthopedic issues. To train staff and create services for such children, we now have a Special Education Department and Special Needs Director, providing individualized help, including physical therapy. Such expertise, combined with OneSky’s proven methods of loving, responsive care, continue to work small miracles.
In the meantime, work in our Loving Families program—which pairs children with significant special needs with permanent foster families—goes on. Even better, although the program was designed for children deemed “un-adoptable,” one in ten of these children have turned around so completely that they have been adopted.
Incredibly, 20 percent of all children internationally adopted from China come from our OneSky programs!
We’ve also been continuing our efforts to reach every child in every social welfare institution, a once seemingly impossible dream given China’s huge size. At first, we were only able to reach one or two new institutions a year, but in 2011, we launched, in partnership with government, the multifaceted Rainbow Program that is spreading our impact across the entire country by:
Training caregivers. To date, OneSky trainers have reached 679 institutions, 11,000 caregivers, and 55,000 orphaned children in 24 provinces.
Creating eight National Model Centers. Fully supported by OneSky they are excellent examples of best practices in care and education for institutionalized children. To keep quality high, each of the centers goes through a rigorous recertification every year.
Providing annual quality assurance grants. Pending annual evaluation, these small grants are designed to help sustain the good work we began in some of the 74 orphanages where we’ve launched OneSky programs but who now struggle to self-fund.
Creating a network of Child Development Trainers. These seasoned professionals provide ongoing training and mentoring for caregivers and administrators all over the country.
Creating an online learning platform. Even in the most isolated parts of China, caregivers and administrators can compare notes, get help, and learn about the latest child development research.
Planting Seeds. Inspired by our training, government orphanage directors in smaller cities apply for seed grants to launch their own much-needed programs. The grants, funded and overseen by our all-Chinese sister organization, Chunhui Children, include partial financial support and intensive training over three years. Meanwhile, we continue, as we are able, to shift financial and operating responsibility for everything but ongoing training and mentoring work (we’ve vowed to continue that for as long as we’re needed!) over to the Chinese by 2020. We’re making slow but steady progress; more and more Chinese citizens are supporting their country’s most vulnerable children by donating to Chunhui Children.
We can and do describe our work in terms of programs, numbers and fund raising goals, but we continue to measure our real progress through the lives of individual children—the resilient little ones who taught us how to transform other young lives. The orphaned baby who lay in bed all day alone, and then began to smile when she was picked up, hugged, sung to. The toddler who was withdrawn and far behind in normal development, but who responded to loving care, and is now a happy and active three-year-old. The blind child who sat and listened, for the first time, as a caregiver read a story aloud.
What we have learned over the years—about the ability of these neglected small children to grow and thrive when given loving attention by a consistent caregiver—is thanks to the thousands of little ones in the orphanages where we first launched our programs. Our hearts remain with these resilient children, who have taught us so much, and with all the adoptive parents of Chinese children, and others, who have supported our work every step of the way.
If you get the sense that our work is never-ending, it seems to be. With help from so many people, OneSky’s innovative programs will continue to provide nurturing care for as many vulnerable children as we can possibly reach—thanks to the children in the orphanages, who are our teachers and our heroes.