Holding one family together

By Zhao Yashan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-1 19:18:01

The Hunan couple almost abandoned their sick 7-month-old daughter earlier this year.

The doctors had told them that there wasn't much chance their little girl would survive without a liver transplant, said the mother, surnamed Li. In Shanghai, they learned that the procedure would cost 130,000 yuan ($20,958), far more than she or her husband, surnamed Chen, could afford.

"I was heartbroken and felt hopeless," Li told the Global Times.

There didn't seem to be any solution. Li and Chen's relatives suggested they abandoned their daughter with the hope that the government would take care of her, Li said. However, when the couple approached a local child welfare center, they were turned away. They were told the center only accepted orphans.

Li burst into tears as she retold the story on June 24 at Shanghai's Renji Hospital, where she and Chen were staying with their daughter, awaiting medical treatment.

The couple has regained some hope of getting help for their daughter after they were introduced to Naomi Kerwin, an American expatriate who has started a charitable project that raises money for families with children in dire need of medical treatment or other aid.

The project, called One Less Orphan, aims to reduce the number of children abandoned in Shanghai by sparing families from the choice Li and Chen faced: either abandon their daughter or watch her die.

Kerwin said she has been working with orphaned or disabled children in different parts of China since she arrived here in 2005. "Helping children stay with their families has been my passion," she said. "There is a lot of support for orphans but there aren't enough people thinking about how to stop children from becoming orphans in the first place."

The project grew out of the volunteer organization that Kerwin founded, The Children's Garden. The organization focuses on helping vulnerable children get money for medical care and special education. The organization is in the process of registering as a US charity and has no employees, Kerwin said. Its projects are run by volunteers.

To help Li's daughter, who is the first child that One Less Orphan has sought to aid, Kerwin and several volunteers arranged a silent auction on June 22 to raise money for the transplant and obtain some daily necessities for the family.

About 50 foreign families attended the event, which took place at Little Bugz Kids Clubhouse, a private children's activity center in Xuhui district.

Lina Zheng and her husband, who both worked in Shanghai as corporate executives, opened the center in 2013 after their son was born in 2010, according to the center's website.

They donated the space to host the event, as well as the money they took in at the door. "We've actually donated everything we've earned today to the charity, including the entrance fee," Zheng said.

The event offered parents a chance to socialize and drink champagne while their children enjoyed the center's playground. To raise money for Li and Chen's daughter, participants bid on items such as hotel stays, children's clothing and hair care products. Some of the items up for bid were donated by the organizer's friends. 

The two-hour auction brought in more than 13,000 yuan, and The Children's Garden received all of the money Zheng collected from admission to the center that day.

"I feel very happy. This is exactly what I want after traveling around the world. I used to have little time for my family, friends and the community. Now I can not only do something for the people I know, but those I don't know," she told the Global Times.

The event was largely organized by Monica Slack, an Australian mother of two who volunteers for The Children's Garden. "I think it's compassion for the orphans. Being a mother is a big driver for something like that," she told the Global Times. "You look at yourself and see you are healthy and very lucky with two cheerful children. It's just heart-wrenching to see your little girl in such a situation. I can understand why parents abandon their children. It's just because it's such stressful situation."

There is a sort of solidarity among parents that brought Rupert Dehaene-Gold to the auction.

"I and my wife have two children, and we know the value of family," he told the Global Times. "And I think when you have children you have a feeling for other families as well. I think that's the real reason."

Kerwin said that she dreams of the day when families won't need organizations like The Children's Garden because there are institutions in place to help them instead.

"The Chinese government is making fantastic progress in helping families," she said. "We need to remember that China is a big and complex country so the solutions are just as big and complex, and progress has been steady. It's like making a sharp turn in a large truck. Changes take time and effort."

For right now, she is happy that changes are happening and that people have responded so generously.

The organization is still working on raising more money for Li and Chen's daughter.

The little girl has undergone several physical checkups in preparation for the surgery, which will take place this week if everything's ready, including the money.

Children get their faces painted at a silent charity auction on June 22.


Lina Zheng (second from left), Monica Slack (middle) and Naomi Kerwin (right)

Photos: Courtesy of Zhu Jiawei


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