Things I Learned . . . at the Orphanage

Content Warning for those who might be triggered by some of the material here–this post mentions child neglect, abandonment, birth defects, extreme poverty and child death.

Orphanage featured 2 copy

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.  –E. B. White


While our family lived in China I was on the board of the Beijing International Committee for Chinese Orphans. This group sponsored several orphanages in China–they built new buildings and paid for diapers, baby formula, medical care, physical therapy and special education services for the hundreds of children living there. Because of my involvement with BICCO, I was also able to volunteer in a state orphanage, leading a group that spent a few hours a week soothing babies with horrifyingly severe birth defects, playing with extremely developmentally delayed preschoolers, handing out vitamins and meeting with therapists to see how the kids were progressing. During school breaks my older two kids joined me there, teaching the toddlers to play tag, taking wheelchair-bound teens out for walks, feeding babies, changing diapers and handing out “milk candy,” a special favorite of the kids there.

These experiences were some of the most important I had in China, forcing me to confront the real truth about the conditions in which too many children around the world live. These were children. Real children. Just like mine. And but for the luck-of-the-birthplace-draw, my children could easily have landed here, using “recycled” disposable diapers, eating two meals a day if they were lucky, staring through the bars of their crib 23 hours a day, rarely feeling a human touch.


Severe birth defects and illnesses are all too common among orphans here. But they are also usually very treatable with money for the right care. (Photo from China Little Flower.)

Watching these little lives progress, or not, permanently alters your perspective on life. And seeing what a difference a few hours, a few dollars or a few boxes of baby formula can make to a building full of overwhelmed and underpaid Ayi-Nannies and undervalued, “unimportant” children is life-changing.

So what can you do? This is one of the most common questions I get from people about our time in China– How we can help orphans, orphanages and those living in extreme poverty from where we live? What can we do? What SHOULD we do?

The problem is complex and confusing, rooted in culture and poverty and plain old human disinterest. But here are two simple ways you can help, right now, from anywhere.


China Little Flower projects is a truly wonderful charity that runs private orphanages for babies and children with the most severe illnesses and defects. While not the orphanage where I worked (which sadly closed to foreign visitors and foreign aid a few months before I left China), I have many friends who worked at Little Flower and I feel very confident saying that they are an organization that will use your donations wisely and well.

Children and Ayis playing together at China Little Flower.

Children and Ayis playing together at China Little Flower.

They fund surgeries, medical care and other interventions for babies and children who are transferred from other orphanages for their expert help, then returned when they are recovered so that they can be adopted out.

Two adorable residents at China Little Flower

They also help local families living in poverty get the help their children need while keeping the family together. (Lack of medical care and no way to afford life-saving treatments is one of the main reasons children are abandoned in China. Many parents are forced to choose between keeping their baby and watching them die, and abandoning them in a market in the hope that an orphanage will be able to save their lives–a choice I truly cannot imagine trying to make.)

China Little Flower also provides deeply important hospice care, giving dying babies a life full of love and peace, however short it might be. If you’d like to see more about their mission, you can get a quick outline here, and if you have even a few extra dollars a month to give, China Little Flower is a great place to give it.

An Long when he arrived at China Little Flower, and shortly before he was adopted.

An Long when he arrived at China Little Flower, and shortly before he joined his new family in the US. (All of his medical bills were paid by Roundabout)


Roundabout is a fantastic charity centered in Beijing that connects those who want to give to those in need. Roundabout works with many smaller charities (including China Little Flower, BICCO and “my” orphanage) to provide medical care, food, clothing, education and more to people and communities in need all over China.

Yang Bing desperately needed a bone marrow transplant to treat Leukemia, and both his parents were a perfect match. But his family had already spent their entire life savings on his care and couldn’t afford the procedure. Without the $45,000 deposit on his care, he would not even be admitted to the hospital. But Roundabout raised over $170,000 from the expatriate community in Beijing IN ONE WEEK to pay for all of his medical care. Now he is cancer free, living with his parents and his sister.

They fund surgeries for orphans and children living in poverty, provide life-saving treatments to people with devastating illnesses, send semi-truck-loads of humanitarian supplies to earthquake-devastated regions of China, provide aid to elderly people living in unimaginable poverty and so much more.

Roundabout gave bedding, clothing and food to this community of elderly people living in the most extreme poverty imaginable.

Roundabout provided bedding, clothing and food to this community of elderly people living in truly horrifying conditions.

And it’s all 100% volunteer and donor funded. If you want to help people from all walks of life throughout China, Roundabout is one of the most well-run, clearly focused charities I’ve ever had the chance to work with. Please consider donating to this wonderful cause.


Thank you all for making a difference in our world.




2 thoughts on “Things I Learned . . . at the Orphanage

  1. Carol Gonzalez

    Hello, Enjoyed reading your blog and stumbled across this one about helping those in need. We are planning to visit Beijing in April 2016. I would like to do something to help a child or children while we are there. I am a Social Worker from Boston traveling with my three kids, ages 15, 12 and 11.

    I hope you can assist with some questions about travel there

    We are flying into Beijing and plan to spend three days
    Then to Datong
    Then to Pingyao
    Then to Xian
    Then to Shanghai.

    We are saving south china for another visit perhaps.

    We are planning to hire a car and driver at most stops. I read your post about Beijing to Datong. We hope to do Datong and stay one night only. Do you recommend the afternoon train, sleep in Datong, get private car to Grottos and Hanging Monastery and then overnight train to Pingyao? Juts wondering.

    I have relied on Rick Steves for all our travel and despite reading several books, find this trip really challenging.

    Thank you in advance.

    1. 80 Diapers Post author

      Thank you for your question! If you want to help the Roundabout or Little Flower you can contact them on their websites and ask what they would most like you to bring with you from Boston–sometimes specific items from America can make a huge difference for small charities there. (One item I was just thinking would be fantastic for Roundabout would be solar-powered light bulbs like these from Nokero–Roundabout has the resources to distribute them country-wide to the poorest people who are still living without electricity and could really change lives.)

      I think the Datong to Pingyao idea would work great (disclaimer, I’ve never been to Pingyao but have friends who have and really enjoyed it.) As long as you have a driver in Datong you can easily do both the grottos and monastery in one day. And Shanghai is fantastic too, you’ll love it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *