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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.