Wednesday, December 6, 2006

What's It Like to Live in An Orphanage? Part 2

I am clearly not qualified to answer that question. There may be some readers who are, but I'm pretty sure that you can only truly understand orphanage life if you've experienced it first hand.

Many adoptive parents gain some insight into what it was like for their child to live in an orphanage when they arrive in their child's birth country to "get" her or him. Arriving with their North American (or Westernized) set of sensibilities, a visit to their child's orphanage can be a shock. I was recently speaking with one mother who still cannot forget the friction marks on her daughter's wrists from being tied to her crib. Cruel? By our standard, yes. But if you are a Nanny responsible for caring for many infants, how many options do you have to keep one from tumbling out of her crib? The reality of orphanage life is that there are many babies, many preschoolers, many children... and caring for them all adequately is very hard.

The realization that something could be done by ordinary people to help children be cared for "better" prompted Jenny Bowen, an adoptive Mom, to start the not-for-profit organization "Half the Sky". Please go to their website ( if you are not familiar with their work and see what a difference providing additional, trained nannies and improvements in facilites can make to children living in an orphanage! The Half the Sky programs are based on solid scientific and educational theory- but the banner on their home page says it all; it is a quote from Meng Zi , circa 300BC...

"All the children who are loved and held will know how to love others... Spread these virtues in the world. Nothing more need be done."

Happily, the Half the Sky programs are spreading throughout China, and they are placing more resources into building "villages" for foster families- housing complexes where qualified foster parents can live and provide a temporary family for children who would otherwise be in an orphanage setting. What a concept! So simple, yet so innovative and making such a difference to children who cannot live with their birth families! I cannot say enough about the work of this organization.

One of the other charitable organizations doing AMAZING work in China is "Love Without Boundaries" ( This volunteer group provides funding for nutrition, education, foster care and medical treatment for orphans. Many surgeries for cleft lip/palate, heart defects, and other medical conditions are performed with the financial backing of LWB. Read their blog ( and see what a difference this group makes in the lives of children every day.

China Care ( is yet one more group making a difference. One of their really interesting programs is a Volunteer placement program, in which young (and not-so-young!) people can work in one of the group's children's homes and really use their time and talents to care for children. A volunteer with this group has a blog which I just think is fanatastic (; it is often hard to read, since she brings the children she cares for (most with medical conditions) into your heart through her blog- and, sadly, some of these children die. But, especially for parents of a "Waiting Child", it is an amazing look at how many of our children will have experienced their early days of life.

I hope that when we finally get to China, we will be able to visit our child's orphanage and/or meet his foster parents. Until then, I'll follow along with the stories of other children and the people caring for them.

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