Friday, February 1, 2008

China Update from Half the Sky

This is an e-mail from Jenny Bowen, Director of "Half the Sky". She has written a detailed message about how the severe weather in China is affecting the SWIs in various provinces. Read her news, and then think about whether you can help.

Hello again,

Welfare institutions in south and central China are having the hardest time dealing with the weather disaster. This part of the country is simply not equipped to deal with extreme cold or heavy snow and ice. The most common critical problems are power outages, lack of safe drinking and cooking water, lack of fuel, diapers and public transportation. In many places where buses have stopped running, our Half the Sky nannies have been walking hours (in one case, 4 hours) along icy roads to get to the children. As conditions worsen, our nannies and teachers are remaining at the institutions day and night. They have given up the idea of going home to their own families for the holidays. They need quilts. They need warm clothing. They need coal, water, disposable diapers and food.

Here are the reports I have thus far, while in-flight. I will send more soon. Where you don’t see a report, either all is well or I don’t yet have information. I will tell you when we’ve heard from everyone. We’ve also given all the directors an emergency number to call when/if the situation changes.

Hunan Province –

Chenzhou has had no electricity or water for six days. They are relying on coal for heat and cooking. The supermarkets and banks are closed. Staff is using personal money for baby food, diapers, coal and water. Costs are rising due to shortages. They have a natural well which, thankfully, is not frozen. Even the older children are helping to fetch water. They have perhaps six days of food remaining. The local government is overwhelmed by the disaster and is unable to help much.

Shaoyang has seen heavy snow every day for 20 days. There is sufficient water and, for the moment, there is power, so the children are warm. However, 5 of 6 power poles have been downed by weather. Only one stands and the institution fears it will fall as well, leaving them without electricity. Much of the rest of the city is already dark. Children and caregivers continue to work and play together. High school students are cramming for exams and trying to ignore the cold. Everyone prays that the power pole will continue to stand.

Yueyang also has no electricity. The one functioning power generator is being used in the children’s dormitory. They are relying on coal heat but the price has tripled in recent days. They are running out of food and have applied to the local Bureau of Civil Affairs for funds to buy more. Our HTS nannies have been walking for hours to get to work, often slipping
on the ice, “even though they try to be cautious.”

Xiangtan has had snow for the past 10 days. The main water pipe is “broken again.” There is no water for cooking right now but they do have electricity, coal and blankets. They are still able to buy food but prices have gone way up. Not all of the HTS nannies can get to work every day. They are keeping the programs going as well as they can and make sure that at least five nurturing nannies are there with the babies every day, along with the institution’s caregivers.

Jiangsu Province –

Changzhou has seen some heavy snows but the director reports that the children are fine. The director says that he’s doing his best to ensure that the children do not suffer. Public transportation is crippled by the snow and HTS nannies and teachers are waiting for hours to catch a bus for home or even walking home in the snowy dark.

Nanjing reports no problems at all despite the heavy snows. I tried to fly into Nanjing yesterday but it was not possible.

Anhui Province -

Chuzhou has both water and power. Only public transportation has failed. HTS nannies and teachers are walking to work. They are leaving home extra early to be there for the children.

Guangxi Province –

Guilin has two broken HTS heater/air conditioners in the Infant Nurture rooms and they’ve asked us to replace. The rooms are very, very cold. They ask for more soft matting for the floors and also snow boots for our HTS nannies who’ve been slipping and falling in the ice and snow as they come to work. They are so ill-equipped to handle severe weather.

Jiangxi Province –

Fuzhou lost power for a few days but now it is back to normal. The snow stopped a couple of days ago but now is falling again. The directors and HTS staff have gathered all the children into one big room to keep them warm. They’ve bought New Years clothes for the children and will have a party no matter how bad the weather. This year, however, the foster parents will stay home to keep the children safe. The institution has enough food and water. They want us to focus on those in more serious trouble and ask us please not to worry.

Jiujiang says they’ve never faced such bitter weather. They desperately need disposable diapers. Washable diapers cannot be dried. They need warm clothes, shoes, gloves hats quilts and warm mats for the floors. They need medicine for infant coughs and colds.

Hubei Province –

Wuhan suffers heavy snows but they still have power. Heaters are working but there is no water for bathing. The local community has offered to take children in for the Chinese New Year and the institution feels this may be the best decision to keep them safe.

Huangshi reports that the freeze is so severe that all heater/air conditioners have stopped functioning. They need quilts and warm clothes for the children. They need disposable diapers. Several HTS nannies have fallen on the ice on their way to work and they need medicine to treat cuts and bruises.

Gathering these reports together makes me think about how careful we have always been at Half the Sky to maintain our focus on nurture and education programs. Ours is not a medical or relief organization. There are many wonderful groups who do that work. Probably the primary reason we’ve been able to accomplish so much and reach so many children is because we’ve maintained our focus on our core mission -- providing nurturing care for children who’ve lost their families..

But a moment like this really cannot be ignored. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in the US taught us that no matter how wealthy a country might be, its vulnerable citizens (old, poor, ill, and orphaned children) are the ones who suffer most when disaster strikes. Even as China seems to be entering the first world, a disaster like this is quite simply crippling. We know that orphaned children will be among those who suffer the damage most.

I say this because I think we should break one of Half the Sky’s rules and, if there are sufficient funds raised in the Little Mouse Emergency Fund, we should offer relief (water, food, diapers, quilts, clothing) to any orphanage where children need help. Let’s see how this goes. If people are as generous as I think they might be, we will work with the provincial Bureaus of Civil Affairs in every hard-hit community, and offer assistance to all welfare institutions where there is need.

Please lend a hand, however you can. You can donate to the Little Mouse Emergency Fund by calling us in the US at +1-510-525-3377 or in Asia at +852- 2520-5266 or by visiting us at Once there, you can click on “Donate Now”
or go to to download a form to mail or fax. Donations are tax-deductible in US, Canada and Hong Kong.

Please forward this message and tell your friends and family.

I will be back with an update very, very soon.

Thank you!


Jenny Bowen
Executive Director
Half the Sky Foundation

Half the Sky was created in order to enrich the lives and enhance the prospects for orphaned children in China. We establish and operate infant nurture and preschool programs, provide personalized learning for older children and establish loving permanent family care and guidance for children with disabilities. It is our goal to ensure that every orphaned child has a caring adult in her life and a chance at a bright future.

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redmaryjanes said...

I have done a post for this too. I can't believe how awful the winter storms have been there.

FDChief said...

"The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in the US taught us that no matter how wealthy a country might be, its vulnerable citizens (old, poor, ill, and orphaned children) are the..." (Chief's sardonic comment here) "...first to be tossed on the dumpster by the powerful and wealthy who control the levers of power."

How sad that the aging cadres who control the levers of power in China today have forgotten that the promise of revolution was to care for the poorest and weakest.

And how even more sad that it takes individuals and private organizations like HTS to make up the difference between existing and living that the powerful feel uninspired to close.