When Nini arrived at Beijing’s Half the Sky China Care Home (HTS China Care Home) from Xinjiang province, she was a tiny 2-month-old, barely able to move. Born with spina bifida, Nini had to be held gingerly – a fluid-filled sac on her spine was so transparent it looked as if it were about to leak. Nini’s doctors discovered that she also had hydrocephalus (excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulating in the head) and Chiari malformation (an abnormal formation that causes the brain to push downward).
Almost immediately, Nini underwent a month of grueling surgery. Nurtured by her nanny, nurses, and a medical director at the HTS China Care Home, her surgical wounds healed quickly. Despite all of her physical problems, Nini was becoming a happy, developmentally-on-target baby. By the time she was 4 months old, Nini could babble contentedly to her nanny, with whom she was developing a deep bond.
"Mama" was Nini’s first word and most definitely her favorite. Every morning at exactly 5.30am, she would shout "Mama!" Everyone knew Nini, and not just because of her reputation as the Home’s alarm clock: "No one can resist those chubby cheeks," says supervisor Zhang Xiuhui.
No one can resist any of the achingly vulnerable and amazingly resilient orphaned babies and toddlers who travel to the HTS China Care Home each year to receive lifesaving medical care. The Home, which moved into a new, purposed-designed facility last year, is a unique and sophisticated medical center. It is also a true home that provides familial comfort and loving care for children who have no parents to fight for them or hold their hand while they endure often painful and lengthy medical treatment.
The new HTS China Care Home was made possible by an alliance between two non-profit organizations: the China Care Foundation and Half the Sky Foundation. Collectively, they have spent 22 years working to improve the lives and enhance the prospects of orphaned children in China.
China Care’s story started in 1995 when its founder, Matt Dalio, then aged only 11, moved to China and learned the plight of its most vulnerable children. Unable to forget what he saw, Dalio returned to China years later to help special needs orphans receive the care and nurturing they deserve. For a decade, China Care has provided medical care and a loving environment for hundreds of children.
Half the Sky’s (HTS) story began in 1997 when its founder Jenny Bowen and her husband adopted a little girl from a Chinese welfare institution. Their daughter suffered from just about every ill effect of institutionalization and was delayed physically, cognitively, and emotionally. After only one year of love in a family environment, she was transformed into a happy and bright little girl. Bowen thought HTS could similarly transform the lives of children still living in Chinese institutions by establishing programs that provide family-style nurturing. For 12 years, in close partnership with the Ministry of Civil affairs, HTS has established such programs for 35,000 children of all ages in 46 social welfare institutions across China.
By combining forces, Dalio and Bowen are able to provide intensive care from the moment an orphan arrives in the Home, up until primary school and even university. The newly expanded HTS China Care Home can house 80 little patients, and requires the hard work of 80 nannies, ten foster moms, a physician and four nurses, who watch over the children in shifts, 24-hours-a-day. Every child at the Home is assigned a nanny: A caring person who is just like a mother, staying with them in the hospital and watching over them when they return to the Home to heal.
Nanny Wang Shu Fang spent long hours at the hospital with Zhuang Wei, a boy from Jiangsu province, who started medical treatment when he was only 16 months old. After enduring six rounds of chemotherapy and surgery to treat his eye cancer, Zhuang Wei was finally pronounced cancer-free. Nanny Wang was there with him for the entire length of his treatment and recovery. She recalls the moment she saw Zhuang Wei after his right eye was removed: "The first moment I saw him after the operation, crying and with his right eye wrapped in a gauze patch, I just couldn’t control my emotions. My tears kept falling and I held him in my arms.
"I started thinking how much bad luck he’d had and how fortunate it would be if he had a mom to call his own. So I sang his favorite nursery rhyme, ‘Mama is the best person in the world.’ When he heard me singing, he stopped crying and stared at my face. I kept singing it again and again and felt [like]I was truly his mom."
Because the nannies and foster moms bond so deeply with their tiny charges, it is a bittersweet day for them when the children leave. Now healthy and strong, Nini and Zhuang Wei have both recently left the Home. Their nannies are thrilled to see how far they’ve come – from very sick, very scared newcomers to happy, healthy ex-patients.
But most of all, on that day of transition, the HTS China Care Home staff is full of hope. They know that the children will be enrolled in one of HTS’s nurture and education programs where they can continue to thrive. They know that the children now have the chance to be adopted or live in permanent foster homes. And they know that these precious children leave having received two wonderful gifts: lifesaving medical care and the knowledge that they, too, are loved.
The HTS China Care Home is sustained by private donations. To find out how you can help, visit www.halfthesky.org or www.chinacare.org. Alternatively, contact Roxana McKinney at 8532 3042/3043, 138 1067 5344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.