Baby's Home: Hope for China’s sick orphans in Shanghai

Baby's Home: Hope for China’s sick orphans in Shanghai

Shanghai's sole voluntary organization for disabled orphans struggles to give them a better life
Shanghai baby's home -- main
What these Chinese babies ask for is only a bit more tender, loving, care.

At a little villa in Shanghai’s Minhang district lives a group of tiny tots, all under the age of one. At first glance, they 17 babies look just like other infants -- full of curiosity towards anything new and playing up to get the attention of their caretakers.

However, these children are just slightly more special: they were born in impoverished Chinese inland regions, have no parents and need surgery fast.

Shanghai baby's home -- inline 1Inside Shanghai Baby's Home. Cerebral palsy, cleft lip and palate are the most common conditions among these sick orphans.

A grassroots organization of concerned mothers

In the summer of 2008, 11 young Shanghainese mothers of various backgrounds got together to establish Shanghai Baby's Home after coming across an online post from Henan. It was a plea from an Henan orphanage, requesting medical resources for orphaned infants who desperately needed surgery.

"The post came from a nurse in Henan, explaining the dire circumstances these orphans had to bear, especially those with disabilities," says Guo Wencui, one of Baby's Home's founders.

"Because of the limited medical expertise and resources that were available to them, they were unable to offer much help to the children. It made us wonder if we could do more for these children."

But what exactly could they do? The Shanghai mothers first looked to Beijing's welfare group, Angel Mom, for inspiration.

"After the volunteers at Angel Mom saw the post, they immediately contacted the Henan nurse, and brought the orphans to Beijing to undergo surgery," Guo says. However, there were soon too many orphans for Angel Mom to manage.

"It was then that we decided to establish Baby's Home. After all, Shanghai has the top medical facilities in the country," Guo continues.

The 11 founders had not known each other before, but they were all frequent users of the same online baby-related forum, sharing parenting advice with other mothers.

After a while, they decided to meet up in person, and it was over a casual teatime conversation that the idea for Baby's Home was born.

In search of foster families

As a last resort, we will foster these children out to suitable local families, we will sometimes give them a supplementary monthly allowance to support the babies.-- Guo Wencui, one of Baby's Home's founders

At least 40 infants have received help from Baby's Home so far. Cerebral palsy, cleft lip and palate are the most common conditions that they suffer.

"Though these conditions may sound quite serious, all the infants need are timely operations in order to grow up normally like other children," Guo says.

Baby's Home has established good relations with many of top-notch medical specialists in Shanghai. For example, babies born with a cleft lip are often sent to the Ninth People's Hospital, which has Shanghai's top cosmetic doctors.

However, as Guo points out, while it is easy for these children to recover from an operation, the difficult part is finding them a good home afterwards.

"We will try our best to find them a foster home in Shanghai. Most of our foster families are foreigners living in Shanghai and our next best choice are local Shanghainese families. We try to avoid sending these children back to the orphanages they came from," Guo adds.

These preferences are derived from past experience.

Baby's Home once received an infant with an imperforate anus, which was successfully operated on in Shanghai.

But shortly after he was sent back to the orphanage, the opened rectum closed again as the orphanage did not have enough people or expertise to do the post-operative care. As a result, the infant had to go through the same operation three times.

"As a last resort, we will foster these children out to suitable local families, we will sometimes give them a supplementary monthly allowance to support the babies," Guo says.

An awkward position

The greatest joy for us is to see our recovered babies get adopted out to foster families and smoothly integrate with society-- Guo Wencui

As Baby's Home has a special status in China, the road to finding suitable foster families is a long and costly one.

"As we are just a voluntary organization and not an officially recognized non-governmental organization, we are not allowed to advertise through the media," Guo says.

All civil organizations on mainland China have to be registered with the government, and must be backed by an official enterprise or institution. These strict regulations have force many voluntary organizations in China to quietly exist in a bureaucratic grey area.

Thankfully, Baby’s Home -- which faces running costs of about RMB50,000 a month --  has the support of many overseas charities, and through these connections has managed to successfully foster out seven babies.

And because of its undefined status, Baby's Home is not eligible for government subsidies. All the expenses incurred have to come from the founders' own pockets as well as kind donations from members of the public.

"As Baby's Home is a non-profit organization, we cannot offer any return on the donations we receive. This is the first condition we tell our donors," Guo says.

All 11 of its founders have full-time professions ranging from managers to accountants and entrepreneurs. Their continued physical and financial investments in Baby's Home is the main reason for its success.

According to Guo, Baby's Home currently employs nine nannies, two cleaners and two administrators to look after its 17 charges. The 11 founders regularly take time off their busy schedules to help out at the villa.

"The greatest joy for us is to see our recovered babies get adopted out to foster families and smoothly integrate with society," Guo says.

Shanghai baby's home -- inline 2How to help Shanghai Baby’s Home: Either make regular or one-time donations or send daily baby necessities and medical supplies.


How to foster one of their infants:
Call or email Baby’s Home. Staff will send an adopter’s application form before embarking on the selection process. Applicants must have a stable income and preferably some child-care experience. Single women are eligible to apply too. More details are available on their website.

Please note: All the requirements set out by Baby’s Home are in accordance with China’s foster care regulations

Getting there

Shanghai Baby's Home

No. 71, Lane 2088 Dushi Lu, near Xiangyang Lu
都市路2088弄271号, 近向阳路
tel: +86 21 5415 2237
www.shbabyhome.org.cn
contact@shbabyhome.org.cn

This article was translated by Debbie Yong.

Wang Fangqing is a Shanghai-based freelance reporter. She writes about business in English and lifestyle in Chinese.

Read more about Wang Fangqing