This cute little guy is one of thirty-five special-needs children living at the Starfish Foster Home in Xi’an China (read prior posts about Starfish). He posed for this photo before I could get my camera set up and mugged for the camera off and on all day. I gained a real appreciation for the beauty of a child who doesn’t necessarily look or act like the rest of the kids. At Starfish, they’re all that way.
There are about one million orphans in China; most are healthy little girls and the rest are special needs children. Because of a strong cultural preference for boys, China now bans gender identification procedures during pregnancy to discourage abortions, but this, combined with the one-child policy increases the number of live births of unwanted children. To be clear, most of these healthy girls and many of the special needs children would have a happy home with their birth parents but for China’s one-child policy.
Poor parents, upon learning that their one allowed child has a birth defect that could cost more money to fix than they can dream of having, sometimes feel that they have no choice but to leave the baby in the hospital.
The Starfish Foster Home seeks to care for these especially marginalized children in China. They are born with a range of physical problems, including cleft palettes, club feet and spina bifida; many of the children who come to Starfish have problems that can be fixed surgically.
Starfish arranges for the surgeries, often performed by visiting volunteer doctors who come from the United States and Europe. The children then remain in the foster home until they have fully recovered and can be adopted. The ultimate goal of Starfish is to get children into a permanent family situation.
Some of the children who end up at Starfish are there because they have a questionable diagnosis or a mystery condition of some sort. Sometimes, they simply aren’t thriving in the big public orphanage. At Starfish, the children generally flourish. During our visit, we saw countless smiles and a wonderful ratio of one nanny for every two children in the home, giving each one plenty of care. A New Zealand-trained nurse, Gillian Wain, who has performed humanitarian service around the world, now lives at the foster home to help care for the children around-the-clock.
Some have conditions like cerebral palsy that will be with them for the rest of their lives. They are all precious. They are all special.
Recently, I wrote about Amanda de Lange, the South African founder of Starfish who has recently been diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer. She is now in the United States being treated for her disease and is doing well. All involved with Starfish pray for her recovery and look forward to her return to Starfish.
In the interim, Patrick Belnap, who has been developing a dual Sino-American career in the NGO world has taken over as the interim director. He brings a strong commitment for continuing Amanda’s work and for seeing that the organization is strong and stable for the future.
Due to Amanda’s illness and her absence, everyone in the Starfish community is worrying about the relationship with state regulators and partners who work with or oversea the Starfish operations. The children continue to thrive and operations are running smoothly. It would only heap travesty upon tragedy to have Starfish closed due to Amanda’s illness.
To learn more about Starfish or to contribute to its mission, visit the homepage.
How can you help?