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Fostering a family spirit for those less fortunate

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-07-21 07:43
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When Cao Guozheng told Wang Bingneng that orphans and children that had physical challenges were fostered in his village for a monthly remuneration of only 316 yuan ($47), Wang could not believe his ears and thought Cao was playing a trick.

In 2000, the Ministry of Civil Affairs called for the development of family foster care, prompting Cao, the then Party chief of Kunming Children's Home in Southwest China's Yunnan province, and his colleagues to begin searching for a suitable place to pilot foster parenting.

At that time, the child welfare center only had about five staff members. But, the number of orphans and children in the welfare center exceeded 700, adding excessive stress to the institution and its workers.

"It is only family foster care that can take the pressure off the child welfare home, and most importantly it can provide orphans with a home environment, which makes a huge difference to their future growth," says Wu Fashun, a member of staff at the welfare home. "In addition, rural areas are more suitable for foster care than cities because of the greater availability of housing and workforce."

Cao began his efforts in Wangjiatan village because of its warmhearted people and sound environment.

Wang, who was then the deputy chief of the village Party committee, was apprehensive about the willingness of villagers to foster the children due to the meager compensation.

"We can earn 100 yuan by working in the factory near our village for two days, so there was no reason for us to accept this offer," Wang says.

To persuade Wang and his villagers to foster the children, Cao and his staff members paid multiple visits to the village and even asked Zhang Fuqiang, the then Party chief of Caopu township, for help.

Wang was unable to reject them, so he turned to his relatives and Party members for foster care. Six of them, including his wife and parents, agreed to visit the child welfare home before making a final decision.

As a Party member and representative in the village congress, Deng Ziying, one of the first foster parents in the village, could not make up her mind initially. But, during a visit to the welfare center, a little boy approached her and refused to let go of her hand. "That was when I was determined to give these children a home," Deng says.

In late 2000, after Deng and other Party members took the lead, the first batch of 12 orphans and children with disabilities came to Wangjiatan village for foster care.

Cao Liqiong is one of the third batch of villagers to take part in foster parenting. Since 2001, her family has taken in one of the highest numbers of children in the whole village, fostering a total of 31 orphans and children with physical challenges.

She decided to bring these children, who were the same age as her own, into her house to compensate for their lack of parental affection.

"Children who are healthy and relatively young are usually adopted by other families within a few months of foster care," says Cao Liqiong. "Only those with physical challenges stay back with us."

Abin (pseudonym) has lived with Cao Liqiong's family for 13 years. He was unable to dress on his own or take care of himself.

Cao Liqiong had to wake Abin up every night for nearly three years to prevent him from wetting the bed and, in order to cultivate Abin's self-care ability, over four years she taught him to dress himself.

Once, at the age of 14, Abin went missing, prompting Cao Liqiong to devote more time to him than the other children.

"I had asked him to deliver the car key to his brother, but a few minutes later, I could not find him anywhere," Cao Liqiong recalls, adding that she reached out to the entire village and asked the police for help. She stayed awake the whole night to make sure she didn't miss the sound of Abin knocking on the door.

A day later, Abin was found by other villagers playing with stones next to a pond on the nearby mountain.

"He was shivering when he returned home, and I held him firmly in my arms until he fell asleep," says Cao Liqiong. "I have never left him alone ever since the incident."

According to the rule of the welfare home, after a child turns 18, if they have not been adopted, they have to leave their foster home and lead an independent life.

Cao Liqiong, who has fostered 31 children, has said many goodbyes. She recalls every child's name and keeps a photo album with pictures of them during their time with her.

"Every time a child leaves, a mother will shed tears, but they will always be our children and live in our hearts, no matter where they go," she says.

For 22 years, Wangjiatan village, home to more than 1,300 people, has fostered more than 1,500 orphans and children with disabilities. From as many as 300 children, the village now has only around 90.

"It's a good sign, indicating that cases of child abduction and abandonment have reduced, and our village is about to accomplish its task," Wang Bingneng says.

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