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Ailing orphans find haven in Shanghai

Ailing orphans find haven in Shanghai

Updated: 2012-03-16 07:39

By Shi Yingying in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Babies get treatment, hope and care to raise chance of adoption

One-year-old Liu Junmeng recently waved goodbye to her five "mothers" and "father" in Shanghai to go to Henan (her birthplace) for a passport photo, and she is expected to arrive in the United Stated on Saturday to live with her adoptive family.

Just 11 month ago, she had been left at an orphanage in Henan, probably because she had a cleft lip.

Ailing orphans find haven in Shanghai

A worker at Lupin Foster Home holds a little girl in Shanghai on Feb 28. The foster home, an NGO, opened a year ago to care for sick, orphaned infants from remote areas of China and to offer a free, cozy place in which they may recover. [Yong Kai / for China Daily]

From there, she joined 11 other infants with birth defects in a house in southwest Shanghai, the Lupin Foster Home. The infants were waiting for, or recovering from, surgery.

"Meng Meng (Liu Junmeng) had her surgery (to correct her cleft lip) last October and her adoption papers were finalized at the beginning of November. That was one of our happiest moments - to experience this kind of life-changing result," said Du Wei, one of the six founders of Lupin Foster Home.

Decorated like a mini kindergarten, the foster home, an NGO, opened a year ago to care for sick, orphaned infants from remote areas of China, to help raise funds for their surgeries in Shanghai and to offer a free, cozy place for them to recover.

Ailing orphans find haven in Shanghai

Talking about the idea of establishing the NGO, Du said many people would define charity as making donations to welfare associations or contributing their spare time as volunteers. "But that wasn't enough for me, or any of us in the Lupin Home," she said.

"I happened to know that many orphanages, especially in the poor regions, didn't have access to advanced medical care and couldn't arrange the children's operations in time. The thing is, for these babies (with certain congenital ailments), the treatment has the best results if they have their surgeries by the time they're 3 months old," Du said.

"They'll become perfectly normal kids, instead of having handicaps for the rest of their lives."

The two-story Lupin Foster Home has three big colorful bedrooms for the children, said Li Yuqing, 39, the only "father" among the six founders. "I decorated the place," Li, who runs an interior decoration business, said proudly.

"The first floor is for the relatively bigger and stronger babies, and here is the children's play area," said Li, pointing to a space where a few babies attempted to crawl across the white playpen. "The second floor is for smaller babies and those recovering from operations - they need better rest."

Li said that the six organizers met at a child-care website, and because they all have small children at home, they were familiar with the kind of anxiety that arises when a child is sick.

"We rented the apartment here (in Xinzhuang) because it's next to my and Du's offices, so we could sneak out during lunch break every day," said Li. He added that all of the organizers have full-time jobs, in addition to their work at Lupin.

Half of the 12 babies at the Lupin Home are younger than one year, and the others are just a few months older than one. Many require feeding throughout the day and night because there are certain weight requirements for their surgeries.

"For example, a child has to weigh no less than 8 kilograms before having a first cleft lip and palate correction surgery. And most of our babies were as light as kittens when they first arrived here," Du said.

Seven care workers were hired to look after the babies around the clock, seven days a week.

Du said frightening experiences were never far away. "I've seen babies choking, having seizures, and fainting in the middle of the meal or out of the blue. And I know what it's like to have your hand ready to grab the phone all night as you wait for a call from the hospital," she said. "Fortunately, we haven't lost any of them, and we've all become half doctor by now."

A care supervisor surnamed Huang, who has been with the Lupin Home since it opened, said she had to get used to looking after four sick babies after caring for a healthy one.

"There are certain rules you have to learn to help them feel better, like slow down the feeding for babies with congenital heart disease, and give them more meals a day but less food per meal," Huang said. "And we need to be particularly careful that anyone with any sign of flu doesn't enter the home to avoid infecting the children."

Du's biggest wish is to see all of these babies get better and find adoptive families before they are one year old, because up to then, babies don't remember much.

"I don't want them to remember us because if they do, they'd feel like they were being abandoned a second time when they left to live with their new families," she said. "The good news is that half of our angels have already found, or are about to find, arrangements for new adoptive families."

The Lupin Home makes a "memory card" recording every milestone in the babies' lives. "Little things like the date of a child's first smile or first word are written down in a notebook that goes with them to their new families," she said.

"The idea was inspired by what I did with my own child. We kept tracking every moment of his life. We wanted the same thing for the Lupin Home babies."

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