Successful journalist, news anchor, talk show host, and now a pillar of hope for Chinese youths, May LEE has been spending much of her time in the south-eastern part of Beijing at Meng En Orphanage.
"Meng En" (translated from Mandarin as "grace received") has been a loving home for Chinese children, aged 3 to 14 years since 1996. It has provided many with warmth, comfort and happiness in a caring and loving environment -- something numerous other orphans in government-run orphanages are not able to enjoy. However, Meng En Orphanage had recently been informed that the facility will be demolished by the end of the year to make way for a new commercial centre. When this happens, the orphans will be displaced and the only home that they may ever have known would be cruelly and unnecessarily taken away from them.
At the same time, May LEE and some of her peers are looking into setting up a vocational school -- the first of many that they plan to establish all over China. These vocational schools will be a great opportunity for the under-privileged orphans to pursue a better future with an education beyond the elementary level. May LEE believes that the children deserve a good chance at life and took the time to speak to Diane Fay on the children's inevitable plight and to appeal to her fellow members for support, so that sufficient funding may be raised for a new facility and vocational schools.
ORPHANAGE: Meng En Orphanage
TOTAL FUNDS NEEDED: $1.5 million
FUNDING DEADLINE: December 1, 2008
VOCATIONAL SCHOOL: Beijing Daya Hongbo Foreign Language
PLANNED FUTURE SCHOOL LOCATIONS: Harbin, Shenyang, Zhengzhou,
Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Kunming, and Lanzhou
Can you paint us a picture of a typical day at Meng En orphanage?
The idea behind Meng En is to create the closest thing to a family environment as possible for the orphans so every child is looked after with a lot of care and attention. There are several "bedrooms" in the orphanage, which are shared by the children according to gender and age. All the children have breakfast together in the dining area and then the older kids, age 13-14, go off to school. The little ones, between ages 3-5 are schooled at the orphanage by the teachers and caretakers. There is a small classroom on the second floor of the orphanage.
After class, lunch is served to the little ones and then there is play time, which usually includes running around on the outdoor jungle gym that was donated a few years ago by a Finnish Company. Once the older children, all girls, come back from school, they spend time with the young ones, which is quite special. It's a family so the older girls are like big sisters who really care about the children. Dinner is spent together and then it's time for the little ones to get ready for bed, which means brushing teeth, bathing and getting into their pajamas.
How would this be different from government-funded orphanages?
The biggest difference between Meng En and government orphanages is the way in which the children are treated and cared for. Often times, government orphanages do not allow children to be kids, meaning they don't have a chance to laugh, play and discover. Some kids aren't even taken outside of their designated space. These children deal with loneliness and isolation regularly. The kids at Meng En, however, are happy and healthy because of the care they receive and the fact that they are allowed to do what kids need to doâ€¦play together, go to school and have fun. It's a different experience and it only makes for happier children.
What will happen to the children at the Meng En orphanage once demolished?
The demolition of the orphanage will happen because the land that it sits on along with the surrounding area was sold to a Hong Kong developer. The plans are to build a giant shopping and entertainment centre so the remaining residents, including the orphanage, will have to move by the end of the year.
If money is not raised in time to purchase a new facility for the orphans before the forced move, then all the children will have to be put into temporary housing and they will be separated from one another due to space constraints. This will be traumatic for children who will be displaced from the only home they have ever known in their young lives AND they will be temporarily separated from their friends.
How much is needed to build a new orphanage?
We are looking for US$1.5 million to purchase a proper home similar to the existing facility in the Beijing area. The reason for using a real home as a facility is because it helps create a warming, more family-like environment for the children rather than an institutional building that has a more depressing look and feel to it. The children at Meng En are happier and healthier because they live in a real home full of love and care.
How can your fellow Diane Fay members contribute to a new facility for the Meng En orphans?
First and foremost, we need donations to help purchase a new facility. From individual donations to corporate sponsors, we are hoping that the generosity of others will help us with this project. We don't want the kids to be faced with being moved around and separated so the need to raise the funds is immediate and imperative.
In China, how important is vocational school?
A vocational school in China is important for several reasons. For one, orphans in China are not permitted to be adopted from the age of 14 onwards, which means that unless their orphanage has the funds to keep them on and pay their fees to go to school, the 14 year olds are either sent to a government run vocational school where they are required to engage in labour intensive work or they are sent back to where they were found and left to fend for themselves. Because orphans do not have the means to attend a proper school, they have little or no chance at learning any skills let alone getting a proper education. The same can be said for underprivileged children in China whose families have no financial means to pay the required school fees from middle school onwards. That is why millions of children from poverty stricken families, especially girls, cannot attend school.
At this point, how many of the orphans are in need of vocational school?
There is no definitive number because there are orphans all over China who haven't been adopted, but are reaching that critical age of 14 when they face the unpleasant options mentioned before. The school wants to take in as many orphans as it can to help provide training, but it can't do it without proper funding for scholarships. We are building the school
as both a charity and a business. In order to fund the orphans and the neediest of students, the school will also recruit students both young and old who can pay a proper tuition. The idea is to have a viable business in order to sustain the charity arm of the project. The more we can raise through the business arm, the more scholarships we can provide to kids we really deserve a chance.
What are some of the skills that the orphans would pick up through the programmes at these vocational schools?
The Beijing Daya Hongbo Foreign Language School hopes to do its part in helping orphans and other underprivileged children and young adults gain practical and useful skills in order to become self-sufficient.
We are teaching English, which is one of the most important skills to have in today's modern China. We also plan to add computer training classes so we hope to get computer donations soon. Other trades will include mechanics, computer technician and hospitality skills. But I
have to add, we are not limiting ourselves at this point because any and all practical skills would be great to teach at the school. The most important need now is, of course, funding and also professionals who are willing to come and share their trade with the students.
Where in China would you like to establish vocational schools?
The flagship school is in a suburb of Beijing, which is advantages because of its lower operational costs and the access to a large, suburban population that hopefully will help us attract paying clients, which will then help build a self-sustaining charity business. Once the Beijing school is successful, the plan is to expand to other major cities that are strategically located in various regions of China. These cities include Harbin, Shenyang, Zhengzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Kunming, and Lanzhou.
Once again, how can fellow members support your efforts in setting up these vocational schools?
We are in need of US$1.1M to complete the purchase of the first school facility by December of 2008. In Phase 2, we would like to purchase a dormitory building next to the school to house the orphans and other children who will be coming in from other parts of China. That requires US$1.4. Beyond that, we would really appreciate any financial donations to sponsor scholarships for the children. It can take as little as US$150 per month to fully sponsor a student. We also are looking for material donations such as computers, books, school supplies, clothing etc.
The potential of the children in China is limitless, they just need a chance and through the orphanage and the school we hope to give them that chance.