Bringing love and hope to sick, abandoned children

2015-11-06 09:54Xinhua Editor: Gu Liping

Yang Yueqing can still recall her very first sight of "Olivia" three years ago.

"Olivia was in my arms, small, skinny and dying, staring blankly at the world," recalled the nurse. Born with cerebral palsy and heart disease,abandoned by her family, Olivia soon contracted pneumonia.

She was left at the No. 1 social welfare center in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan province. Because of her poor health, she was sent to the Butterfly Children's Palliative Care Center.

In the past three years, Olivia was declared to be in a critical condition more than 10 times, but Yang, never gave up on her. Two weeks ago, Olivia's gastric tube was removed, and she can finally eat and drink normally.

"I have no grandchildren, and Olivia is like my granddaughter," Yang said. "I am very, very happy for her."

The Butterfly Center, founded by retired British nurse Lyn Gould, is China's first center for children with incurable diseases. Gould, 66, told Xinhua that it had always been her dream to create such a center in China.

"I saw a movie when I was eight, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness," she said. "It was about an English woman called Gladys Aylward who came to China in the early part of the 20th century, and started to care for children who had been left by the roadside or had no home."

Inspired by the movie, Gould came to China when she was 45. "China was a very poor country then. I was scared, but I realized it was somewhere I could really do something."

With all her savings, Gould returned to China with her husband to set up the center in 2010. She named the center Butterfly, "because the butterfly is a symbol of hope, a symbol of beauty, lightness, freedom and color. Every butterfly is slightly different, and the butterfly goes through many transformations in its life."

She works with the local welfare center, which sends her children diagnosed as incurable. There are 20 beds in Butterfly. Five foreign nurses and 26 Chinese nurses taking care of the children around the clock. Usually one nurse looks after no more than three children, said Fa Xiaoli who works at the center. Gould works a shift just like the other nurses.

So far they have provided care for 153 children. Many have died in the arms of the nurses, with dignity and surrounded by love.

Yang Yueqing remembers watching Gould holding a toddler during his last moments, saying, "Baby I love you" and kissing him on the forehead, while everyone cried. She cleaned his body, put his favorite toys by his side, and sat with him until staff from the funeral home arrive.

In the center there is a "wall of butterflies", where each butterfly symbolizes a child. Those resting on the rainbow have left this world, but, like Olivia, nearly half of the children eventually recover.

Those who recover follow many different paths. Those with cerebral palsy go to a rehabilitation center, the blind to a special school and the healthy return to the welfare center. "But there are children who have lived for years in our center and established strong emotional bonds with us," Fu said. "If they were sent away, they would be hurt again, so we keep them here until they are adopted." So far, more than 10 children have found new homes.

Gould wishes she could give hope to all families with handicapped children or those who are critically ill.

"The parents must be extremely helpless when they decided to abandon their babies," said Fu. "It is our wish that more care centers like this could be established, so that parents can send children here during the day and have them back at night. Children should not live without love."

Running such a center is difficult and costly. The Butterfly's monthly expenses are around 170,000 yuan (about 27,000 U.S. dollars), which comes mostly from donations. Gould's husband went back to Britain two years ago and became a bus driver to help fund the center, but Gould believes that their efforts paid off.

"One of the joyful things about doing this is that some children do survive, and become well enough to be adopted," Gould said.

They hold a party for the lucky ones. "We are happy and we prepare for the child to go. But at the same time, everyone cries. There are still children now around the world whose families we are in contact with. I miss them, because we have spent so long time with them, so many hours worrying about them and caring for them and you build a bond with them."

Butterflies symbolizing the children who have left the center are also painted on the "wall of butterflies", sitting on mushrooms.

Yang Yiqing was not sure whether and when Olivia will be adopted.

"Of course I don't want her to leave, but a family is a better choice for children. Every child needs a family," she said.

"We pretend that our children have grown up and gone to study abroad. We miss them, but we wish them a better future."


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