China's Abandoned and Disabled Children -
What is the full story?
Posted June 9, 2010

After being approached by one of my PT students from Texas State University late last fall regarding joining a team to serve the abandoned and disabled of China, I immediately began to research International China Concern and the reality of life in this mysterious and complicated nation. So many questions bubbled to the surface. The first and most poignant was, “How does this proud nation that hosted the elaborate 2008 Olympic Games abandon their disabled children? What is the full story here?” And the second question, which I will address in a subsequent blog, “What in the world do I think I can do about it?”

I have been intrigued with China for a long time, and I cannot deny that I truly felt led to join this group of young people under the leadership of International China Concern. I did not over think my next move, and with David and the boy’s love and support I simply answered, “Yes,” to His call. I didn’t want to go in completely empty minded, so I studied some Mandarin, listened to a 48 lecture Great Courses series on China from the fall of the dynasty through present day, and reviewed my pediatric development during my drive time between home health patients. All three were tremendously helpful.

International China Concern is a Christian development organization focused on bringing love, hope, and opportunity to China's abandoned and disabled children. It sounded good, but I couldn’t help being skeptical about how a Christian organization partners with a welfare system inside of a communist state. The answer to this question became clear as I had the opportunity to work side by side with the angels who are ICC. 

Hengyang is a large city in deep mainland China. The people here are poor, but not unlike hundreds of millions throughout rural and urban centers. As you
know, China has undergone rapid and enormous capitalization and growth within its economic sectors. When market reforms extinguished the communes prevalent under Mao Zedong, the cooperative medical system (CMS) began to dissolve as well. The current healthcare situation in China is very challenging rendering the majority of care and procedures, if they can be accessed at all, as an out-of-pocket expense. We learned there is very limited support or resources for families who find themselves faced with a child born with special needs or disability.

Further compounding these issues is a deeply ingrained societal stigma around disability in general. The value of an individual is closely tied to the physical and mental capacity to provide for the material needs of the society. A child with a disability is rarely seen as valuable or deserving of care. The one-child policy places crushing pressure on an individual family unit to have a child that will be capable of providing for his or her parents as they age. All this taken together paints the grim picture of up to an 85% mortality rate seen
within the welfare centers. There are facilities throughout the of cities in China each with hundreds of disabled children, caring staff simply too small in number and resources, and a lack of overall education, empowerment, and the spiritual energy to see these brilliant little souls as the children of God they are.

Let me end this exploration of why decisions seem to be made the way they are with an actual and almost unfathomable situation. While we were on lunch break one afternoon from the orphanage, a premature baby boy was wrapped in a blanket and left in a box outside the gate of the welfare center. He looked about 28 weeks gestation with very weak respirations and a lot of bruising on his skull.

Why not just go in and hand him over to the welfare staff?

Because abandoning your child is actually illegal in China even though there seems to be no way out for these families. So a child must be left for someone else to find them and then taken in by an uninvolved party to the welfare center. The same superstition, bad luck, and bad karma around having a child with a disability seem to exist around death as well. The family is given no hope by the doctors, and they are told to leave the hospital. The thought that fear, superstition, and social stigma keeps a parent from even holding their baby until he dies is difficult to wrap one’s head around. The abandoned premature baby boy with no name had returned home to his creator by the time we returned to the orphanage the next morning.

Even with all of this, there is hope. International China Concern is one of those beacons in the darkness. With projects now in both Changsha and Hengyang, ICC has taken over the care of hundreds of children with disabilities and given them the love, hope, and opportunity to live in safety and dignity. ICC appreciates the multiple layers of victims within China and has long term visions for the entire nation. So back to the question, “How does a Christian organization partner with a welfare system inside of a communist state?”

I believe the answer to this question is that ICC practices the true meaning of evangelism; to gently love and serve without a personal agenda, and when we have the opportunity to declare “why” we do it…
We tell them clearly, “Yahweh.” 

I always appreciate your thoughts, and I look forward to sharing more of this amazing journey in future blogs. Michele

For further information on the healthcare system in China.