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September 3, 2014

Nonprofit working to transform Chinese orphanages

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In the wake of China’s “one-child” policy, which it introduced in 1979 to discourage families from having multiple children, orphanages received a greater amount of female children.

The 1995 film “The Dying Rooms” showed orphanages filled with girls who were receiving little attention from adults. Jenny Bowen and her husband were so moved by the images that they adopted a Chinese daughter and created Half the Sky, a nonprofit which reforms practices in Chinese orphanages.

“You could see the tragedy. You walk into a room, and you were just confronted with the tragedy,” Bowen said.

About 750,000 children are in Chinese state custody. They are mostly from impoverished rural areas and many have special needs that families cannot afford to treat.

“They just need to have the love that a family gives naturally to a child,” she said.

Half the Sky promotes responsive care practices in which adult mentors work closely with children to form a bond, Bowen said. The group has trained 12,000 teachers and nannies in 27 provinces to use responsive care in orphanages.

Bowen received advice from child development experts and raised funds for the organization in Hollywood, where she had worked as a screenwriter and filmmaker.

The organization encountered roadblocks with the Chinese government, which is sensitive to outside criticism, Bowen said.

“Certainly, the international criticism let them know that something had to be done. I probably was the least threatening of the options out there,” she said.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is China?
  2. What do you know about the Chinese government?
  3. How are girls treated differently from boys in China and in other countries?
Critical thinking questions
  1. The majority of children in Chinese orphanages are female. Why do you think this is the case?
  2. Child development experts say that much of a child’s social and linguistic developments happen at a very early age. How could a child who did not receive any adult care develop differently as a result?
  3. Bowen has said that the Chinese government did not initially respond well to her request to work with state-run orphanages. Why would it react this way? What could be some barriers to nonprofit organizations who are working with a foreign government?
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