Chinese Canadian Margaret MacNeil won gold in the women’s 100-meter butterfly event at the Tokyo Olympics. She is one of several elite athletes who were adopted from China as young children and went on to win international competitions for their countries. This has brought the plight of China’s orphans to the attention of social media in China. In this article, Territory (Jingjie) interviewed a Chinese Christian woman who left a corporate job to care for disabled orphans. Because of length, we are posting it in two parts.
Behind the Olympic Halo, Hundreds of Handicapped Orphans Were Adopted from Here
Canada’s Maggie MacNeil swam the women’s 100-meter butterfly in 55.59 seconds in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. She beat China’s Zhang Yufei by a mere 0.05 seconds, winning the first gold medal for Canada in this year’s Olympic Games.
Maggie MacNeil, an ethnically Chinese Canadian Olympic champion, was born in Jiujiang, Jiangxi Province in China in 2000. Like MacNeil, gold medalist on the American gymnastic team, Morgan Hurd, born in Wuzhou, Guangxi in 2001, and Kara Eaker, born in Jiujiang, Jiangxi in 2002, are ethnically Chinese girls adopted by overseas families. They have drawn peoples’ attention away from the competitions and to the orphan community behind the honors and medals.
Territory (Jingjie) interviewed Yali, a sister in Christ in charge of an orphanage in the north, who shares stories from her many years of serving disabled orphans.
When I left the multinational company for which I worked and started working with severely disabled orphans, I found that I not only lost my income and insurance, but I also lost my social life. Though the needs of each child lay before my eyes daily, over ten years have gone by in a blink. Many people are concerned about where the money comes from, but God has not let me worry about this. You would feel discouraged if you plan for the future every day. However, as long as you love faithfully, God will definitely take care of you.”
Multinational Company or Orphanage?
How did you enter the field of serving disabled orphans?
When I first went to the School of Foreign Languages to study international trade, I had only a thin quilt because of our family’s difficult situation. One night, my roommate gave me her thick quilt, which warmed my heart. Later she told me that she was a Christian and invited me to study the Bible with her. Though I was not particularly interested, and my schoolwork was demanding, I agreed because I did not want to brush her off. But gradually, I found that some questions that I have always had, such as “Where do people come from? And where do they go?” actually had answers. It felt wonderful when I eventually found the meaning of life.
For a while I worked as an interpreter for a foreign expert in cerebral palsy, and I met an elderly foreign gentleman who brought two children in for rehabilitation. He was a preacher who served orphans and disabled children in China. Not long after we met, he and his wife returned to their home country. Later, I started working at a multinational company after graduating from university, and often went on business trips.
In 2009, I suddenly received an email from this gentleman. He said that he was at an orphanage in my hometown and invited me to visit. I thought to myself, since he was in my hometown, I might as well go see him. I went there and met him at an orphan aid agency, and later he invited me to help establish and serve in the agency. I was not willing to do so, since I had just started my career, and had a good job and a good income. The work in an aid agency is unstable and very difficult. Then one day, his wife told me that if I didn’t join the work, they would not be able to continue helping orphans in China. So, after all kinds of struggles, I told them that I would help, but would not work full time with them.
I didn’t think too hard about it at that time, figuring I would work at the company during the day and help at the agency after work. Before the high-speed rail was built, I rushed to the bus every day when I got off work at 5:00 pm, and arrived at the agency around 8:00, and then got up at 5:00 am the next morning to return to Beijing to work. Finally, after two months, my body couldn’t take it anymore. I had to consider what I would give up. If I gave up working at the multinational company, then I would lose my career and my future. If I gave up the orphan agency, my conscience would be stricken, and my heart could not bear it.
What was the situation of the agency at the time? How did you make the final decision?
There were nine children at the agency at the time, which is similar to the current situation. Our original goal was to help severely ill children. The elderly gentleman knew a lady who worked in a relevant department, and she helped put us in contact with orphanages where children needed help. Our children came from orphanages everywhere.
I struggled for a while. When I thought that I was going to give these children up, my heart was even more tormented, so I decided to give up my job in the multinational company. Though I thought it would be simple, when I actually left the company, I realized that I not only lost my income and insurance, but I also lost my social life. I felt like I was cut off from the world. Soon after the establishment of the agency, the old couple left for some reasons, and I had to handle everything in the agency myself.
Have you ever thought about returning to your former work? What does your family think of your choice?
I was too busy to think about it! The needs of each child are placed in front of us daily, and more than ten years have gone by in a blink. I think if I returned to my former work now, I might still do great, but probably not in another couple of years. Many people around me suggested that I should establish a virtuous cycle in the agency. But I get a headache just thinking about it. I truly don’t know how to do it. I am not a goal-oriented person. When I see the needs of the children, all I can think of is how best I can take care of them. And I believe that God is pleased by this. My mother is very simple and full of love. She quietly helps me when she sees what I do. Some children were brought here by my mother herself, and she is very happy when she sees the children she brought adopted by good families.
These severely disabled children need people to be with them day and night. You also have to contact hospitals, raise funds, and interact with various people. What is the most difficult thing?
I feel extremely tired. I have to see different doctors in different hospitals every day for the children. Besides, my own health is not very good, and the doctor has suggested that I rest more. Many people are concerned about where the money comes from. This is actually what I am most grateful for. God has not let me spend too much brain power on this. The more one thinks about it, the more one worries.
I know many organizations will spend a lot of energy to maintain volunteers, because these are the sources of funding. I don’t do so, and I don’t have time to do so. Nevertheless, the children’s aid has not been delayed over the years. We try our best to get the best treatment for the children and take them to different hospitals according to their illness, such as cardiac surgery in Fuwai, internal medicine in Anzhen, orthopedics in Jishuitan, and nephrology at Peking University.
Watch for the rest of the interview next week.
Original article: 奥运光环背后，百名残障孤儿从这里被收养, by Territory (Jingjie), no longer available.
Translated, edited, and reposted with permission.
Image credit: Walking in Yellow by Totomaru via Flickr.
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