China Little Flower

China Little Flower

China Little Flower is a medical orphanage in the Shunyi District of Beijing.  The home is in a villa, reconfigured to serve this very valuable and beautiful work.  When I first arrived in Beijing in 2011, there were, on a regular basis, about 40 babies there.  Now the number is roughly 60.

As I learned from the founder of Little Flower about a week ago, medical problems are the primary reason why children are abandoned in China.  There really is no national health care, and the costs for treating a baby with a life-threatening or chronic disease can be well beyond the means of many families.  So, as I understand it, thousands of these children each year are left in hospitals, where they enter the orphanage system.  Some are left at the orphanages themselves. Interestingly, perhaps sadly, this phenomenon of child abandonment is relatively recent in China’s history.  Apparently it began to grow exponentially following the opening of China in the 1980s.

About a third of the state-run orphanages are apparently well run, a third make an honest effort at trying to do well, and a third are where babies and young children go to die, victims of institutional neglect and disease.  The quality of these orphanages depends, as one might infer, on the financial status of the municipalities in which they exist.  If the village or city is well off, so, most likely, will be the orphanages.  If however the area is poor, all bets are off.  For those so inclined, one can find on Youtube segments of the 1995 BBC documentary, “The Dying Rooms,” which portray the horrific conditions of the poor state-run orphanages.  I have been told that things have improved since then, but are still not good for thousands upon thousands of babies and children across China.

China Little Flower, which came into being in the 1990s, is private founded and established by a couple from the United States, but who have made China their home.  It is also one of the few orphanages in China that is able to provide round-the-clock medical care for babies, preemies, as well as children born with cleft palates, digestive and coronary conditions, infections and so on.  In cases, it will fly children outside China for specialized surgeries that cannot be done within the country.  It is not a long-term orphanage.  Rather, other homes send babies to Little Flower for specific medical care. When the children are well enough to leave Little Flower, they are then sent back to the orphanages from which they came, with the express mandate that these children be adopted.  Little Flower itself cannot and does not do adoptions.  These are done by the government.  In January of 2012, Little Flower joined with the Beijing Chunmiao Children’s Aid Foundation.

Over the course of the past two years I have visited Little Flower regularly, and have introduced it to others, students and colleagues alike.  As I mentioned before, it is an amazing place, where medical care is combined with warmth and love.  I am always inspired by my visits there, inspired and filled with hope.  It is one of the reasons why I wish to continue to stay in China.

More information on China Little Flower can be found at its website, and on Facebook.Image

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Arkansas meets Beijing, 23 July 2013

This is surprisingly like my time here in Beijing.
July 21, 2013

Down in the Delta, Outsiders Who Arrived to Teach Now Find a Home


HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. — If you are from around here, you know Doug Friedlander is not.

Born in New York City and reared on Long Island, Mr. Friedlander is Jewish and vegetarian and has a physics degree from Duke.

But here he is, at 37, living in a roomy white house in this hard-luck Delta town of 12,000. Mr. Friedlander and his wife, Anna Skorupa, are part of a gradual flow of young, university-trained outsiders into the Delta’s shrinking communities, many of whom arrived through Teach for America and stayed beyond their two-year commitment.

Mr. Friedlander is now the ambitious director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce. He frets over the kudzu that is devouring abandoned buildings. He attends Rotary Club meetings, where he sidesteps the lunch offerings for carnivores. He organizes workshops to modernize small businesses and pushes tourism and the development of a decimated downtown along the banks of the Mississippi.

The mechanization of agriculture, lost manufacturing and a legacy of poverty and racism have taken their toll on the Delta, but Mr. Friedlander is thrilled to be here. He left his job at a software company in North Carolina’s Research Triangle nine years ago, taking a two-thirds pay cut, to “make a bigger difference.”

To that end, “this is the most fertile soil on earth,” Mr. Friedlander said. “If I were in New York, I would be a leaf at the end of a branch at the end of a tree — in a forest.”

Mr. Friedlander arrived in 2004 to teach science at Central High School in Helena. He was one of 71 corps members in the Delta; currently, about 300 of them fan across the region’s classrooms each year, mostly in Arkansas and Mississippi.

Here, in towns like Helena, a former agricultural hub and river port, they find some of the most devastating poverty in the country: shacks on cinder blocks, schools with nearly all students on subsidized lunch programs.

Segregation is a fact of life. Private “white-flight academies,” as some locals call them, are common, leaving public schools to serve an overwhelmingly poor, black student body.

“I just knew when they left my classroom, it was an uphill battle for so many of my kids,” said Greg Claus, who is from Ohio and taught art at a public junior high school from 2008 to 2011. Now an assistant to the mayor of Greenville, Miss., he has seen the names of some former students on the police blotter. Several more are already parents.

Teach for America is fiercely competitive, drawing top graduates accustomed to success. “For most, this is the hardest challenge they’ve ever met,” said Luke Van De Walle, a 33-year-old corps alumnus from Indiana who has settled in Helena with his wife, Jamie, and their two young children. “They put a lot of effort in, and they get chewed up by 25 third graders.”

Still, some former members say they have never felt so satisfied.

Michelle Johansen, 37, arrived from the University of Michigan in 1997. Since then, she has become a volunteer manager at the farmers’ market in Cleveland, Miss. She works part time at Habitat for Humanity and is an adjunct instructor at Delta State University.

“I don’t want to leave,” said Ms. Johansen, who is married and has two children. “The work I’ve been able to do in the Delta is fulfilling.”

She does wish there were a Target in town. And a movie theater. There is no place to get brunch. But, she said, “there’s something about the Delta that’s very special, and if people are open to it, they will be captivated by it.”

Matty Bengloff, 28, is one of those people. He grew up in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Now he owns a three-bedroom home in Cleveland, as well as a hip new yogurt shop called Delta Dairy, with his fiancée, Suzette Matthews.

“The barriers here are low,” Mr. Bengloff said. “You can be really entrepreneurial. Everyone is eager to help.”

But the transition is not always easy.

Residents cured Mr. Bengloff of his Yankee ways. Soon after arriving in the South with Teach for America, Mr. Bengloff was in a school speaking to a receptionist. When he could not hear the man’s words, Mr. Bengloff asked, “What?” The receptionist said: “I can tell you’re not from around here. When you don’t understand something, you say, ‘Excuse me, sir?’ Or, ‘Sir?’ ”

Mr. Bengloff took the lesson to heart. Now his habitual use of “ma’am” irritates his mother back East. He drawls, “Thanks, y’all,” to customers passing through his shop.

Ms. Johansen and Mr. Bengloff said they were attracted to the quirks and complexity of the Delta.

They have found schools that are progressive and a complicated political scene. Ms. Johansen’s doctor is a catfish noodler (who fishes bare-handed). Shopping online is more necessity than convenience, though a two-hour jaunt to Memphis is common. The unofficial town motto, plastered on bumper stickers, is an ironic “Keep Cleveland Boring.”

No one, residents say, is too busy for a good chat.

“I know people who live in places with lots of things,” Ms. Johansen said. “Movie theaters. A Target. And they aren’t happy. I’m a happy camper.”

Mr. Bengloff, who is Jewish, found what locals call a “church family,” led by a retired rabbi who commutes from Memphis once a month. Just as many of the temple regulars are Christian as are Jewish, just because they like the diversity of experience and, said Mr. Bengloff, “the rabbi is great.”

Some longtime residents initially resented the inflow of Teach for America members with fancy degrees and backgrounds. Those troubles have largely eased over time. And the hard truth is, the Delta needs the people.

“It’s good having highly educated folks coming back,” said Chuck Roscopf, a lawyer in Helena. “My kids, my friends’ kids — they’re all gone. They’re in Dallas or just about anywhere else, but they won’t come back.”

Teach for America entered the Delta in 1992, when it dispatched a few dozen corps members to Helena and Marianna, Ark. The numbers and geographic reach expanded steadily but exploded in 2009 because of an influx of funds from the State of Mississippi and the Walton Family Foundation.

The organization now estimates that over those years, 250 corps members have stayed on after their two-year commitments were over. Some have remained in education; others found jobs in private industry and community organizations.

They have started education-based nonprofit groups, like Mississippi First and the Sunflower County Freedom Project. Mr. Friedlander and Ms. Skorupa, with other Teach for America alumni, were founding board members of a new Boys and Girls Club in Helena.

Mr. Friedlander remains a hard-charging New Yorker, which has rubbed some folks the wrong way.

“If he was just here to make money, they probably would have run him out of town,” said Jason Rolett, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Phillips County. But Mr. Friedlander has won the trust of much of the community, Mr. Rolett said, “because of his heart, how much he cares.”

Mr. Friedlander enjoys ripping through a PowerPoint presentation of Helena’s new health center, riverboat tours, renovated historic buildings, a downtown emerging from ruin and new businesses. His pride is palpable.

Helena even has its first director of an advertising and promotion commission, Julia Malinowski, 27, from Seattle.

Word is spreading beyond the Teach for America crowd.

Recently, graphic designers opened a firm called Thrive in Helena after living for five years in Brooklyn, where “about 200,000 people were trying to do what I wanted to do,” said a co-owner, Terrance Clark.

He has had enough work in the Delta to hire two interns from Midwestern design schools this summer. And Mr. Clark has recruited a group of friends from Indianapolis to come to Helena to work on community projects under his company’s 501(c)(3) umbrella.

Mr. Clark, Ms. Malinowski and the rest work together in a chic business incubator downtown.

The space is airy and open, with interior brick and a glass conference room — sort of like what you would find in Brooklyn.

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Acts of Kindness

The insanity that can be Beijing traffic (“Why is that car driving toward me — on the sidewalk?”) can lead to forgetting that there are individuals with individual lives and individual stories in fact at the wheel.  And not everyone is the same.  

The other day after what may have been yet another day filled with frustrations at school, I was riding home, and, as is my way, I joined the probability field, arrived safely on the far side of a particularly probabilistic traffic circle, said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving and headed toward my apartment.

Now, it may be said that Beijing drivers will situate their cars so as to cause the most disruption in the least amount of space.  This may have to do with “saving face”: I don’t care if neither of us can move, I am not going to get out of the way.  As I began peddling down this side / access road, I saw such a situation developing.  I should add that here I was doing what one is taught not to do in the States, ride against traffic.  Then again, here in Beijing “wrong way” is a very fluid concept.  After all, the laws of motion generally do not dictate that particles move in a “right way” and a “wrong way.”  And, in the philosophic / scientific materialism that now seems to be the prevailing ethic here in China, a car is but a big particle of physics.  Why should it, a person or a bicycle not go any direction a subatomic particle can go at any given place in time? Yes, collisions happen, but why quibble.  

Anyhow, back to what could have been yet another traffic tie up due to car placement.

I was driving toward 2 or 3 cars on this narrow stretch of roadway.  The car I was most concerned with could have placed itself in such a way that it could not go forward, while at the same time not permitting me to ride carefully past.  Instead, the driver stopped, providing me enough space to ride through, and indeed kindly waved at me to proceed. In two years here in Beijing, this was a first for me on the receiving end.  When I on my bicycle make clear by hand signals that I am giving a car — a much larger physics particle — the right of way, I am most always met with looks of delight combined with confusion.  There’s a metaphor here somewhere.

Only yesterday, 27 May, and, yes, after another frustrating day at school, with students being “sick” in record numbers due to SAT preparation, and parents reinforcing the lie that their child is sick, etc., I was again riding home.  Even though the air quality was the standard “unhealthy,” I had opted not to wear my somewhat hi-tech and somewhat expensive face mask.  Instead, I placed it on top of my jacket, which was inside a bag, which was inside the wire basket on the front of my bike, which is now fastened to the bicycle by string.  I do not jest.  

Because of this somewhat fragile relationship of physics particles of various sizes and shapes, unbeknownst to me, and in my distracted state, said face mask bounded out of this bag and onto the street without my noticing it.  

Sometime after this, a gentleman on a bicycle came riding up beside me and began talking at me.  In Chinese.  Already a problem.  I had no idea what he was trying to say.  Had I cut him off?  Had a violated the probability field?  I simply wanted to be left alone to my thoughts.  Still later on he flew up beside me and signaled to me something.  I muttered the one phrase I am confident in Chinese, “I don’t know.”  He chuckled and rode off.

It was only moments later that I realized that this stranger had been trying to communicate to me that something had fallen from my bicycle, my face mask, and was trying to get me to stop and turn around to retrieve it, but my ignorance of language had gotten in the way.  When at last I did turn around, saying quiet words of thanks for this man’s attempts to help me, I could not find this article.  My hope, of course, is that someone found it, knows where to find new filters, and will put it to good use.  

I rode on my way, purchased another mask at my nearby health-food store, and so contributed to the Chinese economy.


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Margaret Thatcher, d. 8 April 2013

She helped to define an era.


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Easter 2013 (p.s.)

I have posted Good Friday photos from here in Beijing on our school’s Facebook page: Beijing No. 2 Middle School, International Division.

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Easter 2013

One of the priests at St. Joseph’s here in Beijing wrote this account.  I should like to meet the ladies of whom he speaks.

“He Is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! 

     The eight ladies sitting around me in the plain conference room definitely belonged to the rural side of the Chinese urban rural divide. They were all middle aged peasant women very much of their time and place. Their weatherbeaten faces told of the hardships of life in a “cotton belt where planting, tending and harvesting of the white plant are still done “old school” and mechanisation remains a pipe dream. Too old to have been caught up in the extraordinary growth that has transformed China they live according to the rhythm of the seasons; a lifestyle that is fast becoming archaic in the new China. Their age is also against them in other ways also, the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, and a poor appreciation of the merits of educating girls deprived them of schooling; all of them are functionally illiterate. Only a few of them are comfortable in Mandarin, and even those that seem to be speaking in the Standard Language are difficult to understand. Though only four hours by train from the capital one is definitely a world away from urbane Beijing.

       Despite their apparent unsophistication, these women have a global sense that is surprisingly rich. Foreigners are relatively common visitors, and I am welcomed with curtesy but little of the wonder that is par for the course in other places. Despite their limited education, certain world events are discussed and analysed with as much enthusiasm as in Poland or the Spain. They will never visit France or Italy but they mention towns and cities in both countries with relative ease. I don’t know if any of these ladies have sons or daughters who studied in the US but it would be unremarkable if they did and they are in daily contact with returned graduates. Their sense of the august universities of US may be vague but are at most only one degree of affinity away from those hallowed halls.

      The link that makes these village women global citizens is their Faith. With their sisters (and brothers!) in New York, Dublin and Bombay the ladies of XizhongYing face the challenge of making the love of God and neighbour alive. Through their Faith Jerusalem, Nazareth, Rome and Lourdes become barely less real and perhaps more emotionally present to them than Beijing or Shanghai. The network of relationships which follow faith has made their pastor a graduate of Catholic University of America and a Sister from the village a student at Chicago Theological Union. The new Pope’s election, is already old news even if the CCTV failed to cover the white smoke as the rest of the world did, and nobody had to ask who is this Francis after whom he chose to be named. These women may be illiterate, and have no access to the internet, but they the are connected into something which is bigger than themselves and which means the world to them.

      The ladies of Xizhongying face a problem. Poverty in the Middle Kingdom, like Socialism, has “Chinese Characteristics”and rural poverty is proving particularly intractable. Though poor themselves, their faith demands they help those even worse off around them. They have reached the limits of individual charitable deeds and these brave women are dipping their toes in rather murky waters of organised social service in a Communist country. What may seem second nature in Europe or the ‘States is bewilderingly novel here. The impulse to serve the poor of course is common, but the stuff of organised charity, meeting, minutes, treasurer’s reports, fundraising, and volunteer management, is all strange and new for women who can have a deep impulse to love of neighbour, but have never even heard of a raffle, or a bake sale, let alone organised one, nor managed the proceeds for the good of the poor.

      Often, for outsiders, the High Drama of China-Vatican’s on again off again relationship dominates our understanding of the Catholic Church in China. But for me the exciting story is in the experiences of people like the women of Xizhongying. In a small village in a forgotten part of Hebei, the yearly retold story of feet washed, a cross borne and an empty tomb offers and demands of these villagers more than the Confucian tradition or family loyalty expects. These ladies, rather than work out their response to this story on their own, are struggling to organise co-ordinate, sustainable charitable work. We may never arrive at announcements of “Bingo Night in the Church Hall” to fund it, but in the halting efforts of these women to care together for the poor around them I see evidence, if such were needed, that Christ not only washed feed and then died for us but that on the third day He did indeed Rise from the Dead! Alleluia.”

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A Guanxi Vignette

One of the delightful things about teaching and working in a city such as Beijing is not only to see things happen, but to help things happen.  
Back in May I attended a talk given by the Chief of Staff for Ambassador Locke.  There I met an older gentleman who expressed an interest in a comment I made at the talk.  It turns out he is one of the key individuals who opened up trade with China back in the 1980s. His Chinese negotiating partner, Jiang Zemin, would go on to become president.  He’s also on the advisory board of a Chinese NGO that brings Chinese high school students to Cambodia (and soon, perhaps, to Laos and other SEA countries) to do work projects in rural areas.  I am thrilled to say that at least of one our students will be participating in this work.
Fast forward.  About two weeks ago I attended a Yale Club function where the former head of Morgan Stanley in Asia spoke.  There I met the dean of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale.  From a quick conversation with him I have been instrumental in moving forward the possibility of an internship between the Institute and this Chinese NGO.  Yes, a high school teacher of English can do some very interesting things in Beijing.
I hope to develop this network further so as to benefit the medical orphanage that has captured my heart, Little Flower.  (  

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