updated 24 Dec 2010, 07:08
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Fri, Dec 10, 2010
China Daily/ANN
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Chinese villager sparks off foster care approach in hometown
by Lan Tian and Sun Ruisheng

DATONG, Shanxi - Warm winter sunshine spilled through the window of a small yaodong (cave dwelling) in Sancha, a village like any other on North China's Loess Plateau.

Basking in the sunlight, 7-year-old Dang Xuben sat cross-legged on the kang (traditional clay bed) by the window and stared blankly at the old woman beside him.

"Xuben, call me granny," 70-year-old Cai Yuhua murmured, while patting the boy's arms with her wrinkled hands.

Dang was abandoned on the street when his biological parents discovered he was born with an intellectual disability. He became Cai's youngest foster child six years ago.

Also in the room was 19-year-old Dang Mingming, another of Cai's foster children, who has lived with the woman for 16 years. She also has an intellectual disability that hinders her communication.

"Both of them don't speak most of the time. But the occasional words they utter, like 'mommy' or 'granny', always make me smile," Cai said.

In 1968, Cai's newborn died of illness. To heal the emotional wounds, Cai and her husband brought home an orphan from the Datong Institute of Social Welfare.

"The sorrow was gone when I breast-fed the baby girl," Cai said. "I treated her as if she were my own daughter."

Over the past 42 years, Cai has provided foster care to more than 30 orphans from the institute. Many of them have congenital disabilities.

Most of Cai's foster children have grown up. Some went to college, married and earned their own livings.

But Cai's years of devotion caused her two biological sons to marry in their 40s, which is considered very late for rural men.

In 1968, Cai received a 9-yuan ($3.66 according to the exchange rate at that time) monthly allowance from the institute for raising a foster child. The allowance has gradually increased to 650 yuan ($98). The institute also covers the children's education and medical expenses.

"The allowance is actually not a small amount of money for farmers here," Cai said, rubbing her hands together. The annual income of a Sancha farmer is about 3,500 yuan.

"But I didn't do it for money," Cai said, in the drawling local dialect. "I just want to give those less fortunate children a mother's love, a home to depend on."

Many other women in the village have become foster mothers since the 1960s. They bring up these children as their own, build houses for them after they grow up and prepare weddings for them with their own savings.

Located at the foot of Cailiang Mountain in northeastern Datong, Sancha is known as "China's Foster Mother Village", as it has become the country's cradle for this form of parenting.

Villagers have raised more than 1,300 orphans since the 1960s, village Party chief Wang Ting said. About 320 foster children are now being raised in Sancha. More than 90 percent of them have disabilities. Many were born with cleft palates, limb deficiencies or lack of sight.

Although the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a regulation to encourage families to take in foster children in 2003, family foster care is still new in China, where the tradition of the orphanage has been the rule.

But it became the norm in Datong since the Datong Institute of Social Welfare was founded in 1949. Since then, more than 7,000 orphans have been brought up by 1,500 families in about 50 local villages, including Sancha, Xiezhuang, Xiluotuofang and Tangjiabao.

"I can't imagine what my life would be like if I did not grow up in a family," said Guo Dangye, 30, who grew up in a foster family in Tangjiabao. "An institution could never replace the love and care that parents and a home can give a child."

Guo was born without a right hand and was abandoned by her biological parents. She was taken in by the institute and sent to live with a family surnamed Guo.

She enjoyed a carefree childhood like other children and did not know she is an orphan until age 14. To express gratitude to her foster parents, Guo studied hard and received a master's degree in social security in 2007.

Now she is a Datong University instructor. She is married and the mother of a 2-year-old girl.

"My (foster) parents are poor farmers, but they are very kindhearted," Guo said.

"Their love gave me the strength to bravely face challenges on the rough road of life."

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