When I was in junior high school, my father had a car accident that led to tremendous financial hardship for my family.
Everything changed for me overnight.
My family could no longer afford to send me to school—the fees were simply too high. But because I was a good student, a few days after the accident, the principal informed me that I had been selected to receive one of the school’s 37 RMB subsidies that would cover my high school entrance exam fee. I took the test, passed, and was admitted to high school!
My joy was short-lived. I couldn’t start high school because my family could not cover the admission fees. But three days into the start of the school year, my grade school teacher invited me to her home and handed me an envelope with 400 RMB, the exact amount needed for the first-semester’s high school tuition fee. I was so touched by her generosity, but when the second semester came around, I was once again unable to afford school. As the oldest child, I needed to help shoulder more economic responsibility for our family. My younger sisters and brothers had already been forced to quit school, so like them, I started doing farm work.
Amazingly, kindness again came knocking at my door. Three of my classmates arranged for my tuition payment, allowing me to attend my second semester of high school. Years later, I learned that they had managed this by sharing books with other students rather than buying them. I was so grateful for their sacrifice.
Because my classmates and teachers truly cared about me, despite my family’s hardships, I hold wonderful memories of my high school years.
Such wonderful memories that I vowed to spend the rest of my life helping others in return for all the help I received. When I was 16 years old, I saw a television program about orphans living in a local Child Welfare Institution. I felt a bond with these children who had lost their parents and decided that I wanted to give back by dedicating my life to helping them.
After I graduated from high school, I contacted the Chuzhou SWI and received a reply from the Director. She told me that the salary was low, the workload heavy, and that I would need to move to another city. But I was determined to start my career as a caregiver.
At the time, institutions in China were crowded with healthy girls. The workload was indeed heavy, but that’s not what discouraged me. Instead, I was deeply troubled by the fact that no matter how hard I tried, the healthy children at the institution didn’t develop as well as children who live in families. They had behavioral problems I could not explain; some children hurt themselves; some had to use diapers well past the age of 6; some children never cried. I didn’t understand why their eyes had gone dry at such a young age. I didn’t know what I could do to make it better.
In 2001, Half the Sky staff came to our institution, to set up Half the Sky’s programs and to train us. I carried a notebook and during senior program director Wen Zhao’s training, I wrote down all the many questions I had for her—there were so many things I wondered about during my normal workday that I wanted to ask an expert. I caught Wen during the break and as she answered all my questions, tears rolled down my face. My heart was filled with regret. How could I not have known that the children needed more love, human touch and individual attention? I had wanted so desperately to provide these children with high-quality care, but before Wen’s training, I had not known how. I started using the techniques that Wen taught us and the change in the children exceeded even my wildest imagination!
In subsequent years I worked as a preschool teacher and then provincial field trainer. In 2010, I became the Senior Program Director for the preschool program, just as my heroine Wen was years ago. Because my job requires me to travel 70% of the time to conduct training sessions and evaluations of our programs all over the country, I am very lucky to have a husband who is a wonderful fulltime dad to my son.
I am so honored to have the opportunity to spread motherly love to as many children who have lost their birth parents as possible, the motherly love that enables the children to laugh, to cry, and to develop just like children growing up in families. I believe every caregiver and teacher I train has the potential to transform children’s lives and that together, we are building a new generation of loving caregivers in China.