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Saturday, 19 January 2019
Project Visit April 2007 PDF Print E-mail

Project visit report by Vera Lehmann, founding member of AIDS-Waisenhilfe China e.V. and until April 2007 deputy chairwoman. Vera is currently living in Beijing.

Two days with 120 stuffed animals in Anhui, April 20.-21. 2007

LandstrasseAIDS-Waisenhilfe member Caroline brought big bags from Cologne, filled with letters to our children, which the organization had collected, and stuffed animals that had been bought, given away, hand-made or picked out with love to go to China. After she had handed everything over to me in Beijing, I boarded a plane that brought me to Hefei on April 20th.

The next morning, we – that is, the stuffed animals, a friend and I – were picked up by Xu Qifeng who works for Save the Children. Xu Qifeng is one of four members of staff working in the Fuyang office. He is not only the driver, but also organizes and holds training on  AIDS/HIV education and prevention. He seemed to a prudent man and answered all my questions about Save the Children very professionally.  For four hours we traveled together north of Hefei through villages which, with their standard two-story buildings, all looked the same.

In Fuyang we met He Yao, director of the office. She had been a kindergarten teacher previously and in this capacity had gotten to know about Save the Children. She had then attended a training session and worked in Save the Children’s Hefei office for some time. About a year and a half ago she started working in Fuyang.

TVThe four of us continued to drive away from Fuyang for another hour. En route, we picked up a neatly-dressed representative of the Women’s Association and a man who turned out to be a journalist. “Tonight you will be on TV!”, he said. It was just local television but that alone reaches an audience of 9.6 million! The Women’s Association representative used the broadcast opportunity to explain the problem with AIDS/HIV and emphasized how much our help is appreciated – and needed. Impressively, she did not mince her words.

When we arrived in the village, we first visited the Child Center. About 30 children were there. While He Yao talked to the children and enquired about the general situation, how they were managing in school and at home, I had the opportunity to look around. The Center is housed in a simple building with a single big and clean room and colorful paintings on the walls. An older woman was apparently supervising the children who ranged in age from 3 to 13. They seemed to be pretty happy.

Junge unterschreibtAfter the orphans had received their 200 Yuan for the quarter and signed a receipt, I was allowed to give away the first stuffed animal – the eyes were gleaming! The children examined each letter diligently, not just the one they received. Sure enough, no one let go of their stuffed animal. Fortunately, my friend had brought plenty of pens, bracelets etc. so that none of the children was left without a present.

Afterwards, we went to the plaster workshop that had been built with our donations. There, the sick father of one of the children we support was working. He makes the stucco ledges that are popular with many house builders and small building companies in the vicinity. His wife was sitting lethargically in a corner; I was told that she was mentally ill. The father told us in many words (unfortunately in a dialect that was somewhat incomprehensible to my ears) how thankful he was to have a small income now, thanks to our help, and that he was hoping that his son would continue to be successful in school and have a better life in the future. The boy is 10 years old and very bright. He is the one to get up in the morning and make breakfast – neither of his parents are capable of this task anymore.

The presence of a blind girl that was sitting on a pushcart and could hardly stand up after He Yao had helped her down was depressing. She can hardly walk because nobody has time to do a few steps with her once in a while. She does not have a white stick and is dependent on help. Naturally she is also not going to school. Convinced that nobody would consider it a misuse of the donated stuffed animals, we chose a particularly big and cuddly teddy bear for her.

Kinder mit TeddiesWe had dinner that evening with one of the representatives of the county government. The relationship between her and the staff of Save the Children – especially with He Yao – seemed to be very constructive. The problems are simply too obvious and pressing to be ignored or to refuse cooperation. Surely the fact that all local staff members are Chinese is helpful for this cooperation. While the project partners do appreciate visits like ours very much, they have to write a report for the police each time.

Later we discussed a possible extension of our cooperation with Save the Children. Answering my question concerning the number of children affected in Fuyang County, He Yao stated a number that seemed high to me even considering the fact that most families in the region have three children: 20,000. When I inquired, she explained that they had questioned the children in the villages. At one point, children started coming that claimed their parents or families were not directly affected – meaning infected. But when they would go to a different village, they would immediately be associated with the ‘AIDS-village’ and suffer from the same discrimination as the others. But there are still many children that have lost one or both parents to AIDS. There is definitely demand for more donations. Save the Children had collected the signatures of all children it supports , and they were stacked up in the corner of a desk in the office.

BriefI also had the opportunity to read some of the letters children had sent to Save the Children. In addition to telephone conversations, writing letters is a way of keeping in touch, as He Yao and her colleagues do not manage to visit all the children we support within three months. The letter of one boy was very moving: He wrote that if he would pass the university entry exam he was preparing for (with good chances), he would learn German and travel to Cologne to thank the people that made this possible for him!

On the second day we drove another hour and a half or more. The roads were relatively good – since 1995 the government has been working increasingly on upgrading the infrastructure. Housing for the poor is being built, and wells are being bored – these measures are part of a broader anti-poverty project. Admittedly, this was not evident yet in the town whiche we eventually arrived in. Last night’s rainstorm had turned the road into two mud channels with deep holes. In the town I could inspect the school’s bathroom that had been renovated with our funding and the new desks and chairs. I was positively impressed that the furniture had been build by workers from the vicinity – thus the money had doubly served its purpose.

During the visit, I had the chance to talk to a very pleasant 16 year-old girl who had come especially and thereby confirmed what He Yao had already explained. It means a lot to the children to meet the people that have given them a chance for a better letter life with their donations. Accordingly, she was apologetic that there was no time for more visits – and so was I. The girl told me that she was very good in school and enjoyed playing badminton. She was hoping to go to university one day. Her hands reflected her hard life – they looked old as a result of hard labor. I later learned that she lived with two younger sisters, grandparents and great-grandparents in a house, after her parents had died of AIDS.

Vera verteilt KuscheltiereIn conclusion, I have to emphasis that Save the Children’s Fuyang team impressed me very much. It is hard to describe the love and patience that He Yao and Qi Feng show the children. It might be reflected in the trust that the children display towards them. Considering the fact, however, that each of the four staff members has worked 60 days more in the past year than required by contract – practically every weekend – it is evident that they need help urgently!

With best regards from China, Vera Lehmann


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