PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 November, 2014, 6:45am
A devastating fire that trapped and killed seven children inside an unlicensed Henan orphanage last year was the drive behind Sowers Action.
Tucked away in the middle of Mong Kok amid construction companies and hardware stores, the unassuming headquarters of Sowers Action is responsible for educating thousands of poverty-stricken children on the mainland.
This year, the non-profit group – a beneficiary of the annual Operation Santa Claus fundraising campaign organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK – has stepped up its efforts by opening a children’s home in Shuifu, Yunnan , for adolescents in need.
Sowers Action chairman Albert Ho Ngai-leung, said that after the fire they saw an opportunity to diversify their work. “We want to do a good job at providing welfare for the children in a professional way. We hope to set a standard.”
The orphanage is already home to 56 children of different backgrounds.
According to Brianna Hui Bun-bun, chief executive of Sowers Action, the death of a child’s father will often result in the mother’s abandonment, as she needs to remarry for financial support.
“This is the general case of most orphans in China,” said Hui. “The children usually end up in the custody of the grandparents, who are old and feeble themselves.”
Both Hui and Ho insist that, despite the organisation’s new orphanage, education is still the group’s main focus.
“Providing a homegrown environment is important to the kids’ education,” Ho said. “It’s an ongoing programme to integrate them back into society.”
Similar programmes have existed before, Hui said. High schools run by Sowers Action in Guangxi and Gansu are attended by 200 and 100 children of ethnic minority, respectively.
Ho and Hui want the new children’s home to set a benchmark for orphanages in Yunnan.
After the fire at the Henan orphanage last year, the Chinese government placed a strict ban on all privately owned children’s homes.
The ban was lifted only recently and the Sowers Action children’s home will be the first privately owned orphanage in Yunnan since the accident.
“We are currently cooperating with the local Civil Affairs Bureau,” Ho said. The government “is helping us with the construction.”
Ho added that other counties around Shuifu had asked them to build more orphanages. “We hope that the Shuifu [orphanage] will one day be the model” for other counties, Ho said. “It will set the criteria for how an orphanage should be run.”
One 11-year-old who is being cared for at the Shuifu orphanage wasn’t too keen on every aspect of his new home.
“I don’t like to do homework or to make my bed,” he said. “I also don’t like it when they tell me to stand in the corner when I do something wrong.”
Despite his list of complaints, he said he couldn’t be happier. “I’m making a lot more friends than I did before. The environment here is much better than my home. They also take us to places like the zoo.”
And a 12-year-old sixth grader said he was just happy to finally be able to go to school. “Our family is quite poor. I lived with my grandfather and four older cousins,” he said. “I can finally learn here. It’s really interesting and I love it.”