In July of 2010, Holt’s senior writer visited the Peace House, a haven for sick children who come from all over China to receive medical care in Beijing — many of them suffering from serious medical conditions. After leaving the hospital, the children recuperate at the Peace House. Many go on to join adoptive families. Since this article was written, Holt took over operations from Peace House founder, Teresa Huangwu. In that time, five children have received surgeries, and a sixth will soon come to stay at this nurturing and peaceful sanctuary in the heart of the city.
This holiday season, help more children in Holt’s care receive needed medical procedures. When children receive the care they need, they also have greater hope of finding an adoptive family. Click here to browse Holt’s Gifts of Hope catalog online.
Robin Munro, Senior Writer—At the Peace House in Beijing, the floor is where the action is. A ball flies at me from one direction. From another, a baby comes crawling to investigate. The children seem intrigued by my foreign blue eyes. My camera. My notebook. My purse. Especially my purse.
While otherwise occupied in a game of catch, I feel a sudden tug on my shoulder straps, and look down to find a sticky-fingered hand first unzipping, then probing the contents of my bag. Here I find Jhi Lin (name has been changed), who’s discovered a little bottle of hand sanitizer. Clutching it in his hand, he makes for the bedroom and tries to shut the door. I catch it, and follow him in. Dismayed, he takes my hand and ushers me back out. I follow him in. Back out we go. The look on his face says, “Silly lady, don’t you see – I want to be alone with this bottle of green goo, my new-found treasure!”
Finally, a caretaker comes to intervene. Jhi Lin graciously accepts his defeat, and hands the bottle back. “Xie Xie,” I say. Thank you. He smiles, and moves on to explore other frontiers.
Jhi Lin will turn 3 in August. Full of life, full of moxie, he is a dark-haired, bright-eyed mischief-maker – a typical toddler. He came to the Peace House one year ago, where he stayed while Peace House foster mother, Teresa Huangwu, raised funds for his heart surgery. His condition was severe – a congenital heart defect that causes what’s commonly known as “blue baby syndrome.” This surgery cost over $100,000, which healed him completely – a feat accomplished by love alone.
“Teresa finds the resources to do the surgeries,” says Jian Chen, Holt’s China program director. “It’s not her work. It’s purely out of love.”
Teresa Huangwu started her unofficial work as a foster mother after inspiration struck, eight years ago, while working as a volunteer caretaker in an orphanage. While washing a malnourished baby with a cleft lip, she thought how much better a child could be nourished to health in a warm, cozy home environment than in a sterile institution. A small home, where a sick child could get constant nurture from a loving caregiver. “I just thought, ‘If we could just take the baby home and nurse him,’” she says. “And then bring him back.”
In August of 2003, she founded the Peace House – a haven for sick children from all over China who come to Beijing for medical care. A clean, cozy apartment cluttered with toys, the Peace House is just that: a peaceful place of healing and nurture. Its location in Beijing is critical – it enables the children to get the best medical care in the country. After surgery, they stay here until their condition stabilizes – until they are ready for adoption.
That’s a deal-breaker, says Teresa. She takes on the tremendous responsibility of fundraising for surgeries – even matching donor funds – and provides care for as long as it takes the children to recover, all on one condition. “My only requirement is [that Holt] submits adoption paperwork,” she says. She hesitates sending children back to orphanages that may not submit adoption applications to the Chinese Center of Adoption Affairs as fast as possible, leaving the kids she’s helped to languish in institutional care.
Because of Holt’s proven success adopting children with special needs, especially those with more involved medical conditions like Jhi Lin’s heart defect, Teresa has come to rely on Holt to find homes for children in her care. From a mantelpiece lined with photos – all former Peace House children now with forever families – she selects a framed picture of a little boy Holt placed.
“I matched that child!” exclaims Jessica Palmer, Holt’s Waiting Child program manager, from where she’s sitting on the floor playing with a chubby baby in a blue jumpsuit.
Of the 8 children currently staying at the Peace House, Holt referred 4 – 2 babies in Holt-sponsored care, down from Northern China’s Jilin province for cleft lip surgery; the chubby 9-month-old that captured Jessica’s attention; and Jhi Lin. “When she first came here, she was very, very skinny,” Teresa says of the 9-month-old girl. After 3 months at the Peace House, she shows no signs of malnutrition. Her cleft lip surgery has also helped her to become the healthy, rolly-polly girl she now is; defects such as cleft lips create feeding problems for infants – they can’t suck on a nipple. Six months of age is when they usually receive their first surgery.
The cost and urgency of the children’s surgeries – from under $10,000 for a cleft lip to over $100,000 for a heart problem like Jhi Lin’s – is one reason Teresa only cares for 8 children at a time. “When you have 50 kids, you don’t know how to raise the money [for the surgeries],” says Teresa. “And some of these kids can’t wait, especially the heart problems.”
Even if she had the resources, she’d rather create another group home than expand the Peace House. Even with 8 children, Teresa and her caregivers have their hands full. Teresa bounces from one child to the next – feeding, wiping, carrying, playing – with what seems like boundless energy. She is slender, dressed in nurse’s white, a constant, natural smile on her face. She’s a spitfire – has two Master’s degrees, one from the University of Oregon in special education, the other in education psychology, a field she worked in for 10 years.
“She’s very busy and has been working like that for 8 years,” says Jian. “It’s amazing. I was touched by somebody doing this out of their heart for so long.”
Nearing 60, Teresa could retire if she wants. Originally, the Peace House was only supposed to be a 3-year gig. But every year, she just says, ‘one more year.’ She hopes Holt will gradually take over more of the responsibilities. At present, Holt refers children to Teresa, helps pay for surgeries when possible, and perhaps most importantly, finds forever families for the children – children whose conditions were once so severe, their chances for adoption were slim. Teresa’s efforts and generosity, as well as her alliance with Holt and other donors, make adoption not just a possibility, but a likelihood for hundreds of children.
“All she wants is to help one child at a time,” says Jian. “She is close to 60. Most people [at her age] would sit comfortably and sip the tea, but she puts out her heart and soul for the children.”