An interview with Sue Liu, country director of Holt China, about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting children and families in China — and how sponsors and donors are meeting their most urgent needs.
How is the pandemic affecting children and families in Holt’s China programs right now?
Because of the epidemic, some families have less direct or disposable income since they cannot go out for work opportunities or have to change their type of work — especially families who worked in restaurants or as laborers before. So they have to do whatever they can find, and their income is lower.
Food prices for meat and basic things have also increased because [supply chains] are blocked. Expenses for students to go to school are also increasing. Students and their families need to spend money on masks when they study at school and to take online lessons at home, they need to buy electronic devices and pay internet charges. The epidemic is also changing the current school format for children to a combination of online and offline learning. Many children are still in the adjustment period, so we have noticed a drop in their grades.
The orphanages in China are under close management during the pandemic — really close, nobody can get in or get out. With some orphanages, it’s very hard because the staff have to stay in all the time. They don’t have enough beds to sleep; they have to sleep on the floor. Thankfully, as a result, none of the children have gotten any infection with COVID-19. But because of this, we cannot visit children in orphanages. We only can follow children’s conditions through orphanage staff by phone.
Some orphanages partially opened last May-November, but in December, infections increased and they had to close again. Also, due to the pandemic, intercountry adoption has paused, so children who have been matched are still waiting to join their families. … For our programs inside of the orphanages, our staff still works, has phone calls and sends reports to sponsors. We just cannot visit the children directly from February to July and November to December. Because of long-term closures, children have fewer outdoor activities, and we are concerned about their emotional wellbeing.
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How have sponsors and donors helped meet the most urgent needs caused by the pandemic?
In the first half of the year 2020, material donations from Holt donors in the U.S — such as face masks, isolation gowns, hand sanitizers, automatic electric sprayers and electronic thermometers — largely helped domestic orphanages in China to overcome difficulties. For the family strengthening program, sponsors’ continuous financial support arrived in time to meet the most urgent needs, especially in February, March and April of 2020, when most of the children’s parents could not go out to work and earn income. The sponsors’ gifts helped those children to have food, continue studying and maintain their daily life when their families were short of money.
Thanks to sponsors, we still provided some gifts to our sponsored children during International Children’s Day in June. We checked what the children needed urgently first, and also what they really want. For some children, we bought books or new clothes. In our Yunnan program, the staff checked the children’s shoe sizes one by one to buy them new shoes and it made the children very happy.
It’s been a little over a year since the virus first broke out in Wuhan. How is COVID-19 affecting China now and what is life like there right now?
The current epidemic in China is scattered, with serious areas concentrated in Hebei province, Heilongjiang and Jilin in the northeast, and the southeastern coastal region. At present, the government encourages everyone to spend Chinese New Year holiday locally and introduces corresponding policies to avoid mass movement of people. For children, it’s winter vacation time and children have to stay home. … At the same time, nationwide vaccination is being pushed forward and experts predict a stabilization of the epidemic in March/April of 2021. But living expenses are increasing because the price of goods is increasing.
How is Holt’s China team helping children and families adapt to the new normal of COVID-19?
First, our staff have participated in local prevention campaigns and spread knowledge about COVID-19 prevention to the families. They tell them to stay in and keep distance from others, wash hands and don’t go where people gather. We do a lot of work like this, especially in the countryside where they don’t have a lot of knowledge.
In addition to generous funding from Holt donors, we also do fundraising to donate masks and other prevention supplies to provide better protection from coronavirus, and donate liquid formula and yogurt for children to help boost their immunity and fight off viruses. We have also helped some vulnerable students with electronic devices for online courses to guarantee their education. And provide books to encourage reading and give them something to do while they stay home.
At the same time, we have kept in touch with the families and the local residents’ committee in the communities where we work to follow up on the children’s condition and needs. When we visit the children, or call them, we always tell them how to stay safe from COVID-19. We also talk with the children about how they feel about the pandemic and try to help ease their stress.
For kids in orphanages, we try to work with orphanage staff closely to get children’s updates to their adoptive families. And when we could visit children last May and June, we visited the children and gave them face-to-face interaction with social workers to lower their stress.
How will sponsor and donor support help children and families in the coming months?
With the rebound of the pandemic, prevention and control measures are more and more strict. People are requested to wear masks in many public places. With support from sponsors and donors, the children and their families will be able to buy masks, a cost that many families cannot afford on their own. Their support will also help the families deal with the increased cost of living in China. We wire money to their accounts so that the children can still have good nutrition every day and a happier life. When the school opens for the new semester in March, we hope everybody can go back to school on time and donor support will help the children pay their school fees. Due to COVID-19 prevention and control, children in foster families seldom go out, so donations to provide children’s toys and picture books will also be helpful.
What would you like to say to sponsors and donors directly?
We just want to say thank you to the sponsors and donors for their generous and kind support to the children. With your help, the children and their families were able to get through the very difficult time in the past year and keep a normal life. Once the children know somebody cares about them, it helps them to build up their confidence for their future and have a happier and healthier life. So really, just thank you. By the way, some of the children asked how their American sponsors were doing in this pandemic, and the children wished you all to stay safe and in good health.
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