In 1996, Human Rights Watch published a report, Death by Default: The Policy of Fatal Neglect in China’s State-Run Orphanages. When Jenny and Richard Bowen read a newspaper headline about the report – “U.S. rights group asserts that China lets thousands of orphans die” – they knew they had to do something. Sending money – where would they send it, anyway? – didn’t seem like an adequate solution to a crisis that involved the deaths of predominantly “unwanted little girls.”
Having raised their own children, the Bowens weren’t hoping to start a family like many other adoptive parents. They were motivated by a desire “to save one life.” Little did they know where their adoption journey would lead them.
After adopting an orphan they named Maya, she blossomed in their care. Her transformation was the beginning of the Bowens’ transformed vision for their role in serving China’s orphaned children. Richard and Jenny began to wonder, “Why can’t we do that for the ones we can’t bring home?” Jenny felt compelled to act, having caught a vision for a simple solution. She “would find a way to bring a family’s love to children who had lost theirs.”
Jenny founded an organization and named it Half the Sky, based on a Chinese saying, “Women hold up half the sky.” With the support of a small board in the United States, Bowen headed for China. She built on contacts she had established while navigating the red tape of Maya’s adoption procedure, as well as on those of other American families who had adopted Chinese children. Her goal was simple, yet audacious: “to establish early childhood development centers in China’s government-run orphanages.”
When Bowen toured the orphanages in order to determine in which ones the development centers would be established, she was filled with anger and deep sadness at the abuse and neglect of children that she witnessed. This reader was brought to tears when reading the stories of what she saw: children tied in chairs for hours on end; infants with burn marks, a form of punishment to make them behave; and disabled children hidden in dark, secluded rooms.
But Bowen persisted, pushing past her anger and sadness to keep her vision alive. Today, Half the Sky has touched the lives of 100,000 children in China’s orphanages. Also, it is helping to train every child welfare worker in China in its approach of providing a sense of family care and love to children in institutions.
Wish You Happy Forever gives readers a glimpse into Chinese culture, history and society from one who was once considered an outsider and is now considered a friend. Bowen and Half the Sky are to be commended for the amazing strides they have made to help China’s orphans. Still, much work needs to be done. They “can envision a day in China when all children will grow up knowing love.”
As Bowen developed Half the Sky and watched it flourish, she attributed her success to her favourite goddess, Guanyin, and to the services of a Living Buddha, a monk who she sent for to pray for her work. Christian readers may instead see clearly the work of God’s Holy Spirit, using whomever he will, whether they realize it or not, to fulfill his purposes and to fill the earth with his love, righteousness, justice and mercy.