Home of Hope
Singaporean Tania Hoahing gives a new lease of life to Chinese orphans with serious medical conditions through her Beijing-based non-profit organisation Blue Sky Healing Home.
BY ALYWIN CHEW
PHOTOS BLUE SKY HEALING HOME
hortly after Singaporean Tania Hoahing moved to Beijing in 2002, she met a woman who would change her life – Chinese- American Eulalia Andreasen, who is one of the founders of Ping An Medical Foster Home, an organisation that houses Chinese orphans with disabilities and helps them seek medical treatment.
While Hoahing was working as a volunteer there, she met a three-month-old baby girl named Tian Bao, whose name means “heavenly treasure’’ in Mandarin. Tian Bao had been abandoned at an orphanage in Shanxi province. Moved by her plight, Hoahing, 45, decided she wanted to help more children get the medical aid they need.
Tian Bao was born with omphalocele, a condition in which her abdominal organs protrude through a hole in the belly button area and are covered by a membrane. Staff at the orphanage had taken Tian Bao to a Shanxi hospital, but doctors were unable to seal the abdominal opening. They told the orphanage to take Tian Bao back for her to die.
However, Tian Bao ate well and looked healthy. When she was around two weeks old, Molly Albers, an American volunteer physiotherapist at Ping An visited the orphanage and arranged for Tian Bao to seek treatment at a Beijing hospital. Albers later took her to Ping An to recover.
“Itʼs hard to pinpoint one memorable experience but I have to say that whenever the adoptive families arrive to meet their child for the first time, it is always a wonderful moment to savour…I am constantly amazed to discover that there are good people in the world who open their hearts and homes to children with special needs.”
Vinita Wong, Australian volunteer at Blue Sky Healing Home
When Tian Bao was six months old, Hoahing, who also has a 10-year-old daughter, Sasha, took Tian Bao home to make room at Ping An for another child who required urgent attention. Hoahing eventually adopted Tian Bao, who is today a healthy and sprightly 13-year-old.
“We had initially intended for her to stay with us temporarily. But after a week, we simply fell in love with her,” says Hoahing.
Moved to help other children like Tian Bao, Hoahing set up Blue Sky Healing Home, a non-profit organisation in Beijing, in 2004. It is a medical foster care that helps both orphans and children from poor families in China to receive the medical care they need. It receives referrals from orphanages directly as well as from volunteer organisations and other groups that sponsor surgeries for orphans. Blue Sky’s staff members also visit orphanages to look for children that need help.
The organisation was home to just six babies when it began operations. Within a year, it had taken in 20 children with serious conditions such as cloacal exstrophy, a birth defect that results in the exposure of the bladder and intestines, and arthrogryposis, a congenital condition which limits the movement of multiple joints.
To date, Blue Sky has helped provide shelter and medical treatment for about 180 children. To run the home, Hoahing relies on donations from individuals, associations, trusts, schools and corporations.
In 2008, Hoahing returned to Singapore, but she continues to manage Blue Sky, which is now an international effort involving both the foreign community living in Beijing as well as local staff. It currently has 13 people on its payroll, including Dr Maria He, a retired local doctor who is in charge of medical matters.
Due to Blue Sky’s proximity to the residences of the foreign community in the Chinese capital, there is no shortage of volunteers and fundraisers, nor of English language teachers. Working with an international team also gave Hoahing the opportunity to learn about cultural differences. For instance, she is impressed by how the locals were actually more open to learning and adapting to new practices and customs compared to others.
“We had to balance between different baby and childcare practises at Blue Sky in our early days, and it was more a struggle for our volunteers from Western countries than it was for our Chinese staff,” Hoahing explains.
“The Chinese staff were flexible and could find a balance, and to improve their methods if needed. They were also more aware that things are just done differently and didn’t insist on right or wrong. They were often curious to learn from the West and had a genuine openness that was impressive.”
Australian Vinita Wong, who has volunteered with Blue Sky for five years, currently helps out once a week. She believes that the organisation has helped made a positive impact to the community, not just to children in need.
According to her, because of Blue Sky’s location in a residential area, the Home has raised awareness of children with disabilities among the local residents. She says: “Chinese people generally aren’t used to volunteering, so what we do at Blue Sky has really been an eye-opener.”
As the director of Blue Sky, Hoahing works closely with organisations such as the United Foundation for China’s Health, a charity that funds medical treatment and surgeries at United Family Healthcare hospitals in Beijing, to help the Home’s residents get the treatment they require. Hoahing also works with medical institutions in Singapore.
“We will usually send children to Singapore for surgery if they suffer from more complicated conditions that doctors in Singapore have more experience dealing with,” says Hoahing. These include facial clefts, bladder exstrophy (a congenital defect of the bladder), heart conditions and Apert Syndrome (a genetic disorder that results in abnormal development of the skull).
Blue Sky’s efforts also extend to those not within the Home. Hoahing says that she often redistributes donations to various state orphanages, or to poor families in the area.
One of the most challenging aspects of her job, however, is finding homes for orphans – some of them suffer from serious medical conditions, which require long-term care from adoptive families. Blue Sky’s role is limited to referring prospective parents to the respective orphanage that is responsible for the child, and spreading the word when a child is certified to be ready for adoption.
Still, Hoahing finds the process most exciting and fulfilling. She says: “It feels great to be able to help children feel better and lead better lives. It is even more satisfying to see them adopted into a loving family and go on to lead fulfilling lives.”
Wong shares the same sentiment. She says: “It’s hard to pinpoint one memorable experience but I have to say that whenever the adoptive families arrive to meet their child for the first time, it is always a wonderful moment to savour…I am constantly amazed to discover that there are good people in the world who open their hearts and homes to children with special needs.”
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