Half the Sky Foundation

Half the Sky was created in order to enrich the lives of orphaned children in China. We provide model programs and caregiver training designed to offer loving, family-like care to children of all ages and abilities. It is our goal to ensure that every orphaned child has a caring adult in her life and a chance at a bright future..
Aug 13, 2008

And life goes on at Half the Sky…

Children dancing in Half the Sky
Children dancing in Half the Sky's BigTop in Sichuan

This morning as I write, typhoon winds batter Hong Kong. Yesterday there was a 6.0 quake in Sichuan and we received an urgent plea for flood relief assistance in Chuzhou. By any measure, 2008 is not turning out to be the year we imagined.

Instead of 10-year anniversary celebrations and joyous Olympics parties, we’ve had disaster upon disaster. Half the Sky has done what it had to do — we turned our attention and gave our all to children in urgent need. During this past month, even as we’ve raced to create safe havens for hundreds of displaced children traumatized by catastrophe, created programs for them and hired and trained caregivers for these new “BigTops” in Sichuan, we have somehow managed to continue smooth operations in our 37 centers across China and also further our plans to create Blue Sky model centers in four new provinces this fall.

We have managed because we have an extraordinary, truly dedicated staff. And because we have you – simply the most amazing, caring community of supporters any organization could hope to have.

Thanks to you, we raised $1.4 million US dollars to help the child victims of the Sichuan tragedy. We spent $375,000 on direct relief – food, tents, medical supplies, clothes, blankets, beds, etc. We will spend $136,000 to create, equip and operate each of our BigTop children’s activity centers for two years and additional funds over five years to provide special training for doctors, teachers and caregivers in helping grieving children to develop resilience. It’s a huge undertaking, but it is well worth it!

Just take a look at what’s happening for the children at our BigTop #1 in Qinjian Refugee Camp: http://www.halfthesky.org/work/earthquake08-bigtop.php#part3. Five more BigTops are underway already. We hope there will eventually be 10.

Each BigTop offers a preschool and afternoon and weekend activities for school-age children: art, music, dance, sports, games. The idea is to create safe spaces for traumatized children to just be children again. Our partners at Huaxi Mental Health Centre of Sichuan University and at the National Center for School Trauma and Bereavement tell us that this is a critical first step toward healing. The children receive counseling at the BigTop but it feels incidental – they come to play and to have a place that is their own and to feel safe.

Down the long road to recovery, we hope we can further help the children of Sichuan by creating permanent community centers in the hardest-hit towns. We have learned that the healing from a disaster of this scale must go on for years, some say generations.

In this terrible year of earthquakes and snowstorms and floods, we put aside all our usual efforts to raise funds to support our programs. We even let go our annual Children’s Day Challenge, the fundraiser that traditionally pays for the creation of new HTS Children’s Centers each fall. In a year where we’re still committed to opening new Blue Sky Model Centers in four cities, this was no small sacrifice.

But ten years of bucking the odds, doing what we’re told is not possible, and watching miracles unfold in China has taught us that we can make just about anything happen if we’re determined enough and if we have this great community behind us. We will keep our promise to the children. A corporation will underwrite the costs of our new center in Qingdao. A family will sponsor the startup of our new center in Harbin. And now, one super Dad with a beloved daughter adopted from China has offered us a $75,000 challenge grant to help us make up the shortfall.

So we’re launching A DADDY’S CHALLENGE. If you give an unrestricted gift of any size between now and the end of September, you can help us double that $75,000 gift. http://give.halfthesky.org/prostores/servlet/Categories?category=A+Daddy’s+Challenge. With one Dad’s help and yours, we can still keep our promise this fall.

You can also help by sponsoring a child in one of our new centers. Or by sponsoring a permanent loving family for children with severe special needs in our Family Village Program. Or by sponsoring training for caregivers at orphanages that have no Half the Sky center through Blue Sky Training Sponsorships. http://give.halfthesky.org/prostores/servlet/Categories?category=Annual+Sponsorships

I know this is a tough year for a lot of people, not just those of us living in disaster areas. You can help our work in non-monetary ways too. You might contribute an item to our upcoming auction or organize a fundraiser or simply help spread the word about Half the Sky and the impact we have on children’s lives.

Beyond the thousands we help in Sichuan and the hundreds of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Henan, Half the Sky currently serves about 4,500 orphaned children. This year we will offer the loving care of HTS’ four programs to over 700 more children living at our newest Blue Sky sites: Guiyang, Xi’an, Shenyang, Harbin and Qingdao. There are many, many ways to help HTS reach its “impossible” goal of providing a caring adult in the life of every orphaned child.

Thank you for whatever you can do and for all you’ve done already. I’ll let you know how A Daddy’s Challenge goes.

With love and gratitude,

Jenny

ps - Here’s one piece of great news: On July 4, Half the Sky became one of only a tiny handful of foreign NGOs that is officially registered by the Chinese Government. Those who work in the nonprofit world in China will know what a tremendous honor this is. We are aware of only two other foreign organizations that have been recognized in this way. We are very proud!

Pre-school in a BigTop in Sichuan
Pre-school in a BigTop in Sichuan
A game of ping pong
A game of ping pong
Jun 25, 2008

The Big Top And The Torch

Half the Sky’s first BigTop children’s activity center (with pre
Half the Sky’s first BigTop children’s activity center (with pre

Hello Friends, A little over a month after Sichuan’s May 12th earthquake, we opened Half the Sky’s first BigTop children’s activity center (with preschool, art classes and counseling) in a refugee camp in Dujiangyan, near the quake’s epicenter. In a town that has experienced so much sadness, the opening was a happy, festive occasion to welcome a new oasis for fun and support for the children and the community. On hand for the opening were city and ministry officials, child trauma experts Marleen Wong and Suh Hsiao Chen of National Center for School Trauma and Bereavement, and psychologists representing our newest partners in this important effort, the Mental Health Centre of West China Hospital at Sichuan University. The experts offered some training for assembled volunteers and, as at every celebration worth its salt in China, a group of adorable children sang and danced for the crowd. For a brief moment, the earthquake seemed a world away. http://www.halfthesky.org/work/earthquake08-healing.php#part2 Even before the opening the BigTop had become a magnet for children, a place where they can play and share even their most troubling earthquake experiences. A few days earlier, when the furniture was being painted, curious children arrived again at the tent and were disappointed not to be allowed in because of the paint fumes. Half the Sky staffers couldn’t bear to send the children away so they set up a table outside the tent, on the concrete platform (above the mud) where the children played with bubbles and toys. Three little girls made themselves comfortable and the oldest, a nine-year-old, immediately put a plastic doll face down under a toy table to protect the doll from an earthquake. She told her friends and a Half the Sky staffer about the day of the quake, when her teacher ran out of the classroom, expecting the class to follow. Instead, the children sat at their desks until they heard their teacher yelling that they should get out as fast as they could. All three girls then started cooking with toy utensils, chopping up leaves with a toy cleaver to make soup. When asked why they were only making vegetables, one girl said solemnly: “Because we are very poor. This is all we have.” Another girl, around 10, took advantage of the ample art supplies in the tent to draw a girl with pigtails and a rainbow. She solemnly explained that she wants to be a mathematician and the drawing was not a self portrait. It was a drawing of her best friend, who after the earthquake left the area and now there is no way to contact her: “I am afraid I’ll never see her again.” While the volunteers and staff at the tent will provide “psychological first aid” for the children, they will also refer children to professionals at the Mental Health Centre of West China Hospital at Sichuan University when first aid is not enough. Children like a terrified 6 year old girl who, after 50 hours, was the only survivor rescued from her primary school. Protected by the body of her teacher, she survived with minimal physical injuries. But no one could protect her from the emotional trauma of waiting for help for so many hours in the school where her friends and her teacher died and - after all that - learning that her father did not survive. Of the many volunteers who helped in the tent or attended our trainings none is more impressive than a group of eight survivors from the collapsed Juyuan Middle School, where perhaps 900 children died. Whether pitching in to sweep rainwater from the BigTop before its drainage problems were fixed, or helping to set up toys on newly painted shelves, or playing with children, these impressive, hardworking teenagers have all decided that they want to focus on helping others rather than on what they lost on the day their school collapsed around them: “We received a lot of help from others. Now we can help. When we help people it helps us,” says one of the students, who gathered in a circle in Half the Sky’s BigTop. One smiling boy bears the most obvious scar of that day—a gash that took fourteen stitches to close. It runs alongside his eye down to his mouth. Like all of the children who survived, he is mindful of friends who did not: “At first I felt guilty that I survived. Now because I am volunteering I feel more comfortable.” The students from Juyuan also provide an example of what was perhaps NCSTB’s Dr. Marleen Wong’s most surprising message to the caregivers she trained in Sichuan. In the midst of the all-too-obvious devastation and pain wrought by the earthquake, Wong introduced new research about a phenomenon called “post-traumatic growth.” A small percentage of children, says Wong, will make positive life changes that are a direct result of a trauma or a disaster. These are the children, says Wong who become “wise beyond their years, more mature, have a deeper appreciation of life,” in the wake of a tragedy. “They have new values and life priorities.” One Juyuan student explains that not only has he resolved to volunteer in the wake of the earthquake, he has also resolved to change his life: “Before the earthquake I was not into studying. Now I think it is the most important thing I can do so I can help my country. I can bring hope to the people in Sichuan.” The day after BigTop #1 opened, I had the great honor of carrying the Olympic Torch on behalf of China’s orphaned children, especially those newly orphaned in Sichuan and Chongqing. Fifty preschoolers from our Half the Sky programs in Chengdu and Chongqing joined me on a rainy Sunday in Wanzhou, Chongqing. It was an exhilarating and wacky time. And we did manage to tell the children’s story – at least to the Chinese media (in the end, no foreign media was allowed.) We were on the front page of the China Daily and featured on national TV news. We didn’t quite go global, but it has been wonderful to hear from so many Chinese citizens who want to help orphaned children. Children in their own communities that they didn’t even know existed. Slowly but steadily, Half the Sky is beginning to find ways to recover from the disaster too. Although we are now firmly committed to helping the newly orphaned and displaced children of Sichuan heal and hopefully find their own “post-traumatic growth,” we are ever-mindful of the many thousands of children to whom we’ve already made a long-term commitment. Right now, our first Blue Sky provincial training is underway in Hubei Province. Over 100 caregivers from welfare institutions where Half the Sky has no programs are at our model center in Wuhan learning about HTS’ approach to providing family-like nurturing care to orphaned children. We are now offering Blue Sky training sponsorships – a great way to help us reach our goal to put a caring adult in the life of every orphaned child http://give.halfthesky.org/prostores/servlet/Detail?no=90 This fall, funds permitting, Half the Sky will open new Blue Sky Model Centers in Xian, Harbin, Shenyang and Qingdao. We are no longer accepting applications for this year’s volunteer build but we dearly hope that you will consider sponsoring a child or supporting the new model centers in other ways. You have been so tremendously generous during these awful weeks. Now, as the Sichuan story fades from the news, we are even more grateful that you continue to remember the children whose struggle is just beginning. I don’t know how we can ever thank you enough for all you have done and continue to do. I hope that watching our progress as we work to rebuild young lives – in Sichuan and all over China – will be thanks enough. You know we will always keep you informed!

Even before the opening the BigTop had become a magnet for child
Even before the opening the BigTop had become a magnet for child
Jun 13, 2008

The Earthquake – a month later…and news on the Torch

Both the middle school and the primary school in Hongbai Town
Both the middle school and the primary school in Hongbai Town

June 13th, 2008

Hello Friends,

We got a call today telling us that, for security reasons, our Torch leg is now scheduled a day earlier. I will be running in Wanzhou, Chongqing, on Sunday, June 15 - Father’s Day. I will still run for the children, especially those of Sichuan. Somehow, we will manage to bring the children there. I hope it doesn’t change again!

I just arrived in Chongqing from Sichuan. Yesterday was the one month anniversary of the earthquake. We traveled several hours to a hard-hit mountain town in Beichuan, Hongbaizhen, and worked with children and volunteer teachers. I have added many photos to our website.

A couple of weeks earlier, we braved the rock-strewn roads and broken bridges of Hongbaizhen to deliver relief goods to the children. The whole town was in shock. As painful as yesterday’s visit was, we began to see signs that the town will slowly begin to come back to life. Our communications director, Patricia King gave me this moving report: An 8-year-old boy stands in front of the pile of rubble that had once been his school and explains that he was the last student to have been pulled out alive. When the earth shook, he was one of the obedient children sitting with arms crossed at their desks—some naughty boys were still outside, safe on the playground. For ten frantic minutes, trapped between a piece of concrete and brick on the second floor, he waited. His cries couldn’t be heard over the wailing adults, but finally when the crowd outside the collapsing school quieted down they heard him and came to rescue him with their bare hands.

In the first days after the quake, he couldn’t return to the pile of debris that had once been his three-storey school, but with the help of a volunteer teacher from his tent school, he has visited the site several times and now is not afraid when he comes back. Today, at 2:28, exactly one month after his world shattered, the boy and another child from the tent school placed their hands on their hearts, then bowed three times, saying goodbye to their friends who died at the Hongbaizhen Primary School. Finally these brave survivors vowed: “We will live our lives as best we can.”

In Hongbaizhen, an isolated mountain town where it took three days for the Air Force to make it on foot past a collapsed bridge while the cries of children trapped under heavy rubble grew weaker and weaker and then stopped forever, the pain is palpable. But one month after the earthquake children and adults are also expressing their grief, working to find a way to cope with their pain, and taking the first steps to rebuilding lives. Sitting under a tree outside a tent school only 100 yards from the collapsed Hongbaizhen Middle School, it took only minutes before a group of middle school girls, two with their heads bent into their arms and one sitting up straight, weeping and sobbing, opened their hearts to Vancouver psychologist Dan Zhang and University of Minnesota psychologist Pinian Chang, both of whom were also once students in China. A 14-year-old twin, who aches for her one-minute-younger sister. She escaped the building, but her sister didn’t. Finally her sister was pulled out of the rubble, but with no medical care available, her family listened helpless as she spoke her last words: “I hurt. I hurt. I am so tired. I think I am dying.” Now her grieving sister refuses to go to any school with more than one storey—she tried a middle school with two stories and dropped out after two agonizing days. Still she is trying to take comfort from “Invisible Wings,” the song she and her sister loved and sang together. “I know I’ve always had a pair of invisible wings that take me flying and give me hope.”

Two girls mourning their brother, a 10th grader, and a nimble athlete as well as a good student, who made it out of the building. But he went back to rescue three crying girls only to die when another piece of the building gave way. One of his sisters is tormented by regrets—why did she brush off her brother, who wanted to talk to her a few days before the earthquake when she wasn’t in the mood? Both sisters know that their brother died a hero, but they miss their older brother and cry for him as an adult volunteer encircles them in a hug to try to ease the pain. Meanwhile inside a white tent decorated with balloons and tinsel, a crowd of volunteers hungry for help sit at shiny wooden desks salvaged from the collapsed middle school. Executive Director Jenny Bowen tells them that Half the Sky’s greatest contribution to helping in Sichuan will be to provide training for caregivers. She urges them to identify adults in the local community who can be trained to provide consistent, long-term help for the children long after the last volunteers have gone back to their homes. When she tells them that Half the Sky is committed to working in Sichuan for “at least five years,” they burst into applause. It soon becomes clear why the applause is so heartfelt. These volunteers, some recently arrived and some soon to go back home to their own families, have bonded closely with the children and they know the children will need support for a long time. One wears a beautiful shell bracelet made for her by one of the girls who has become like a little sister. Another favored volunteer’s arms, face, and t-shirt have been decorated by playful children using colored markers. Both the volunteers and the children who cling to them are finding it difficult to even conceive of their leaving. Psychologist Marleen Wong and psychiatric social worker Suh Chen Hsiao of the National Center for Trauma & Bereavement tell the volunteers they have given the children a great gift by providing a school and a routine for the children. Research shows that children who go back to school soon after a disaster fare better than children who have no routine for a long period of time. They also praise the volunteers for developing such strong bonds with the children and then urge those who are leaving to find a new local volunteer they trust to work together with the children before they leave. They also urge the volunteers themselves to get together after they leave Hongzbaizhen to talk through their feelings among peers who understand what it is to try to provide comfort to traumatized children living in a tent school surrounded by rubble and soldiers wearing white masks spreading disinfectant on the site where so many of their friends died.

The volunteers, some with tears in their eyes, explain why they are worried for the children and feel helpless because they cannot help them more. They worry about a 5-year-old girl with a scar on her back from being buried by debris who screams whenever she sees a collapsed building, an unavoidable sight in this mostly leveled town. A thirteen year old boy, the last to be pulled out of the middle school, refuses to come to the tent school so close to where he was trapped. A six year-old boy whose two brothers died, draws a picture with cherries because his brothers liked cherries, but this volunteer thinks he is too calm, toomatter-of-fact: “I am so worried about him. I ache for him.” Wong tells them they have done well. “Do not underestimate how much good kindness can do.” She recommends that they continue to reach out to the 13-year-old afraid to go to school. Visit him at home, offer him some water, bring him some notes from his friends. For the 5-year-old, try to have her draw or tell why she is screaming and help her learn to breathe deeply when she is afraid so that slowly, slowly the screams become less frequent and finally go away. And for the too-calm child, sometimes children have a delayed reaction, which is why long-term help is socrucial: “We have to wait for the child.”

For the Hongbaizhen parents heartbroken by the loss of their children, there was no delayed reaction—they have expressed their grief since the day of the earthquake and they still show it in their eyes that well up with tears even when they express nascent hope for a future life. On this one month anniversary one tiny mom, her hair flecked with gray, shows visitors cell phone photos of the two children she lost. She lowers her arms to illustrate the unthinkable, the collapse of her daughters’ school.She walks slowly away, but not without first thanking Half the Sky and everyone else who has come to help. It is that support, she says, that has recently made it possible for her to start to at least imagine a future for herself without her children. And a short climb up one of the mountains that made Hongbaizhen renowned for its beauty before it became renowned for its suffering, parents are still trying to comfort their children, who died four weeks ago.

At the four-tiered hillside cemetery with hundreds of children’s freshly made graves, parents have laid things that their children once loved—a pink backpack, wrapped candy, spicy Sichuanese snacks, a big teddy bear and a stuffed monkey. A weeping dad injured in the quake, his arm still in a sling, burns paper money and incense and apologizes to his child. “I am so sorry. This is the first time I could come. I hope you don’t mind,” while his wife wails the lament of every parent who has wished that they could have saved the life of the child even at the cost of their own: “Mommy is here for you. How could you go before us? Please wait for us.”

At a tent school on the site of the collapsed middle school
At a tent school on the site of the collapsed middle school
At a tent school, children struggle to resume a normal routine
At a tent school, children struggle to resume a normal routine

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