Orphaned kids bask in love of foster moms

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In Huifeng Village of Yongning County in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, 100 disabled orphans are now living with 57 foster families.
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Liu Shuqin (right) plays with Song Xinying (center), 7, and Sima Yiding, 17, two mentally challenged children.

Like any stay-at-home mom, Liu Shuqin’s day starts with cooking breakfast, waking her daughters and sending them to school.

“Let mom help you with the buttons,” says Liu, 53, to 7-year-old Song Xinying.

Right after that, she starts helping 17-year-old Sima Yiding, with her hair. “See how mom combs your hair? Aren’t you my pretty girl?” she asks.

The girl seems shy and keeps her head down. “Yeah, it looks pretty,” she mumbles.

Song and Sima, two mentally challenged children, are among the 10 foster children Liu has raised since 2003.

They were abandoned by their birth parents when they were born. After spending time in an orphanage, they were sent to Liu’s home as part of China’s efforts to explore new ways of helping disabled orphans.

“They are slower than other kids. The little one still can’t use chopsticks after four years of learning,” Liu says. “But I see them as my own kids.”

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Liu Shuqin (center) has lunch with her "daughters" Sima Yiding (left) and Song Xinying.

Liu already had two children before she became a foster mom. Her own children were already teenagers when she took her first foster child Sima at the age of 3 in 2003.

“I never forget the day I saw her,” Liu says. “She was wearing a cute little hat and was so adorable.”

Liu thought it would not be a problem to care for the children, as she had already raised two. But it was harder than she had expected. From teaching Sima how to use the bathroom to being there with her when she received treatment, Liu never gave up on her. She was her mom, teacher and rehabilitation trainer.

Four years ago, Liu had to stay in bed due to a waist injury. One day, only she and Sima were home, and the then 14-year-old volunteered to bring her a glass of water. It seems very natural for an ordinary child at the age, but Liu knew only too well how valuable it was for a child like Sima. She was moved to tears.

“I felt all those years of caring were not in vain. Although Sima is not good at expressing her thoughts, she knew her mom was too ill to get out of bed and needed care,” she says.

Song Xinying was 4 years old when she was sent to Liu’s home. Liu tried to teach her how to call her “mom” every day. But over a year passed, and Song still didn’t know how to pronounce it. Liu was anxious. On an autumn morning in 2016, Song suddenly opened her mouth and called out “mom” twice.

“I was too excited to say anything, and urged her to call me several more times,” Liu says.

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Liu Shuqin (right) and her "daughter" Song Xinying

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Song Xinying asks for a big hug from Liu Shuqin.

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Liu Shuqin (right) and Sima Yiding (left) teach Song Xinying how to ride a bicycle.

The orphanage calculates a birthday for every child based on their health conditions when they were sent in. Sima’s birthday is May 12.

On celebrating her birthday last weekend, Sima knew the next day was also the last Mother’s Day that she would spend with her mother.

By law, foster children must be transferred to a social welfare institute when they turn 18. Sima must leave her home of 15 years. Liu knows that Sima must go and learn to be independent, but she hates to say goodbye to her daughter.

“I taught her some basic embroidery skills and hopefully she can find a job,” Liu says. But she knows that Sima’s future is full of uncertainty.

Liu has spent 15 years raising orphans by herself. “Including my own ones, I’m proud to say that I have 12 children,” she says.

In Huifeng Village of Yongning County in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, 100 disabled orphans are now living with 57 foster families. Over the past 17 years, a total of 328 children have lived in 102 households.

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Liu Shuqin (in blue) teaches Sima Yiding (in pink) some basic embroidery skills at the Yongning Foster Care Center.

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Yang Jinkai, 27, was lucky to spend his childhood in a foster home there. He now has a job and interacts with society comfortably.

“In addition to material satisfaction, I found psychological comfort from my foster parents and siblings. Without them, I would have become a kid without parents,” Yang says.

Du Yong, head of the Ningxia Children’s Welfare Home, says compared with those who are raised in a welfare institution, children from foster families are emotionally healthier. The parent-child relationship and family life are valuable throughout their whole lives.

“Like us, orphans have the desire and are entitled to live with a family and feel the warmth extended by people around them. They have been abandoned once. Society cannot let them be abandoned again,” says Wang Jin, director of the welfare home’s family foster care center.

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Liu Shuqin (left) teaches Sima Yiding how to chop vegetables.

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