Tim Baker cradles a child at the Shepherd's Field Children's Village in Tianjin. (Photo source: Jiang Dong / China Daily)
By Wang Ru in Tianjin
BEIJING, June 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Guang Meitong, a 4-year-old girl from South China, was born with a cleft palate and is autistic.
She barely talks but loves being held by visitors and resting her head on their shoulders as she clutches their clothes.
Guang was abandoned by her parents at birth. But thanks to the loving care of a US couple, she has had surgery and is awaiting adoption.
Her saviors are Tim and Pam Baker. Four of their seven children have been adopted from China, with the first joining their family in 1992, four years after the couple arrived in the country.
The Bakers also co-founded the Shepherd's Field Children's Village, which has cared for more than 4,000 orphans like Guang. More than 3,000 operations and medical procedures have been carried out and 900 children have been adopted.
Construction work began on the orphanage in June 2003 and it is home to 86 children.
The compound was built and decorated in traditional Chinese style.
All the children receive education and are under the care of 100 workers, including teachers, Chinese nannies, Western doctors, volunteers and interns.
The village, in Dawangguzhuang town in Tianjin's Wuqing district, is a compound of 11 buildings, including five dormitories, a school, a workshop and a clinic.
It receives children from orphanages around country. The majority of them come from impoverished rural areas.
About 40 children are adopted annually, with most joining overseas families.
The village has a long wall covered with the handprints of orphans who were adopted.
"I want the children to remember where they come from, even though they will live abroad with their new families, speaking different languages," Tim says.
A vocational training center is under construction, which has been delayed due to funding shortages. Its completion will make the orphanage the largest of its kind on the mainland, Tim says. It will be home to 150 orphans with special needs.
The 55-year-old from Wisconsin and his wife first arrived in China to teach English in Liaoning province's Fushun in 1988. They moved to Beijing to teach at a university in 1991. They volunteered at orphanages in their spare time.
An orphanage in Guizhou's provincial capital Guiyang cared for a 5-month-old girl who was born with serious congenital heart disease and always waved at the couple.
In 1992, the couple took the 50-hour train ride to Guiyang and adopted the girl.
"We changed the lives of our adopted children, and they also have huge impacts on our lives," Tim says.
"We just realized there are still many orphans who need help and an opportunity to change their lives."
In 1995, the couple founded the Philip Hayden Foundation to raise money for China's orphans. The foundation commemorates the US teacher Philip Hayden, who worked with them in Chinese orphanages and died of a heart attack at age 28.
That year, they quit their jobs and moved to Langfang, Hebei province, where they planned to open an orphanage. A local businessman offered them houses to support their plan in 1999.
The undertaking was a huge challenge, especially at first. Most of the children had life-threatening problems and needed surgeries. The first orphan they received was a newborn with complicated heart defects.
"The most difficult thing at first was to believe that we could do something for the children with special needs," Tim says.
"To be honest, my wife and I were a little fearful at the beginning. Even in China, the surgeries still cost a lot of money then."
The Bakers asked for help from friends, family and supporters, who responded quickly and raised money for the baby, who was later adopted.
"Now, we still have problems and challenges," Tim says.
"But we take any child coming through our gate, because we are experienced, and, importantly, more people are joining with us to help the children."
The local government also supports their work. In 2002, it sold the orphanage land at the unbelievably low price of 1 yuan ($0.15) per mu (0.06 hectares). Shepherd's Field Children's Village received its first child in 2006.
"Compared to the early 1990s, I saw a big improvement in Chinese society to help the orphans, who need group work from society," he says.
"Now, I am happy to see more people and organizations join. China has the best adoption system - clear, straightforward and without corruption."
Supporters include international companies, local enterprises, hospitals, schools and individuals.
Operations manager Li Yan says the orphanage welcomes donations of anything the children need, such as baby formula, diapers and clothes.
"Children here need love, and you can be their uncles and aunties," Li says.
Most of the orphans are between 1 month and 6 years old. The Bakers are working to find solutions for the older children, who are less likely to be adopted.
Hou Tong, who suffers from a congenital spine curvature, has never left bed in all of his 17 years. He recently received surgery and is expected to walk in the future. Hou is also learning English from a US college intern.
The center's workshop provides a place for older orphans to learn such skills as handicraft making.
After six years in the Shepherd's Village, 22-year-old Huang Zhongyu, who lost his fingers to a fire, will work in a local bakery.
"The happiest moment for me is when I see the kids leaving with their new families," Tim, who the children call "Papa Tim", says. "But it's a little sad, too, since in my heart, they are always my kids. But I wish they can have a normal family and a new life."
Dr Bill Muddy and his wife have worked as volunteer physicians at the orphanage for seven years after closing their clinic in California.
"Given our medical background, we think we should be here to help the kids, who deserve another opportunity in life," the 65-year-old says.
While Baker's happiest moments are to see the children leave Shepherd's Village with new families, Muddy's are to see new children arrive, he says.
"The fates of the kids were uncertain," he says. "But once they are sent in, it means they have an opportunity to survive and start a new life."