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China: Quake orphans find love, but no families

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MIANYANG, Sichuan Province, Nov 15, 2008 (Xinhua via COMTEX News Network) --

by Xinhua writers Ji Shaoting, Wu Chen and Yu Xiaojie

When 10-year-old Zhao Guodong started convulsing at midnight in Zitong Children's Welfare Home, care was close at hand.

"I knew nothing at that time. I only remember I was in hospital, and there was an aunt in purple clothes holding my hands," says Zhao, who lost his parents in the May 12 earthquake in southwest China.

The "aunt" was Bai Lifang, a worker in the home in Mianyang County, Sichuan Province. She held his hands for seven hours that night to prevent the boy hurting himself. Bai said she dared not close her eyes. "I could not bear to see him suffering, but I had to," says Bai, in her 50s.

Only 12 of Sichuan's 263 quake orphans have been legally adopted, but most have been loved by many people. "I have many niangniang," Zhao says, using the Sichuan dialect term of affection for an aunt.

Luo Huili, the home's nursing director, says Zhao is one of 10 quake orphans still in the home, which had received more than 50 children from the quake zone as it is the only welfare home in the worst hit area of Beichuan County.

Most of the kids were simply lost and were later picked up by parents or other family members, she says.

Donations from around the country have come to the home since the quake, Luo says.

According to the provincial Department of Civil Affairs, 90 percent of the 600 plus orphans were taken into care by their relatives while the other 60 remain in welfare homes.

Relatives have priority in adopting quake orphans according to government regulations, says Zhang Li, deputy director of the department.The adoption process began in late August. As of Nov. 12, only 12 orphans had been legally adopted while the others were with relatives or in welfare homes.

In May, about 4,000 orphans were reported, but most were identified by their parents or relatives and taken home, Zhang says.

"The number is changing all the time as some are taken away and some return from other provinces after free medical care," he says. Very few are adopted by strangers.

A couple in Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province, had been calling the civil affairs bureau in Beichuan County ever since the quake, offering to adopt, says Wang Lin, the bureau's deputy director.

They realized their dream in August. "I want to see my child grow up like any other," said the new mother, who declined to be named. "We want to help our child overcome the trauma through simple parental love."

Luo Huli says, "Usually good-looking and healthy kids are quickly adopted. The children left here are all physically disabled or with some serious illnesses, mostly with mental problems."

Zhao Guodong's healthy twin sister had been sent to Qingdao, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province.

"Someone will support her and maybe find a job for her in the future," he says.

"I want to go to college, but I cannot. Niangniang says I have a problem here," he says, pointing to his head.

Zhao lives with two other orphans -- one aged six, the other eight -- in a single room. They are all intellectually disabled, but accepted by a nearby school as non-registered students.

The other seven children in the home are unable to attend school. "Little Zhao Guodong is the luckiest," Luo says. "We know nothing about the others because they cannot answer questions.

"They are all poor readers," she sighs. "We have no energy for their education. All we can do is to guarantee their health.

"They just need more love."