Features

Aftershocks

"Aftershocks" Continued...

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Drisner sees with some victims post-traumatic stress disorder setting in after the shock wears off, while other victims "start getting better-they get on with their life, get a job or start rebuilding," he said. The Sichuan man said that despite the upheaval and daily shakes, he is starting to think about taking classes: "Right after the earthquake, I felt very sad, but right now, it is OK. It is time to start."

-Tom Pfingsten is a reporter for the North County Times in Fallbrook, Calif.

Shutouts

Orphans thrive on Olympic sidelines

By Tom Pfingsten

Charitable and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) found themselves shut out of Olympic festivities when China's government decided last spring to restrict all private groups' activities in Beijing. But for David Bolt, the 27-year-old founder of California-based Bring Me Hope, being shut out of the main event was an opportunity to serve Chinese orphans whom many officials wish didn't exist.

Bolt has organized summer camps in China since 2005, when his family began a ministry with 28 Chinese orphans. This summer Bring Me Hope brought 350 orphans from government orphanages to camps where they could swim, play games, and be loved: "The purpose of camp is to take kids who have been rejected, hurt, and abandoned, look them in the eyes and say, 'You have value. You are loved,'" Bolt said.

Orphans are paired with young Chinese translators and foreign volunteers, who range from 16-year-olds from California to a 70-year-old Australian woman. Many of the orphans are considered unadoptable. Some have conditions like cerebral palsy and Down syndrome; others suffer from undiagnosed problems, physical deformities, or mental retardation. In almost every case, the children were abandoned by Chinese parents who normally rely on offspring to take care of them in their old age. With China's one-child policy, the only hope of retirement is often to rear a child who can become a provider.

Toward the end of each week of camp, Bolt said volunteers are encouraged to coax stories out of the children. The results are often difficult to hear. One girl described being beaten as a toddler, leaving her with disabilities that actually resemble cerebral palsy. A boy said he still remembers his parent's last words: "Wait here, and I'll come back for you."

Bolt always planned to hold this year's camps in Beijing, hoping to draw attention to the plight of these orphans in the Olympics-charged atmosphere. But its Beijing site was commandeered to make room for 20,000 Chinese soldiers providing security during the Olympics. And with government restrictions on outside activities, the camps had to move to remote cities like Nanchang and Zhengzhou. In one workers were effectively under "camp arrest," unable to leave the site throughout their visit. The greatest frustration for counselors, however, were government restrictions that prohibit sharing the gospel. "You can't share the gospel with words, and you have to completely rely on actions," said Canadian volunteer Janet Elgie.

Despite the obstacles, Bolt said the 2008 camp sessions were a success: The number of volunteers doubled, and orphanages allowed more disabled and special-needs children to come than in previous years-a sign of growing trust by government officials. And when the camps were over, a small group of volunteers won permission to treat five orphans to a night of track and field in Beijing's Olympic stadium.

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