A guardian angel for youngsters without hope
Many nights Lyn Gould lies wide awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering if setting up a palliative care centre in China was 'the most stupid thing' she has ever done.
'I would think: 'It's too difficult. Why don't we just go home?' ' the 62-year-old Englishwoman said recently on a visit to Hong Kong. 'But the next day I would say to myself: 'Okay. Just try one more day'.'
Her perseverance has kept her working on the mainland for six years. Her compassion has brightened the lives of many abandoned and dying children.
Gould founded the Butterfly Children's Hospice charity with her husband, Alan Gould, in 2010 in Changsha, Hunan, providing end-of-life care for severely ill children. Before that they worked for a foreign NGO - New Hope Foundation - that provides similar services in Henan province.
Gould named the centre Butterfly Home because she believes butterflies symbolise the transformation of life. She hopes the abandoned children can someday, like butterflies, spread their 'wings' of hope and transform their lives.
'The kids lose hope not just because they are sick but because they lose their mummy and daddy,' the retired nurse said. 'I hope to bring back hope to them by giving them love and care.'
For most of her life, Gould thought about moving to mainland China.
At the age of eight she was inspired by the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, the dramatised story of British missionary Gladys Aylward's work with abandoned children in China during the tumultuous 1930s.
'At that time I told myself: one day I will go to China and care for the children,' Gould said.
She chose Changsha as her first stop because the local officials were open-minded about championing policies to prevent the abandonment of children, and supported her work.
Even so, the difficulties were formidable, working in a foreign culture and language - which she can hardly speak - with few expat friends nearby.
Getting the charity registered was a chore, as is securing accurate diagnoses for the children, since there are no doctors at the hospice. Gould gets diagnoses from doctor friends abroad, sending them photographs of the children and descriptions of their symptoms.
The Butterfly Home has so far cared for 45 children, of whom 24 have died, 14 are still in their care and the others have either had life-changing surgery or were adopted.
The children - all with a life expectancy of fewer than six months - suffer from illnesses, including complex cerebral palsy, liver failure and heart diseases. Gould said she often felt stunned by their 'hopeless eyes'.
The hospice can only cope with treating abandoned children, but increasing media coverage has drawn many desperate parents - with sick youngsters in their arms - to knock on its door.
Gould talked about one mother who came to her for help for her four-year-old daughter, who was suffering from kidney failure. The girl died three weeks after.
The diary that woman wrote about her daughter's life was, said Gould, 'the most moving thing' she had ever read.
'From this day [when her daughter's disease was diagnosed] forward I no longer have any happiness,' the diary reads.
'Finally thank you, you made me believe that the world does have limitless love, and you let me see great people,' she writes of Gould.
Doing charity work in a country where she can barely speak the language, the retired nurse tries to involve local staff in her Western model of care.
'Once we get a good grounding for, ideally, ethnically Chinese bilingual staff from Hong Kong, Singapore or other countries, then we can teach local people that model of care and make it sustainable in China,' she said.
Gould hopes to expand the facilities and work with parents, teaching them how to care for their own dying children.
Her ground-breaking project on the mainland caught the attention of some Hong Kong medical practitioners, and she was invited to give talks in the city last month.