In July 2007, when a neighbour asked Peng Lianqi , 45, and her husband whether they wanted to become foster parents to a boy with brain and spinal problems, it took them only a few days to decide they would. Six months later she took in another boy with harelip from the same foreign-funded foster home, which sponsors orphans for surgery and provides post-surgical care until adoption. She now shares her experience monthly with other foster parents in Qingyundian, in the suburbs of Beijing, as her boys continue to make a recovery.
What made you want to become a foster parent?
My son had already left home for university in Beijing and only came back once a week. My husband and I both like children and I did not have much to do at home. We decided to give it a try when our neighbour, who works at the foster home, told us they were looking for a particularly responsible foster family for one-year-old Xin Tazheng who needs intense care.
I was not particularly worried about the child's condition. By that time he already had had his operations and I knew the foster home was going to provide us with the necessary training - in fact I had 40 days of training, while other foster parents normally only have five.
I still remember when I first set my eyes on him: my impression was that he really did not look as bad as I thought he would. Tazheng suffers from hydrocephalus and spina bifida, and I was expecting his head to be abnormally big and deformed; but actually he was quite a good-looking child.
In February last year, I decided that we had the ability to take care of one more child, so I approached the foster home and they assigned to me Jing Binghe , who was 11/2 years old. Apart from not being able to speak too clearly, he is perfectly capable in all other ways.
Do you receive financial subsidies for doing this?
Financially we have nothing to worry about since the foster home pays for medical fees, and for clothes and toys. And they also pay us a stipend of 700 yuan per month for Tazheng's expenses, and 600 yuan per month for Binghe.
My husband works in construction while I used to take odd jobs from factories near the village. We also have a 2 mu [about 1,330 square metres] plot of land where we grow corn and barley. We make only about 3,000 yuan each month and we have to give our son at least 15,000 yuan per year for his studies and expenses in Beijing. However, even though there might be a small sum left over from the stipends for Tazheng and Binghe after providing them food every month, I'm not doing this as a job. Taking care of them is really a 24-hour task, but I like it. They are really dear to me.
How is bringing them up different from bringing up your own child?
Actually when my son was growing up it was really my mother-in-law who took care of him, and I don't remember him being too naughty. So bringing up Tazheng and Binghe is like having a second chance to be a mother.
But at the same time, they are not our own children, and because of their weak physique I have to be more loving and take extra care. I have to be on alert all the time. I have to make sure that they have balanced and sufficient nutrition in every meal. I have to do physiotherapy exercises with Tazheng and give him massages every day. When he first came to us his legs were weak. He even ate lying down. However, I insisted on putting him in a walker so he had to eat sitting up. He still cannot walk today but he can climb. And with Binghe, when I first brought him home his skin was dry and pale. But now, after a year of nourishing soup, his face has a healthy glow.
Like all brothers they fight, and are naughty sometimes, but generally they are very well behaved. One frequently discussed topic among the foster parents is what to do when the children do not listen. The foster home has banned the use of spanking or yelling. On the other hand, we must make sure the children do not become spoiled. My experience is that if you try to reason with them, they actually will understand and listen.
What are the special moments in your two years as a foster parent?
In the beginning Tazheng could only say 'ma', but now he can say almost anything. The doctor initially thought that his brain was severely damaged, but he has turned out to be smart and lively. He's really a darling. Just yesterday, I was telling him again that one day he might be living with a different family in a foreign country, and he said: 'Can I take you with me?' My heart warmed instantly.
What will you do when they finally find a family willing to adopt them?
I will feel very sad and I will miss them terribly. But I will also remind myself that they will be with a better placed family who can take good care of them. Almost all of the orphans at this foster home are adopted by foreign couples.
Under Chinese law, families with a child cannot adopt. If it were not for that rule, I might consider adopting myself. However, I know I will definitely continue to be a foster parent until the day I am physically unable to do so.
I strongly believe that a child who grows up in a family environment will be more considerate and caring.