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Foster parents Du Jianfeng and Jiao Zhiping have helped to raise 18 orphans with special needs over the past 10 years. Photo:

Chinese couple celebrates 10 years of fostering orphans with special needs

Former factory workers have helped to raise 18 youngsters, most of whom are now living with adoptive families

A couple in eastern China are gearing up for a special celebration this Lunar New Year, as it will be their 10th working as foster parents at an orphanage.

Du Jianfeng and her husband Jiao Zhiping joined the facility in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in May 2008 after losing their jobs as factory workers. In the years since, they have helped to raise 18 children, most of whom have gone on to join adoptive families both in China and overseas, news portal reported on Monday.

Aside from having to deal with the tragedy of losing their parents, many of the youngsters in Du and Jiao’s care have special needs. Two of their current five charges – aged from three to 14 – have Down’s Syndrome, while another is on the autism spectrum, the report said.

Du was quoted as saying that although caring for children with special needs was not always easy, the past 10 years had been very rewarding.

“There were difficult times when I thought I couldn’t pull through,” she said. “We didn’t know how to do things properly at the beginning, and many things didn’t go smoothly. But we had training every week and in time we learned how to take care of the children.”

Speaking of one her current charges – a nine-year-old boy who is on the autistic spectrum – Du said he had made enormous progress since joining their family.

“When he came to live with us, he refused to speak to anyone”, the website quoted her as saying.

“But my husband encouraged him and practised speaking with him every day. Now he greets people of his own accord. I’m so happy,” she said.

The orphanage is run by the Nanjing Social Children Welfare Institute, with funding from the Chun Hui Bo’Ai Foundation. As well as being provided with living accommodation and money to cover the children’s living expenses, Du and Jiao – who are one of four foster couples – are paid a combined monthly salary of about 3,000 yuan (US$475).

Lai Cuixia, a family consultant with the foundation, told the South China Morning Post that foster families were responsible for all aspects of the children’s care, from taking them to and from school, to cooking their meals and playing with them in the evening.

Despite their success as foster parents, the couple have paid the price of being away from their “real” family. As migrant workers they had to leave their own young daughter in the care of her grandparents, Zhu Hongmei, a provincial project director with the foundation, told the Post.

“I had no time to look after my own children,” Du said. “My daughter once told me, ‘Mum, [the children] are not orphans. I’m an orphan’.”

For all the heartbreak, “Mummy Du”, as she is known by the orphans, said she was proud of the work she did. She and her husband just wanted to “do something meaningful” in their lives, she said.

Zhu said that more than 100 children cared for by foster families at the orphanage had gone on to be adopted.

“We just want children with special needs to feel the warmth of family,” she said.