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Of apples, orphans, street kids and school

AN expat charity with creative fundraising ideas is helping orphans and street children find shelter and stay in school in poor rural areas. And it needs a four-wheel drive to do its rugged work, writes Sam Riley.

From selling apples grown in poor villages to selling dolls made from left-over scraps of expats' stylish tailoring, a band of entrepreneurial volunteers is finding innovative ways to alleviate poverty.

The creative fundraising schemes are the brainchild of volunteers from The Children of Madaifu, a charity helping disadvantaged children in Gansu, Shaanxi and Hubei provinces.

The organization was founded in 1999 by Marcel Roux, a former vice president and co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

Roux started the charity after seeing the dire health and education needs of children in these areas of China, and while the charity was originally named "Datong" (Great Harmony), it was renamed Les Enfants de Madaifu (Children of Madaifu) to pay tribute to its founder who died in 2006.

The name Madaifu was Roux's Chinese name, given to him by the people he helped ?? Ma for Marcel and daifu for doctor.

Marie Duval is a Shanghai-based volunteer and she says the organization has developed new ideas to raise funds for projects aimed at keeping orphaned and disadvantaged children with their families.

Two main volunteers work for the organization in Shanghai, and Duval says the friends of Roux took over his work after his death from cancer.

"First we looked after the families and then we totally reorganized the association because if we hadn't, all those children in very remote parts of China would have slipped back into poverty," she says.

Madaifu helps meet some of the basic daily and educational needs of the children to help support families.

"We found some children had been put on a train and sent away, not because their grandparents or relatives didn't love them, but because they were totally desperate and couldn't take care of them," she says.

She cites the case of a four-year-old who was put on a train to a bigger city 300 kilometers away and ended up in a social emergency shelter, "and you don't know what can happen to them." It was Roux's idea to keep the children in their own communities.

The organization has two main programs.

One is "Orphans Without Walls," which supports orphaned and abandoned children in a relative's home, or a foster home. The family is paid an allowance to provide for their basic needs and to finance the child's education.

The other program is emergency help for street children. Madaifu, with the cooperation of the local Civil Affairs Bureau, finances an emergency shelter for street children in Tianshui, Gansu Province, and the children are fed, housed and taken care of.

The association has provided for almost 100 children under the "Orphans Without Walls" program and another 250 children in its emergency shelter.

The volunteers have initiated creative fundraising to boost the association's small annual budget of about 600,000 yuan (US$87,800). On average it costs 2,200 yuan a year to finance each child taking part in the association's programs.

Christmas apples sales have been one of the most successful money-raisers. For the last five years, the association has sold apples grown by villagers in Gansu. The idea was hatched after a volunteer noticed during a visit to the village that a lot of apples were stored because they had too many and couldn't sell them.

The association swung into action and organized transport and storage. Apples were first sold in Beijing but the project was extended to Shanghai and now includes walnuts and apricots.

"We purchased the apples at the market price of 3 yuan a kilo, transported them to Beijing and sold them at 5 yuan an apple," Duval says.

"So, we made outrageous profits from this operation, which was put back into the village where the apples came from."

Since growing the apples was a collective effort, the association decided that the money raised should benefit the whole community. Thus they supplied stoves and coal to heat primary school classrooms and to provide basic educational equipment.

Another innovative fundraising idea is making and selling dolls. These dolls are stitched by village women who are especially talented at embroidery and crafts. They are based on a design by a French fashion designer using left-over fabric from expats' tailoring in Shanghai.

Sales of the dolls finance projects to help women, such as female health checks.

The association also sells second-hand books already read by expats' children. The proceeds buy books for village schools.

Duval says the association is looking for committed volunteers who can devise a fundraising project and carry it out through completion.

"We have the ideas but we need the human power to carry out projects that are in line with the spirit of the organization," she says.

People can support the organization through donations and attend its conferences.

Madaifu is also looking for a second-hand four-wheel vehicle to assist with its work in China's rugged rural areas.

Anyone seeking to help or needing more information can visit or e-mail to


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