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Giving ailing orphans a chance

THERE are not too many expatriates who come to a new country and can say they have had a hand in saving the lives of some of its youngest and most vulnerable people.

But American Ann Kendl is one of four women who in 2008 launched Baobei Foundation, a not-for-profit group that funds urgently needed life-saving surgery.

Kendl is the director of orphan care at the charity that funds and organizes 40 operations a year. It works in partnership with doctors at the Shanghai Children's Medical Center.

The charity has more than 200 regular volunteers who assist with vital post-operative care and help raise the more than 45,000 (US$6,744) yuan required for each operation.

The foundation is approaching its one-hundredth surgical procedure and has helped 75 children. Its goal is to see all of its children adopted. So far 18 have been adopted, mostly by foreign families; Chinese families are concerned about paying for ongoing medical care.

Through its Healing Homes program, families can care for a child for anywhere from a few months to more than a year until they are strong enough to be put up for adoption.

Kendl's drive to help orphans comes from her own remarkable personal journey that involved the adoption of two Chinese orphans, Jessamyn, now 17, and Emma, 15.

Kendl explains that the decision to adopt was something she and her husband Kent made before they got married.

"There are so many children that need families that don't need to be conceived and for me it would have been a sin against nature to bring another baby into the world just to have someone look like me," she says.

"I am not saying that other people shouldn't have babies but for my husband and I, it wasn't right."

The couple first came to China from their home in Minneapolis in the state of Minnesota in the 1980s and returned when Kent worked for a software company in the mid-1990s.

A so-called trailing spouse, Kendl did volunteer work at a Shanghai orphanage where she first encountered Emma, an underweight, underdeveloped two-year-old who at first glance looked like an infant.

Kendl says she and Emma immediately connected and the couple, who had already decided to adopt a child with special needs, added Emma to their family.

"There was just something about her, I can't describe it, I decided pretty much right away to go for it (adoption)," she says.

"When I saw Emma it was irrelevant what was wrong with her, it mattered only in that could it be dealt with, could we help her."

Emma underwent five surgical procedures in the States for issues related to her fetal development. Emma made a full recovery and is a happy, healthy teenager in grade 9.

Baobei works with some of the most difficult medical cases that come out of the orphanages and, while not facilitating adoption directly, the vital medical records it provides to orphanages are essential to facilitate the adoption process.

Eighteen Baobei children have been adopted and Kendl says many couples are prepared to take on children with special needs.

It was seeing her own child undergo intense therapy that inspired Kendl to get involved in teaching special needs children on her return to Minneapolis in 1998.

She spent eight years teaching children with autism, Down Syndrome, spina bifida and learning disabilities before returning to Shanghai in 2006 when her husband relocated to work as a business consultant.

Initially teaching in an international school, Kendl decided she wanted to do more to help people in need.

"I just felt I needed to be involved with people whose physical condition limited them, especially in China," she says.

"Let's face it, here there is a long way to go. And that isn't saying America is so much better - there is a lot of improvement needed for people with special needs in general."

Baobei was launched by Carol Hoag, Kelly Thompson, Emily Chan and Kendl and, while it is registered in the US, it raises more than 70 percent of its money from individuals or businesses in Shanghai.

Since its inception, one of its successes has been its post-operative care program, which ensures the child sees the same specialist who performed the surgery, avoids post-operative infection and receives the appropriate recuperative therapy.

While some children have ongoing serious medical problems, some who come to shanghai, typically on a train with a care giver and close to death, can make miraculous recoveries.

While Kendl says that conditions for orphans in China have improved in recent years, a lot still needs to be done for children with special needs.

"The world has heard so much about the plight of Chinese orphans over the last 20 years and I think the plight for many of them is changing."

"There are some improvements that are happening in the system but for the ones with severe special needs or surgical issues there is still an incredible need in China for help."

Baobei is always looking for support and assistance and anyone who wants more information can visit

Ann Kendl

Nationality: USA

Age: 40-something

Profession: Orphan care director, Cofounder, Baobei Foundation


Self-description:Committed, creative, questioning.

Favourite place: Any place with a good view of the river.

Strangest sight: The gas repair guy smoking while he fixed the gas leak in my flat.

Worst experience:Waiting in line to take my daughter to the top of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower on Chinese New Year's Eve. What was I thinking??????

Motto for life:Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.

How to improve Shanghai:

Less of almost everything.

Advice to newcomers:Explore!


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