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Orphans struggle to adapt to a post-quake life without parents

FOUR-YEAR-OLD Ma Ke is too young to understand what happened to his mother and father, despite the memory of their deaths often reducing his grandfather to tears.

The boy's parents were killed in last year's devastating Sichuan earthquake on May 12. The boy's father, ran an iron plant in Yinxing village, Wenchuan County, the quake epicenter, and the family was well off.

Ma Ke and his 12-year-old brother Ma Ziheng were left with their grandparents, who are in their 60s and have very little income. The old couple not only lost their only son, but almost all their property in the earthquake.

Farmers their age in China usually rely on their offspring for a living as the country's social security network has yet to cover its huge rural population of about 900 million.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs worked out a plan in June 2008 to provide all possible support for the earthquake orphans, and promised to guarantee their schooling, housing and employment.

According to Chen Kefu, Sichuan Province's civil affairs bureau's vice director, apart from 12 orphans who have been adopted, 638 children who lost their parents in the quake are in orphanages and the rest with relatives.

Ma Ke and his brother have struggled to begin a new life in strange environments.

He often asks his grandmother whether his father and mother know he has moved.

"He is always ready to help, such as arranging desks and chairs," said Yang Jing, Ma Ke's kindergarten teacher.

But he refused to touch the crayons when the class were asked to draw pictures of their mothers on Women's Day.

Ma Ke will quietly stay in a corner, staring at parents picking up their children, with both sadness and envy.

"It just hurts me so much," said Yang, "My colleagues and I try very cautiously to treat the boy the same as we do other kids. He is sensitive. Special care would make him feel less comfortable."

Compared to his brother, Ma Ke is lucky staying with his grandparents.

His brother was sent to a welfare organization in the coastal city of Rizhao, in east China's Shandong Province, with 337 other teenage orphans last September and enrolled at a middle school there.

"I'm overwhelmed at the prospect of taking care of my grandsons and helping them live positive lives," said the grandmother.

"We are getting older by the day. I do hope in the future people still remember my kids and give them a hand."


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