New Brunswick

Krista Dolan plans to save more Chinese orphans from 'dying rooms'

An orphanage program aimed at saving Chinese babies from so-called "dying rooms" is expanding next month in Henan province, due to the efforts of a Fredericton woman, who has adopted three special needs children from that region since 2005.

First Hugs room started in 2008 in an orphanage in Xianxiang, where orphans were in wretched conditions

An orphanage program aimed at saving Chinese babies is expanding in October in Henan province, due to the efforts of Fredericton's Krista Dolan. (Submitted by Krista Dolan)

An orphanage program aimed at saving Chinese babies from so-called "dying rooms" is expanding next month in Henan province, due to the efforts of a Fredericton woman, who has adopted three special needs children from that region since 2005. 

Krista Dolan says the First Hugs program trains local nannies to hold, comfort and play with infants who have been abandoned at birth.  

"Something switches off when they've never received basic human care, when they've never been loved, when they learn not to cry because nobody will come," says Dolan.

Dolan says the First Hugs program trains local nannies in China to hold, comfort and play with infants, who have been abandoned at birth. (CBC)
"I can see it in their eyes. I can tell which ones are going to die."

Dolan got involved as the director of First Hugs in 2008, after the adoption of her son in an orphanage near Beijing that only served special needs children. 

"I knew that Chinese orphans had a special place in my heart," says Dolan.

Dolan established a First Hugs room in an orphanage in Xinxiang. 

She says children there were living in wretched conditions, even eating their own feces. 

There was little to no medical attention for children with cleft palates, club feet, blindness and serious birth defects.  

Dolan got permission to open one room where she supplied trained nannies, as well as toys and other equipment.  

Dolan says the orphanage's director would like her to take 29 children but she doesn't have the money to bring in her orphans. (Submitted by Krista Dolan)
She says children started thriving. The transformation was so remarkable that she said she wanted to see who else she could help.

"Our babies are spoiled and loved and it's just remarkable," says Dolan, who visited the Xinxiang orphanage in July.

"They know what they're doing now. So we need to give this knowledge to someplace else."

Dolan's manager in Xingxiang is recruiting new nannies to start work in another orphanage about an hour away.

The Xuchang room is expected to open Oct. 1. 

With an annual budget of $30,000 (US), Dolan can hire nine full-time nannies to care for 18 infants around the clock.

Dolan says the orphanage director would like her to take 29 children but she doesn't have the money. 

When it comes to raising funds, Dolan says she thinks she's missing out on an untapped resource. She says many Canadian parents of adopted Chinese children would probably like to help her organization.

But she has ran into bureaucratic barriers.

Dolan said children in her orphanage program are now thriving. The transformation, she said, was so remarkable that she said she wanted to see who else she could help orphans in China. (Submitted by Krista Dolan)
Dolan says she's tried to pursue charity status in Canada but found the paperwork overwhelming and was preoccupied with running the programs on the ground.

Although Dolan only makes it to China about twice a year, laden with supplies, she keeps daily communication with her staff, using an app on her smartphone. 

"I'd love to find a retired lawyer with a heart for kids," says Dolan, who'd like to register in Canada.

The program receives the majority of its funding from U.S.-based donors.  

And Dolan maintains a lot of contacts with American parents, who adopt children from her rooms.

'Dying Rooms' documentary focused attention

The Dying Rooms was a documentary that came out in 1995 and won a Peabody Award, which recognizes outstanding public service journalism for electronic media, the following year.

Dolan can hire nine full-time nannies to care for 18 infants around the clock at the Chinese orphanage. (Submitted by Krista Dolan)
The documentary showed female babies and special needs babies abandoned by parents under the one-child policy and left to die of neglect and starvation.

Dolan says the film did a lot to focus attention on the problem, but she fears the problem is rising again for special needs infants.

"It's almost like the dying rooms are coming back except they're not being hidden any longer. They're just lying in their beds, dying," she says.

The Fredericton woman says children who do survive inside the orphanages come to suffer from emotional and developmental disorders because they're not getting proper nurturing or attention.

"A lot of children end up with reactive attachment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and obsessive compulsiveness," says Dolan.

Dolan says Canadians can help her organization by donating air miles to First Hugs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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