Monday, March 27, 2006

State's first lady tours Shanghai orphanage and vows to 'shine a light' on girls' plight

The original article can be found on here:

Friday, November 18, 2005 (SF Chronicle)
Shanghai -- California first lady Maria Shriver, walking slowly through
the nurseries of the Shanghai Children's Home, stopped short at the rows
of orphaned toddlers, mostly girls, in identical silver cribs, holding out
their tiny arms and calling, "Mama."
"It breaks your heart," Shriver said Thursday, her eyes welling up. "You
can't help but be moved as a mother."
While Shriver's husband, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is busy with a
six-day trade mission to promote California business in China, the first
lady has her own mission: trying to "shine a light," she said, on the
deeds and needs of women and girls at home and abroad.
"You're struck by how much work needs to be done," said Shriver, a former
NBC television reporter. She has tried to highlight women's issues on the
trip, on Monday visiting the Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center
in Beijing, a women's organization that helps victims of domestic
violence, sexual abuse and poverty.
Shriver took reporters on a visit Wednesday to highlight the extraordinary
work of Jenny Bowen of Berkeley, the founder and executive director of a
program called Half the Sky. Bowen's program, a California-based nonprofit
operation that has bloomed into an international organization with 20,000
supporters, has been credited with changing the lives of thousands of
orphaned girls in China since 1998.
Bowen, a former screenwriter and filmmaker, says she arrived in China
nearly a decade ago and was shocked to see orphanages so understaffed and
underfunded that babies were left lying in cribs for days without being
touched, hugged or loved. She adopted a 2-year-old girl who was a victim
of that system -- so developmentally delayed, Bowen says, that "she didn't
know how to come out of herself."
And after a year of care, nurturing and "just holding her," Bowen says she
and her husband realized while watching their daughter at a party that
"she had become a different kid," running, laughing, playing -- outgoing
and happy. "I looked at my husband and said, 'Why can't we do this for all
the kids we can't take home?' " she recalled.
Bowen founded her program -- named for the proverb attributed to Mao
Zedong that "women hold up half the sky" -- to train nannies and preschool
teachers to give the orphaned children the love and nurturing they need to
develop physically and mentally. Today, about 10,000 children have passed
through her program, funded through private donations, including from
Californians who have adopted Chinese orphaned children. Half the Sky has
been embraced and expanded by the Chinese government into more than two
dozen cities around the country.
Shriver said this week that part of her work in China would be to
encourage such efforts and to seek out more corporate and private funding
from Californians.
"I try to mention it to everybody I meet," she said. "We'll mention it to
the people on this trip." And, she said, back home she will continue to
push the program ( as an example of what can be done to
improve the lives of girls in meaningful ways.
The theme has been central to her work as California's first lady since
she first took over the role two years ago. She reflected with reporters
on Thursday's anniversary of her husband's swearing-in as governor, saying
the work had had "great, great highs" and "great challenges" as well.
Shriver described her role as challenging, humbling, exciting and
"I feel pretty good about how I've done," she said. "I've navigated a
gravel road," one that has had some bumps for which she wasn't prepared,
she said.
Shriver's work has included shepherding the annual Governor and First
Lady's Conference on Women and Families, which has sponsored networking,
seminars and programs aimed at encouraging women's growth in health, home
and business.
Shriver's schedule on the trade mission has showcased programs and causes
that have not traditionally received attention in China, such as aid to
the intellectually disabled. The Special Olympics, founded by her mother,
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, today includes 500,000 athletes here and has been
lauded for helping change the lives of families and children across China.
On Wednesday, some Chinese families traveled for hours to Shanghai to meet
Shriver and tell her how the program has flung open the doors to a new way
of thinking in China, where once disabled children were literally locked
away in homes out of shame.
As she travels across China with Schwarzenegger, Shriver says her first
and most important job is still at home as mother to her four children.
But she says the trip has reminded her about what she calls "the power of
ideas" and the power of her position to shine a light on them.
"Very few people get to do that," she said. "I feel blessed in that way."

E-mail Carla Marinucci at ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2005 SF Chronicle

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