Newspaper article The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia)

From a Queensland Town with Love; Meet the Extraordinary Woman Who Has Spent 20 Years Helping China's 'Throwaway Kids'

Newspaper article The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia)

From a Queensland Town with Love; Meet the Extraordinary Woman Who Has Spent 20 Years Helping China's 'Throwaway Kids'

Article excerpt

Byline: Scott Kovacevic

FINDING a one-week old child left under an open window in a wet blanket, spinal fluid weeping from his back, Linda Shum's first trip to China could be described as a horror.

Intent on helping the country's orphans, she was greeted by 16 "bedraggled" children.

Within 10 days of her leaving, most of them would be dead.

It was an unfathomable situation - one which drove the Australian woman to dedicate 20 years of her life to helping an abandoned generation.

In 1995 the horrific reality of life as an orphan in China was revealed in a blistering documentary.

The Dying Rooms gave a horrifying look at the hidden damage the one-child policy had on the country.

Concerned over the possibility the country's population growth could outstrip its economic one, the Chinese government adopted the one-child policy in 1979.

The idea was simple: limit the number of children in the country's major urban areas, with few exceptions.

However, its strict policies and penalties tied to their child's sex ultimately led to a staggering number of girls and disabled children being abandoned by their families.

The policy ended in 2015, but its legacy has been immense.

Chinese officials report there are 600,000 orphans in the country; but other organisations put the number closer to one million.

The documentary unleashed a public outcry, one which - through a chance late-night reading of a magazine article - ensnared Shum in a decades-long fight to give a future to the children who had been abandoned and neglected by a country's controversial government policy.

Shum's journey started with insomnia. Unable to sleep while at a conference in 1997, she started flipping through a magazine provided by the organisers.

While she was looking for that perfect literary sleeping pill, what she found had the opposite effect: an article on how children in China were dying from a lack of mother-touching.

"It disturbed me greatly," Shum said.

"How could you leave children to die simply from a lack of human contact?"

She wrestled with how she could help, faced by the reality she was approaching 50 and had never left Australia.

Despite similar misgivings from her husband Greg, the pull was too great and Shum made her choice.

In Easter 1998 she stepped into a brand new world - a tumbledown, filthy orphanage which "looked 300 years old" and reeked of disinfectant.

"It was a terrible place."

But "terrible" was only on the surface.

Beneath hid horrors that were far worse.

"We realised that nearly 100% of children coming in under the age of three died, according to the records," Shum said.

"They'd just leave them somewhere to die and then throw the body in with the next person to be cremated."

Many of the children themselves were suffering from diseases or abnormalities like hydrocephalus, blocked bile ducts and spina bifida. …

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