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Women hold up half the sky…

This is the oft-quoted saying of Mao Zedong, but I like to point out that the sky is vast and we are still learning about its dimensions, whereas we know the dimensions of our planet Earth, and women stand firmly on its soil.

I would like to add to Mao’s quote by saying holding up half the sky may not be possible for anyone, but we know that women can hold down their place on earth. 

Historians of many countries have written about women who made outstanding contributions to their particular societies. 

In our present day, millions of women are doing great things, but they may only be known by God, family, friends and those who are or have been recipients of their good works.

Every International Women’s Day, March 8, we celebrate women in many ways. Celebrations can range from ones of respect, or appreciation and love, to a celebration of women’s economic, political and social achievements. 

The original political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner. 

I would like to share some good works that women religious are doing in China. I have done research on many of these religious congregations. 

The sisters are involved in many works, such as pastoral, medical, care of the aged and orphans, people suffering from Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) or HIV/AIDS, those with special needs.

After the devastating earthquake of 2008 in China, many sisters went to the affected areas to help the people and stayed with them through the ordeal.

 

Women religious

I would like to introduce a congregation called The Sisters of the Mother of Our Lord, which was founded in the 1860s by French Jesuits.

The missionaries were anxious to start spreading the faith so they invited a sister from Hungary to come to help establish a congregation of sisters.

After some young women were trained, the priests and sisters began establishing a school for girls, a hospital, a home for babies and one for elderly people, all works of mercy. 

In the 1950s, all religious activities were stopped and all foreign missionaries were expelled from China. In the 1980s, the churches and religious congregations started up again. With the few sisters that had survived the bad years, they trained new ones and continued to whole-heartedly serve the Church and society. 

In particular, the sisters care for the mentally challenged and the physically incapacitated orphans, which has gained favourable comments from many people. 

In 1994, they established the Bosco Home for the Handicapped to care for children who had been  abandoned or brought by parents who couldn’t care for them. 

Over the years, the sisters have received about 100 children. Presently there are 40 children at the orphanage; their ages ranging from seven days to 19 years. 

The sisters devote all their attention to the care and education of their charges and try their best to keep the children healthy, so they may grow to maturity and be useful people in their society.

They also care for the aged and do other Christian works of mercy. Presently there are about 80 sisters involved in these works.

 

Hansen’s Disease

I had a chance to visit a Hansen’s Disease village near Jiangmen, Guangdong, where three Sisters of St. Anne live with and care for the patients, who are mostly elderly and have lived away from their families for many years.

Hansen’s Disease is pretty well contained now, because of advances in medicine and it is not an easily communicable disease. 

The ones who have it need a certain amount of help. The sisters clean and bind up their wounds, feed those whose hands are affected, lead the blind, help others to walk, spend time with the men and women and make a community life for all of them. 

As long as the patients are able to take care of some of their needs, couples or singles each have a little stone house of their own.

The sisters live in the same kind of house. The atmosphere of care and joy is a highly moving and humbling experience for me.

 

The Ark-Nanjing

The Ark-Nanjing Special Education Centre started in September 2005. It is supported by the local district government and is operated under the auspices of the Catholic Church in the diocese of Nanjing to service families with young people who are mentally challenged, or suffering from a mental illness, by providing training and related services. 

The students can range from their early teens to over 40 years of age, with a mental age ranging from one to 12. A good many do not know how to care for themselves.

The four designations assigned to them are: mentally handicapped, autistic, mentally ill and a combination of mentally handicapped and mentally ill. 

The sisters have hired 17 teachers to help in four areas of training: physical therapy, life skills training, career training and basic education. The students attend classes from Monday to Friday. 

The sisters and a lay staff help in the residential programmes where students retire after attending the day time activities.

These are their homes. On weekends and holidays, the residences are staffed full time in order to meet varying needs of the parents. 

Total service, individualised care is the motto of the sisters, teachers and volunteers. The number of students keeps increasing, which also demands larger work areas. The local government has been highly supportive of this important work and has also arranged for bigger spaces for the students. 

I was in Nanjing recently and the sister in charge showed me a few of places they have now.

She then ushered me into a large work space, which had been used by a company for five years. 

The government property was well kept and it was given to the sisters to so they could make the adjustments needed to meet the needs of the students. I was very impressed by the work a few sisters and helpers are doing, 

The centre already has over 60 students, but they have been asked to take on even more of these needy young people. This congregation is small and specially trained teachers are few. 

The work is extremely demanding, which reminds me of the scripture passage: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

“Then Jesus said to his apostles, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9: 36-38).

I have met the sisters in the above three places and know that they are doing great work. They are always in need of financial support and volunteers. 

If people in Hong Kong would like to go to these places to see the sisters and their works that would be a great experience for them, but if not, they can always keep the sisters and their works in their prayers. 

 

Women in China

On February 15 this year, the All-China Women’s Federation put the spotlight on the topic of caring for the children of migrants. 

The migrant worker shortage in big cities after the Spring Festival exodus has once again stirred a national debate about their rights to become city residents. 

In fact, this debate should be broadened to include the children they leave behind, as these stay-at-home kids are frequently the main reason their young parents do not return to where they worked. 

Estimates put the number of stay-at-home children at 58 million. They suffer from loneliness and a lack of parental guidance, and they are often malnourished and the victims of accidents.

Public donations and volunteer help are far from adequate to provide the nurturing environment these children need. 

For young migrant worker parents, their identity as rural residents is determined by their hukou, or household registration, but they want more than a rural hukou offers for their children. They would like to provide their children with the best environment for growing up, as well as the quality of education urban children enjoy.

But while migrant parents can look after their children better if they stay with them, they can hardly do anything to improve the quality of education available in the countryside, which is the biggest obstacle to rural children entering college. 

The central government should improve the conditions for teachers working in the countryside and divert more resources to raise the standard of education in rural areas. This must be carried out step by step as a long-term national strategy. 

With the development of the economy at the non-urban level, the authority can attract more teaching talent to county-level schools first and then proceed to the village level. 

A mature and prosperous education system outside the big cities will help the nation tap the potential of its rural population, which can only benefit the local economy in the long run. 

If the talents of the 58 million stay-at-home children can be realised, they will be an important generation promoting county-level urbanisation.

This will be a strategic transition for China, enabling it to balance the current city-centred urbanisation which has caused many problems. 

The stay-at-home children should no longer have to repeat the lives of their fathers and grandfathers.

They deserve the opportunity to study for a better life (All-China Women’s Federation Newsletter, 15 February 2012).

It is highly encouraging to see the women of China in their Women’s Federation being concerned about the lives of families of migrant workers.

They are also bringing the issue of better schools in the rural areas to the fore. The women have put a spotlight on an extremely good cause. 

Yes, all children deserve the opportunity to study for a better life. MC