To help orphans in northern Anhui Province who have lost parents to AIDS , the local civil affairs department and Save the Children UK jointly initiated a project called Small Family Unit. Volunteers were invited from local villages to become the orphans' new mothers and fathers.
In the village of Daluzhai in Fuyang, Lu Yue and his wife live with their four new children in a new house built by the project in June. Two of their own children have attended universities, and a third is in a local boarding senior middle school.
The four children, two boys and two girls, were all orphaned by AIDS. Previously, they lived with their grandparents or other relatives, under economic strained.
Lu said the four children, all in primary school, were unruly and uncooperative when they came to their new home but they have now settled in.
Receiving monthly subsidies of 200 yuan (US$25) till they reach adulthood, each of the children will eventually regain the land their parents had.
These children seem to be stepping out of the hell wreaked on them by AIDS, and such is the mission of Save the Children UK, which initiated its China program recently in Hefei, Anhui's capital.
Children living in AIDS-affected communities are usually ostracized and discriminated against.
One example is Xiao Jie, 10, a boy in Fuyang who collected rubbish to earn the money to buy a pen and stationery. His father died of AIDS, his mother left, and he and his younger sister live with his sick grandmother in a dilapidated house.
It is their emotional health and well-being that consist an absolute priority, said Andy West, a consultant for Save the Children's China program.
Save the Children UK has established 40 activity centers across China providing a place for children to grow up safely and as happily as can be. The centers are open to all children from all walks of life, but the emphasis is on children from vulnerable groups, such as migrant families, the disabled and those affected by AIDS.
One center opened recently in Duanzhai village in Fuyang. Though the facilities may look shabby, they are popular with local children who come at weekends to read books, watch cartoons or play.
Adjacent to the center is a free AIDS clinic. The AIDS epidemic in Fuyang in the early 1990s left many children orphaned.
In the village, 47 people from 26 families are now living with AIDS, each one generally with at least three children.
Children at the center seem accustomed to the presence of the AIDS patients, even welcoming those children affected or orphaned by AIDS.
However, children orphaned by AIDS are certainly not the only children who feel depressed. Evidence of physical and psychological abuse, of negligence too often concealed, and of general social obliviousness are all too common, according to the United Nations Secretary-General's Study on Violence Against Children, presented recently to the General Assembly.
The effects of the abuse can be far-reaching. When Xiao Juan moved with her parents to Hefei from her rural hometown, she perceived a barrier between her and her new classmates.
She often cried when her father sent her to school since other students ridiculed her rural accent. Though keen to participate in the chorus and dancing activities organized at school, she thought neither the teachers nor other students paid attention to her. "Is it all because I'm a child from a village that I have to suffer all this bad treatment?" she asked.
Funded by Save the Children UK, a community children's club opened in Hefei in 2002 where migrant and disabled children can play together and get along with other urban children.
Xiao Juan, who when joining the club two years ago as a timid child who hid in the corner and read books, has since become a child manager.
"I feel more self-confident," she said. "During the activities, nobody laughs at me. They give me applause and encouragement."
(China Daily November 20, 2006)