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US charity founder carries the torch for quake orphans
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Hundreds of thousands of spectators cheered her as she carried the Olympic torch through the streets of Wanzhou.

But Jenny Bowen's eyes were on the 50 pre-school children orphaned by the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality.

"My only reason for running are the children," said Bowen. The 63-year-old American mother of two adopted Chinese girls has helped more than 15,000 children through her Half the Sky Foundation, which was set up in 1998. "To me, it (the running with the torch) gives them a voice."

"I want them to be part of the celebrations with all of China," she said. "Often children who lose their families are forgotten. They don't have a mother telling them to do well in school and study hard. Basically, everything they accomplish in life is because of their own (determination) or with the support of an organization like ours."

Bowen said that being a torchbearer is "a wonderful opportunity to make them, especially those orphaned in Sichuan, part of the celebrations".

Bowen was selected a torchbearer in October through an online campaign that Lenovo and China Daily launched for expatriates.

The executive director of the Beijing-based Half the Sky Foundation had applied because she thought it was a good opportunity to draw more attention to orphans in China. She got the most votes.

Half the Sky is working with 36 welfare institutions in 28 Chinese cities. The program provides training, educational tools and medical support to about 4,000 children.

Half the Sky jumped into action soon after the quake. "In the beginning, we provided relief to all the children, not just orphans, with food, diapers, clothes and tents," said Bowen.

"Two weeks ago we began offering counseling to the children too. We built a large children activities center in each makeshift shelter in Dujiangyan. These centers have classrooms for arts, music and counseling to help the children overcome the trauma."

But "Half the Sky's greatest contribution will be to provide training for caregivers", said Bowen on her recent trip to a mountain town in Beichuan, which is the worst hit place.

Bowen traveled for several hours to a remote area to work with children and volunteer teachers on June 12 to mark a month of the quake.

She has shared the trauma, sorrow and bravery of children in the quake-hit areas in her blog on the Half the Sky website.

"We aim to provide long-term assistance. We are committed to working in Sichuan for at least five years."

(China Daily June 16, 2008)

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