I requested Ms. Amy Eldridge to allow me to interview her. I am thrilled to share my interview with all of you. Amy is the founder of a nonprofit organization “Love Without Boundaries“ specializing in medical care, education, foster care, and nutrition for orphaned children in China.
LWB is a beautiful organization.
SHIRE: What a great pleasure to meet you on Twitter, Amy! I am forever thankful to Twitter for enlightening my world. You started a wonderful organization “Love Without Boundaries“.
What inspired and encouraged you? How did you do it?
AMY: I want to thank you so much for letting me have this chance to talk about our work, Shire. I hope that people can see that anyone truly can make a difference in this world, if they just step out in faith to help those in need.
Six years ago, my world changed forever when I walked into my first orphanage. I don’t think anyone can walk past row after row of metal baby cribs, filled with children who have been abandoned, and not be impacted. It was on that trip that I met a tiny baby boy who was struggling with heart disease. It was the first time I had ever seen a baby who was dying. He was so blue, and I naively asked when his surgery would be, only to learn that there weren’t funds available to save his life. When I came back to the US, it was impossible to put that beautiful child’s face out of my mind, and so I knew I had to try and help him. I wrote to family and friends, asking them to help me save his life, and the outpouring of support was simply amazing. People passed on my original letter to others, and we raised enough funds to not only heal baby Kang….but three other children with heart disease as well. It was through those initial surgeries that the idea of forming a foundation, dedicated to changing the lives of orphaned children, was formed. For the last six years, we have worked every day to provide the most loving and compassionate care possible to children in need, and we have watched LWB grow into a worldwide effort, with volunteers now in 7 countries.
SHIRE: How do you get the work done? How do you promote your Cause, both offline and online?
AMY: LWB is a virtual foundation, meaning that we have no main office. We have over 150 volunteers, who work off of their home computers. They help us find supporters, write reports to sponsors, arrange surgeries, check on the programs, etc. We have daily communication with our staff in China, through email and skype, and then we make trips to China as well to check on the children’s progress ourselves.
As far as letting others know of our work, we truly love social media.
We use Facebook Causes (and actually were blessed to win the Facebook charity challenge in 2008), Twitter, and Linked In. We have two blogs, an electronic newsletter, and then of course our main website. Offline, we do a lot of public speaking and talking with our supporters. I think that the reason we have been so successful is that we are able to show that we produce real results. And in today’s harder financial times, when someone makes a choice to give of their funds, they want to know it is really making a difference. And so we work really hard to make sure that people can see those results.
SHIRE: What programs does LWB run?
AMY: LWB has five main program areas. Each of them is vital, and I love that they all work together at times to provide a “whole child” approach, meaning that we try to meet all of the essential needs of a child in order for them to grow and thrive in the best way possible. Our medical program of course saves lives, by providing heart surgeries, abdominal surgeries, and other life changing operations. Our foster care program takes children out of an institutional setting and puts them into a loving home. Our education program builds schools inside of orphanages, as well as providing school funding for both high school and college. Our Healing Homes program builds special facilities where the sickest and most vulnerable babies can receive care, and our Orphanage Assistance program provides things such as high quality formula, safe cribs, and warm coats to those in need. In all, about 1500 children a year receive help from LWB.
SHIRE: How do you help fund vital surgeries to orphaned children in China?
AMY: When an orphanage calls us for help with a sick child, we post that child’s photo and basic information on our medical sponsorship website page, along with the amount needed for their operation. People can then donate any amount they are able to that child, and we keep updating the total amount needed. Once a child is fully funded for surgery, we move them immediately to the hospital and keep the donor updated on their progress. We follow the kids closely post surgery, and send sponsors updates at 1, 3, 6 and 12 months post-op. I am always the happiest when we can write to a sponsor and let them know that not only was the child’s life changed through their operation, but that they have then be chosen by a family through adoption. That is always the best news. We also have several specific medical funds that people can donate to, such as our preemie fund or our heart surgery fund. Sometimes a baby cannot wait on our website for surgery as it is truly a matter of immediate life or death, and these funds allow us to move children right away for urgent care.
SHIRE: What is the average age group of your key donors? Are they all located in the U.S.? or abroad as well?
AMY: One of the wonderful things I have seen is that LWB receives donations from every walk of life, which I believe is such a beautiful thing to know that so many people are coming together to help children in need. We have 5 year olds who give up getting birthday presents so the funds can go to babies in China. We have college students who raise funds through their sororities or fraternities. We have moms and dads, empty nesters, senior citizens. And people from all around the world have donated, from Sweden to Singapore and everywhere in between. We never take a single donation for granted. Each time I open an envelope with a note saying “may this donation help..”, I give thanks. I sure wish I could thank everyone in person, as none of our work would be possible without their kindness and generosity.
SHIRE: Do you often travel to China? Do you have a good relationship with the authorities in China?
AMY: I have been to China 26 times over the last decade. In the beginning, I was going 4-6 times a year to get the programs set up, but now with so many volunteers helping us, I go once a year now. I have been blessed on those trips to meet so many amazing children who inspire me every day. It certainly has put my own life in perspective, and has made me realize that every day we are given is a real gift.
I do have a good relationship with officials in China. One of the things that is very important to me is that we never go into a situation as a foreigner saying “you are doing this wrong”. The vast majority of people I have meet there who work in orphanages are such kind and loving people, and they want to help the children in their care so very much. But often times, in the poor, rural areas where we work….there simply aren’t the resources. When an entire area is living in poverty, you can’t judge someone because their orphaned children in that town are in need. We always practice compassion first and foremost, and work with local citizens to figure out ways to help and make a difference. Our programs are Chinese run in China, and we are blessed with the most amazing teachers, aunties, and program managers. I love when we can all work together in community to come up with real ways to change the lives of children.
SHIRE: Please tell me about the Cleft Healing Homes.
AMY: The Cleft Healing Homes are a project that is very near and dear to my heart. After working with children who were born with cleft lip and palate for many years, we realized that while many people think this might be a ‘simple’ birth defect just affecting the mouth…to an orphaned child, it can be a life threatening special need. Babies with cleft have a difficult time eating, and if you are a baby in a crowded institution, who can’t feed well, you quickly begin to lose weight and become failure to thrive. I have held far too many babies with cleft in orphanages who are sickly and weak due to not being able to receive one on one care that they need. And I don’t fault the aunties in an orphanage in any way. It can take up to 2 hours to feed a child with cleft one bottle, and if you have 20 babies to take care of in an orphanage, that just can’t happen easily.
So in 2008, LWB opened the first Cleft Healing Home in China, dedicated solely to the care of these vulnerable babies.
We bring the babies to a warm, safe environment and get them the one on one care they need, and the results have been remarkable. Babies who came to us tiny and malnourished quickly gained weight, and the babies were ready for their surgeries to repair their cleft in record time. Our Anhui home has had over 40 babies stay with us, and each of them is now a healthy, vibrant child either already adopted or in the process of having their paperwork prepared. We opened a second Cleft Healing Home in Henan province on June 1st of this year, and dream of a day where every province in China would have such a home. For unknown reasons, Asia has the highest incident of cleft of anywhere in the world, so these homes are truly needed.
One of our volunteers made a great video about these healing homes, which you can watch here:
SHIRE: The LWB website shows children who need medical help/urgent medical help. Do you think it helps when people know exactly where their money is going so they feel comfortable donating?
AMY: I hope that our reporting to donors allows them to know what an impact they are making when they give to our medical program. We send pictures and reports, and really want people to connect with the children they are helping. We also do everything in our power to keep our overhead low. In 2008, it was under 8%, which I think for a foundation of our size is pretty remarkable. We have negotiated contracts with hospitals in China to get us the lowest surgery prices possible, while still making sure that we use the top hospitals and surgeons there. We treat every child having surgery as if they were our own child, and so we discuss the treatment plans with trusted physicians and staff, and we make sure that every child has a safe place to recover post-op.
SHIRE: It’s important for people to understand that if these incredible children do not get immediate medical help, they’ll die. What is the average cost of surgery, for instance a heart surgery in China?
AMY: That is the most difficult part of the work that I do. It is a horrible tragedy to me when any child dies as an orphan…alone and without ever having known what it means to be treasured in a family. But the reality is that 85% of the orphaned children in China have some sort of medical need, and so the need is just immense, and we always have a long waiting list of children needing help. We think and dream about these kids 24/7….and it is always so horrible to get the news that a child has passed away while waiting for surgery. A few months ago we lost four baby girls who had heart defects all in the same week due to a lack of funding, which was absolutely heartbreaking.
Heart surgery in China is the most expensive surgery. It costs between $5000 and $7000, which of course is far less than in the US. Heart surgeries are difficult for us to fund because of the higher cost, but we always want everyone to know that no donation is too small.
I remember hearing once on the news about someone who had spent $10,000 to eat a gold encrusted pizza in New York, and I actually started crying when I thought that two children’s lives could have been saved for that amount. I know $5000 is a lot of money….but when you think it can truly save the life of a child, that of course is something priceless.
We have a saying at LWB that every time you save a child’ life…the world changes for the good. I believe that with all of my heart.
SHIRE: What goals does LWB have this year and in the near future?
AMY: Our main goals remain the same today as they did when we first began. We want to change the lives of as many orphaned children as possible, in order to help as many of them find permanent homes through adoption as possible. Some of the new projects we are working on include a possible sixth orphanage school inside a large orphanage that has a lot of kids who can’t attend public school, a new foster care program in rural southwestern China, another cleft healing home so even more lives can be saved, and of course to continue healing as many children as possible through our medical program.
SHIRE: Now, I would like to know about adoptions. This is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? That each child finds a home because each child deserves a home.
How does LWB handle the adoptions? How do you go from Orphanage – Foster Home to Adoption?
AMY: We are definitely all about adoption. I tell our volunteers that no humanitarian aid program in the world can do as much for an orphaned child as simply having them find a family to CHERISH them. A family changes everything for an orphan. That child then has someone to encourage them, to believe in them, and of course to love them. That child then has an unlimited future. So all of our program areas work to get as many children ready for adoption as possible, and we work with orphanages to advocate for these children to have that chance. The way the adoption program works is that an orphanage will prepare a child’s adoption file, and then they send that file to the national government office for adoption in Beijing. They then place the child’s file with adoption agencies, such as those in the US, and then families who wish to adopt from China can be matched with a child.
LWB is not an adoption agency, but we work with agencies to advocate for adoption and to make sure as many children as possible in Chinese orphanages are given that chance.
While the Non Special Needs path to adopt a baby from China has slowed to a many year wait, families who are open to adopting children with medical needs (both repaired and unrepaired) can adopt a child in 9-12 months. When I adopted my last son TJ, who was born missing the lower part of his right arm, the entire process start to finish took 10 months. Every month so many files of children with medical needs are returned to China unchosen, which is just so sad to me because these children are SO amazing. I think many people hear the term “special needs” adoption and are afraid, but if they look more closely at the program, they will quickly see that the vast majority of the children who are classified as “special needs” are beautiful, incredible kids who just need someone to love them. Many of the children have already had their surgeries, many others have conditions that don’t affect their physical health in any way (such as limb differences), while others are on the list solely because they are older children. Lots of other children will require medical care here in the US, but most will lead very healthy lives with care. There are also amazing kids with more moderate special needs who are waiting for a home as well.
I know it can seem like an overwhelming task to adopt internationally, but if you take it just one step at a time, before you know it you can be home with a wonderful, beautiful baby or older child.
Adoption is such a blessing. If anyone is interested in more information, they can contact us at any time. I am blessed to have seven children, two from China, and I cannot imagine my lives without them!
SHIRE: The Twitter Family has a big heart. I trust there will be many key donations via Twitter. Please share any links, any useful info for promoting the LWB cause.
AMY: Some of our favorite spots to get more information include:
http://www.lovewithoutboundaries.com (click on “sponsor a child” if you wish to help a child in need)
http://www.lwbblog.com (our main blog)
On Twitter we have @chinalwb @KarenMaunu_LWB and @amyeldridgelwb
Pictures on Twitter are loaded to:
http://www.lifeofgiving.blogspot.com (our blog on adoption and living a life of kindness)
I want to thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to let others know about the work we are doing in China. Together, we really can change the world….one child at a time.
SHIRE: Thank you for all you do for the children, Amy.
“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.”~Kahlil Gibran