Tenacity, devotion and a relentless drive to help those in need have made Jenny Bowen a real life superhero. After being dismayed by the horrible conditions in China’s orphanages and touched by progress her Chinese adoptive daughter had made after just a short time in a loving family, she was compelled to change the lives of other children. She founded the OneSky organization and has since revamped the entire orphanage system on the Mainland.
Bowen opens up to Hong Kong Moms and speaks of her journey.
Why do you feel that the East/West barriers and difference run so deep?
I actually don’t think they do so much these days. I think the barriers are breaking down as technology makes the world smaller. And I think that there are more and more examples of East-West cooperation that has been a hallmark of our work.
How do you think you penetrated this to such great success?
As I said above, our curriculum is an amalgam of the best Eastern and Western child development studies. It is part of our overriding approach to work closely with the Chinese to figure out how to re-imagine the country’s child welfare system. We have worked closely with our Chinese government partners and we have trained and empowered Chinese staff. Our goal has always been to turn everything that we have built over to the Chinese to fund and to operate. In recent years, we have been able to start that process thanks to China’s improved economy and to the fact that we have been training and preparing Chinese staffers to take on the responsibility for those programs themselves.
You helped and continue to help so many children! That must be incredibly rewarding… But how do you come to terms with the fact that not every suffering child worldwide can be reached?
Because I am an optimist, I don’t focus on what can’t be done. I focus on the fact that if our society as a whole were willing to invest in at-risk children not only would the children no longer be suffering but also we would build a better world. I believe that every suffering child can be reached with our simple approach to early childhood education and we are working as hard as we can to spread our approach around the world.
How do your adopted daughters feel about your book? And your telling of their story?
At times, they’ve gotten tired of all the attention, but they feel as strongly as my husband and I do about doing what we can to help at-risk children, so they put up with it.
And what is their perspective on your mission to help China’s orphans?
They both know that they were once Chinese orphans and they both feel that the children left behind are their sisters and brothers. They are 1000 percent supportive of our mission to help those left behind.
Have you noticed a change in the attitudes towards baby girls since China has relaxed the one-child policy?
I think changed attitudes about baby girls have more to do with the Chinese economy than they do the one-child policy. The preference for boys was rooted in China’s agrarian economy where male labor was crucial for running farms and males were expected to take care of their parents in old age. As China has become a more urban society where women as well as men have found work in factories, the preference for boys has eroded.
What did you learn about the human character on this journey?
The children have taught me about resilience. There is something special about the children I’ve met who have been through so much at such a young age. When they receive the care they need to thrive they not only blossom as individuals but also become wonderfully caring, engaged and productive members of society. Their resilience continues to inspire me.
How do you balance “the business side” of the organization with the mission? For example, in your book you tell of how you went up against the board and things were not always smooth in that regard.
Our wonderful board members are savvy about financial matters and also heartfelt about their desire to bring loving, responsive care to at risk children. They not only keep us on track financially, but also makes decisions based on the needs of the children.
What other countries do you see a need for an organization like OneSky?
In any country where there are at-risk children who are not receiving the nurturing care they need to thrive and that includes some communities in the West. For our part, we are focusing first on reaching at-risk children in developing Asian countries, the first being Vietnam where we will open programs for children of migrant workers next year.
What is the status of your work now? How do you spend your days?
Like everyone working at a global organization, I spend lots of my time on conference calls and on e-mail. But as a former screenwriter, I’ve also always been committed to writing about the children and our work. I am convinced that the better people know the children in our programs, the more they will be committed to their welfare.
Other than donating money, how can women in Hong Kong help this cause?
They can go to our website onesky.org after June 1 of this year and pass on the stories about the children to everyone in their network. Everyone can help us spread the word about the plight of at-risk children and even more importantly the simple, scalable programs that can transform their lives.
What advice do you give women who are moved by a cause and want to do something but are overwhelmed by the enormity of what that might entail?
Start small, listen to your intuition about what you should do next, and don’t be intimidated by “experts.” Everyone can make a difference and you are the expert in figuring out how you can best make a difference.
Don’t miss out on meeting Jenny Bowen and hearing her speak to the Hong Kong Moms community at our luncheon on May 19th.