BERKELEY (CBS SF) — Jenny Bowen and her husband, Richard, adopted Maya in 1997.
She was silent, sick, and shut down from almost two years in a Chinese orphanage.
“She had amoebic dysentery. She had parasites,” remembered Jenny. “She was emotionally, just vacant. She was obviously a girl who was never held or loved or talked to.”
She needed love.
One year later, “I looked out my kitchen window, and boom, there was my little girl, romping around the garden, singing, full of joy and life and looking like a child who was loved from the moment she was born,” recalled Jenny.
“I saw what a family’s love does for a child,” she said. “I said to my husband, ‘Why can’t we do that for all the kids we can’t bring home?'”
Foreigners weren’t even allowed inside a Chinese government orphanage.
So how could Jenny bring change?
After a year of talks, China agreed to let the film director and screenwriter launch a pilot program.
“We hire and train local people to provide the kind of nurturing care that children in loving families would receive,” explained Jenny.
In 16 years, Jenny’s Berkeley-based nonprofit, Half the Sky Foundation, has trained 30,000 orphanage workers to nurture 100,000 abandoned
Chinese children, from birth to adulthood.
Most people would have said, “I will take care of my child.”
But Jenny said, “No, that’s not enough. We need to make sure all of China’s children have love and nurture.”
What made Jenny believe that she could do what seemed impossible?
“I dreamed a lot. I wasn’t afraid of dreaming big dreams,” Jenny said.
Today she leads a groundbreaking effort to train all of China’s welfare workers and administrators to lovingly care for a million abandoned and neglected children.
Jenny’s husband, Richard, and their two adopted daughters from China, Maya and sister Anya, support her mission of compassion.
“It’s been, in the end, beyond my wildest dreams,” Jenny smiled.
So for producing a model of care for China’s orphans, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Jenny Bowen.
Jenny has authored a book detailing her journey, called “Wish You Happy Forever.”
The name of her nonprofit, Half the Sky Foundation is based on the adage that women hold up half the sky.