Saving China's Forgotten Orphans

China
By:: 
Zhang Xintian

Originally from Singapore, Cyndy Tan left her senior marketing job in a bank for Shanghai to set up STOP (Save The Orphans & Poor), in China.

S.T.O.P. Poverty Limited focuses on providing a vocational platform for youngsters from poor families and teen orphans who are ready to leave the orphanage that has been their home. Having impacted 23 youth so far, the social enterprise is also helping 33 orphans through various partnerships in Shanghai.

Navigating the business world and bureaucratic system in China as an outsider is not easy. Nonetheless, by collaborating with like-minded organisations and passionate volunteers, STOP has made gradual progress. A conversation with Cyndy, the programme director in Shanghai sheds light on her challenging yet fulfilling journey with STOP.

How did the idea of STOP come about?

Many organizations focus on baby orphans, but not many help teen orphans when they are aged-out of an orphanage. Highly vulnerable and unable to integrate into society, they simply “disappear without a trace”, most likely fallen prey to criminal syndicates and traffickers of all sorts. Local orphanages we talked to also agree that this is a much-neglected group, so Ms Cheah Kim Lean felt a dire need to extend help to these orphans.  She then founded STOP and I went on to be the programme director to support her vision.

STOP’s dream is to set up franchise chain businesses owned and operated by the youth under our Red Stop trademark. It started as a charity organisation, and is eventually on its way to become a for-profit social enterprise which also incorporates a profit sharing model with the participating youth. This way, we would be able to multiply youth under employment as well as provide them with a long-term livelihood.

I relocated to Shanghai in April 2014 to set up STOP from a zero base. It’s taken off well and projects are already underway.

What is the biggest difficulty for an overseas social entrepreneur in China? How did you overcome the challenges?

We had the dream, we had the business plan and management expertise, but the lack of ground-up resources and social network was our biggest challenge.

We promptly pivoted our strategy from creating new opportunities ourselves, to identifying opportunities to partner and leverage existing organisations. These established organisations provided on-ground support and local knowledge which we lack. Thanks to these partners, we now have projects in Xinjiang, Guangdong and Shanghai.

In Xinjiang, we partner Good Rock Foundation, which is already training handicapped orphans to bake. At the end of September 2015, a bakery shop in downtown Urumqi will open up to sell what the kids bake and orphans will be employed in the shop.  

In Guangdong, we partner Baiwan Orphanage and Ms Cecilia She who sponsored some orphans through university and are ready to kick start a career.  We are training 8 orphan graduates to become English tutors, with a view to set up a chain of tuition centers in 2016 which the orphans will teach as well as operate.

In Shanghai, we collaborate with Home Sweet Home, a half-way house for young orphans to transition from the orphanage to the real world. This halfway home provides orphans with life skills training and vocational training in a workshop where they produce hand crafted goods. STOP provides a retail platform with volunteers to coach 6 orphans on basic front line sales skills. We hope to expose more orphans to this retail platform on a regular basis.

Not surprisingly, networking or connections are a critical success factor in China. Therefore we continue to reach out and we continue to leverage established enterprises,. Slowly but surely, we will get to our dream of franchise chain businesses for the orphaned and poor youth.

What are the challenges working with youth orphans? Maybe you can share with us a story?

Many orphanage directors shared with us the challenges they face with youth orphans. Having to leave the orphanage they grew up in, the only home they know, is terrifying and feels like being abandoned a second time. Many have poor social skills, no sense of responsibility, and neither do they have drive or ambition, so they are not able to hold onto jobs or tap into opportunities.

We can never imagine the effects of growing up in an institution and the burden of knowing you were abandoned as babies or orphaned from young. Our website features an article written by a handicapped orphan Ivan when he was 22 years old. With incredible sensitivity, he shares his deepest darkest thoughts, describes the divided world between him and “us”. He wonders why he exists and even questions every breath he breathes.

We hope STOP is able to give poor and orphaned youths like Ivan hope for the future and more so they feel they belong and have a purpose in our society.

Through our conversations, we could feel Cyndy’s passion for STOP to save the neglected youth orphans. For her, it does not matter that she is a foreigner in China. What matters to her, is a human being having compassion for another human being who is in need. That is ultimately, is her source of motivation for STOP.

If you were inspired by her story and want to help make a difference to the lives of these orphans, drop Cyndy an email at cyndy@stopprog.org

 

为青少年孤儿点明希望

16个月前,为了创办社会企业STOPCyndy辞掉了她在新加坡的行工作,来到上海, 这个社会企业关注的是贫困和成为孤儿的青少年。当这些被抛弃的孩子逐渐长大,他们就被迫离开自己唯一的家——孤儿院。STOP通过为这些青少年提供职业培训的方式,让他们能掌握一技之长,最终立足社会。

至今,STOP已经支持了23个青少年。同时,通过与其它慈善组织合作的方式,STOP正在帮助上海地区的33个孤儿。虽然能够帮助到的孤儿数量有限,但是,对于他们中的每一个人来说,这样的支持无异于是为他们的生命带来了一束久违的希望之光。

可想而知,作为一个外国人,在中国商业圈和社会体系中打拼并不容易。但是,通过与志同道合的个人和组织合作,STOP逐步发展起来。我们有幸与STOP的项目主管Cyndy在上海进行了一次对话,与她一同分享这段充满挑战和欣喜的社会企业之旅。

1. 

STOP是如何萌芽的?请与我们分享您的社会企业家之路。

青少年孤儿是个被漠视的群体。相对于关注度更高的儿童孤儿,青年孤儿在长到16岁左右的时候,就会被迫离开孤儿院自己谋生。对“外面的世界”了解甚少的他们往往很脆弱,轻易就成为犯罪分子和人口贩子的目标。离开孤儿院的青少年往往就这样人间蒸发了。在与当地孤儿院进行交流后,Cheah Kim Lean女士感到非常震撼,她觉得应该为这些孩子做些什么。于是她成立了STOP,成为主管, 而我成为项目主管。

我们的梦想是帮助这些年青人建立属于他们自己的连锁商店。运作初期,建立起连锁店以及培训这些年轻人需要大量费用。我们先以慈善的方式筹资以支持早期运作,最终,我们希望这些连锁店能够运营盈利,所获得的利润能够支持在这里工作的青少年,为他们提供就业机会,并且融入社会。

我在2014年四月的时候搬到上海,来这里从零开始建起社会企业STOP。我们现在已经做好各方面的准备工作,有的项目已经拉开帷幕。

2. 

作为一个外国社会企业家,在中国您遇到最大的困难是什么?您又是如何克服的呢?

我们有梦想,有周密的商业计划和管理知识,但是我们缺乏当地的资源和人脉。

于是,我们积极的根据自身的优势和缺点改变策略。从一开始想要从零开始创造新的机会,转变为与志同道合的组织合作。这些已经有一些运作经验的组织为我们带来当地信息和基层支持。多亏了这些合作伙伴,我们在新疆,广东,和上海的项目已经陆续开展。

在新疆,我们与Good Rock基金会合作,他们已经开始培训孤儿们成为烘培师,在2015年九月,一个完全雇佣孤儿作为店员和烘培师的面包房将在乌鲁木齐市中心开业。

在广东,我们在当地孤儿院和Cecilia She女士合作。She女士已经资助了一些孤儿上大学,并且为他们的工作生涯做准备。我们正在为8位孤儿大学生提供培训,为他们以后成为英语家教做好准备。我们希望在2016年能建立起一个连锁培训中心,让这些孤儿成为教师并且由他们自己运作。

在上海,我们的合作对象是盼望园(http://www.homesweethome.org.cn/zh-hans)。盼望园为青少年孤儿提供一个在孤儿院和真实社会之间的过渡住所。这个住所为孤儿提供生活技能和职业技能培训。孩子们最终将有能力自己制作各种手工艺品,盼望园也为孩子的劳动提供工资。STOP为盼望园的孩子们提供营销技巧的训练,志愿者们会教导孩子如何与陌生人打交道并且进行商业交易。

在中国,人脉可以说是成功至关重要的因素。所以,我们一直在积极的拓展平台,希望与更多的个人和组织交流合作。我们的脚步虽然艰难却坚定,一步接着一步,我相信我们最终会实现为成为请少年孤儿和贫困孩子们建立商业连锁店的梦想。

3. 

青少年孤儿面对着什么样的困难呢?也许,您能与我们分享一个故事?

很多孤儿院与我们分享过青少年孤儿所面对的一些困难。当他们被迫离开自己唯一的家——孤儿院的时候,他们感到自己再次被抛弃。他们缺乏社会经验,也不懂得责任感,更没有雄心和动力,所以最后,他们很难坚持工作。

我们很难设身处地的理解孤儿们的处境。他们生长在孤儿院,被人抛弃的思想负担一直拖累着他们。我们的网站选取了一位22岁残疾孤儿的文章,让大家能够一窥孤儿们的内心世界。文章的作者有着超乎常人的敏感,在文章中,他展示了内心最黑暗的想法。他描述了一个“他”与“我们”的一个分裂的世界,他甚至质疑自己存在的意义和每一次呼吸。(http://www.stopprog.org/ivanStory)

希望社会企STOP帮助像篇文章作者这样贫困和成孤儿的青少年,予他生的希望,并且弥补这个“分裂”的世界,让他们重新成为我们社会的一部分。

访结束的候,我被Cyndy了帮助被人忽的青少年孤儿的忱所打。在她心中,没有国界的划分,只有人与人之的温情和感份人性的关怀,就是她STOP梦想努力的初心。

 

 If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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