Saving China's Forgotten Orphans
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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。
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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