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Street children of China


27 June 2008
After years of hard work a North Coast woman found the rewards of retirement came by dedicating herself to the plight of street kids in China.

Alstonville’s Margaret Ward will share her inspirational story when she joins speakers from across the globe at the Activating Human Rights and Peace Conference in Byron Bay from July 1 to 4. The conference is being hosted by Southern Cross University’s Centre for Peace and Social Justice.

Life for Margaret took the shape of many Australians - going into nursing at 17, marrying, having children, travelling and working.

After the death of her husband in 1997 she signed up with Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia (MSF). But in 1999 when the first two postings fell through she set off to university to study a tropical diseases for one semester while she waited for her posting.

“I liked study so much I ended up doing my Masters at age 59,” Margaret said. Finally she was posted to South Sudan, Sierra Leon and Northern Uganda working in gruelling and dangerous conditions.

“When MSF then suggested I set up a street children’s project in China my body went hot and I knew it was what I had to do,” she said.

For the last four years Margaret has been living and working in Baoji, a city of just over three million people in China.

“I went to Baoji to close the project on behalf of MSF and hand it over to the Baoji government, this is when the officials asked me to stay and assist them. At this time our reduced team registered the first and only Chinese NGO for street kids, we operate out of a government building, one of the nearly 3000 facilities used to house vagrants.”

Margaret set up and now runs the Street Children of China Centre that helps children find their parents and families. With an estimated 58 million street kids the job is never ending.

“These kids are abandoned by relatives, sold, trafficked or the kids just take off wandering to find their parents,” Margaret said.

Her centre is unique because Margaret and her staff of 14 are on call 24 hours a day and instead of just moving the children on with a train ticket to the next stop, they use music and art therapy to help the children get over their trauma. The centre researches to find their villages and reunites the children with their families.

Margaret’s work was made harder when MSF stopped funding the project and with little help from the Chinese government she had to cut her staff of 33 by half and begin the arduous task of raising the money to continue the work.

Her current trip to Australia is to register for gift tax deductibility so her centre can attract the much needed funds to continue its work.

Her experiences and work in China with the street children will be one of the many international stories told at the human rights conference in Byron Bay.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748. Media are invited to attend the conference.