What a Flute Concert Can Do
By Linda Mintener
In 2007, flutist Linda Mintener organized a flute concert at her church to support two desperately poor Chinese orphans that did not have funds to get an education. Linda learned about the orphan children from her longtime friend who was a missionary in China for many years. When that first concert generated enough donations to send five orphans to school for a year, Linda and her church decided to make the concert an annual event. Over the last 12 years, those annual concerts have generated annual donations of tens of thousands of dollars and inspired many people and groups to become sponsors of individual orphans, including Flute Specialists which has sponsored two of the children for many years! The list of guest flutists who have come to play in the Chinese Orphans Benefit Concerts include some of the nation’s finest flutists – Alexa Still (and her adopted Chinese daughter, a harpist); James Pellerite (on Native American flute); Jonathan Keeble; Patricia George; Kyle Dzapo; Teresa Beaman; Roberta Brokaw; and this year, Marianne Gedigian!
The Project has provided hundreds of Chinese orphans with the opportunity to go as far in school as they could. At first, most just finished 9th grade, the average education in their rural farming villages. But, as they discovered they could go on and really change their lives, many finished high school, and some, who could pass the difficult national college entrance exam, have gone on to college or technical school. Currently, nine are in college and seven have graduated from college and have professional jobs! This year the Chinese Orphans Project is providing more than 100 orphans, ranging from kindergarten to college, with school and dorm fees, school books and supplies, a healthy diet, and adequate clothing for the hot summers and cold snowy winters (schools and houses are not heated). Linda and her husband have traveled six times at their own expense to the small villages in China’s rural Henan Province to visit each of the orphans.
All of the orphans are healthy and HIV-free, though many were orphaned when their parents died of AIDS contracted in a blood-for-money scheme when the equipment was infected with the HIV virus. Most live with grandparents who lack the income to pay for school. Each orphan has a life story of tragedy, grief, poverty, and survival. Here, Linda tells the stories of a few of those children and how the flute concerts have dramatically changed their lives and given each of them the opportunity for an education and a bright and productive future.
When I first saw Mengjie, she was in 7th grade, but had very poor grades. Her parents had died of AIDS when she was very young. She lived with elderly grandparents who were poor and barely had enough money to survive, let alone pay Mengjie’s school fees. To pay her tuition, her family borrowed money from other villagers. They also grew vegetables on their small plot of land and ate less so they could sell some of their vegetables to help pay the tuition. However, they would have been unable to raise the money to pay the more expensive high school fees. Mengjie’s sponsor visited the orphans with me that first year and told Mengjie that not only would she pay for Mengjie’s high school fees, but that she would also pay for college if Mengjie could pass the national college entrance exam. Mengjie immediately became serious about her studies. Her grades shot up, she passed the exam, and was accepted into a four-year university nursing program. Six years later, she now has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and is a nurse in a large hospital. When we last saw her, she said that until her sponsor told her she would pay for Mengjie to go to college, she had never even dreamed that she could leave her village, break out of poverty, and have a professional job. Now, she cannot imagine where she would be without our help.
Xiaoxiao and Xiaowen are siblings whose parents also died of AIDS. When they were little, Xiaoxiao and Xiaowen lived with an elderly widowed and impoverished grandmother. They were able to go to school with our help and were good students. When they were in middle school, their grandmother became ill and died. The children were left alone to live in their deceased parents’ house with no one to care for them, which one would think would be impossible at such young ages. To complicate matters, Xiaowen developed a neurological disease that required hospitalizations and expensive medicines. To pay the medical expenses, the children sold their inherited rights to their deceased parents’ farm plot. That resulted in their inability to grow food to eat. Instead, they planted vines of squash in their small yard and lived on that when not at boarding school. It is likely that these two would not even be alive without our help. However, not only have they survived, but amazingly, they have flourished. Xiaoxiao is now in her 3rd year of teachers’ college. Xiaowen has finished a jade carving technical school and is now in a paid internship. When I visited for the 6th time, I was practically attacked with hugs and tears by Xiaoxiao and the other college girls we have supported for years as they giggled and chattered to me in Chinese (which I cannot understand)! They are so grateful for the opportunity to go to school and to look forward to careers that will allow them to support themselves and their families.
Xiaoya was abandoned on the street as a baby. A man who was begging on the street for a bit of income found her and took her home for his parents to raise. The beggar was totally disabled by a neurological disease and was unable to care for himself. His purpose in taking Xiaoya home was for Xiaoya to grow up and care for him when his parents no longer could. That abandoned baby is now a very smart and personable 12th grader who, with our help, will be in college next year. In her last thank you note to Linda, Xiaoya said:
Your support is not only material support, but more importantly, you also support me in my spirit. You have helped me learn many wonderful qualities—being willing to help others and treating people with friendliness and warmth and love. I will try hard to be a person like you.
Many of the orphans have had multiple tragedies in their lives. Kindergartner Yu and his 4th grade sister Qi are an example. Their tragedies began when their father died of an accidental electric shock. Their heart-broken mother then developed psychological problems, left the village, and has disappeared. As a result of those losses, the children’s paternal grandfather committed suicide, and his wife became severely mental ill. The children then moved to their mother’s village where they live with their maternal grandmother who is ill and unable to do any farming work. She was coughing up blood the last time we visited. There is no safety net for such families – no foster care payments, no social security, no help from the government. Before we sponsored them, Yu and Qi’s family depended on the food that other villagers gave them. There is no way these two precious children could have adequate food and clothing, let alone go to school, without our help.
Hoaxing is a brilliant college student. He was orphaned at a young age and lived with very poor and illiterate grandparents who could not have afforded to send him to school without our funds. In high school, he excelled. In fact, he was such an outstanding student that he was invited to apply to Zhejiang University, one of the best in the country. He was accepted, received a scholarship, and is now a 3rd year student majoring in mechanical engineering. In two years, he will go to graduate school to specialize in automobile energy efficiency. It is mind boggling to think that this brilliant mind might have been lost, and that Haoxing might now be an illiterate and impoverished farmer in his tiny rural village if we had not stepped in to help him.
8th grader Shuyu has written a lovely thank you note to her sponsors of many years:
I believe God sent you angels to my side. You have come to help me and care for me, just like parents. Though I did not have a mother’s love, I have you who are closer to me than family. You care for me and protect me even though I have never seen you. Thank you for what you have done to help me get through the low tides in my life.
If you would like more information about the Chinese Orphans Project or would be interested in sponsoring a child, contact Linda Mintener, the Project Coordinator, at [email protected] or 608/2311680.