There are more than 200 children with Down syndrome in China who are waiting to be adopted.
“We felt a special draw to kids with Down syndrome,” Elisabeth McGinnis, International Services Coordinator for Bethany Christian Services, said in an interview with TheBlaze. “A lot of those kids don’t have the same opportunities.”
Individuals with Down syndrome face a significant amount of stigma in China, she said, along with cultural biases against them.
“A lot of these kids are not being given the opportunity to have a family life because of those biases,” she said.
The Chinese government was hesitant to allow Bethany Christian Services to facilitate adoptions for the children — but the organization begged for the opportunity.
“We said, give us these 14, and we’ll show you,” McGinnis said. “These kids very much can be loved.”
In the summer of 2013, the group convinced the Chinese government to give them the files of 14 children with Down syndrome.
Within two years, 10 of the original 14 children have been adopted. The project now includes more than 40 kids, and the group receives the files of more children regularly.
The initiative faces several significant challenges: the expense of international adoption, misconceptions about the amount of care individuals with Down syndrome require and restrictions imposed by the Chinese government on prospective adoptive parents.
“One of the biggest challenges is finding families both financially and emotionally able to do this,” McGinnis said.
McGinnis said that she wants to change “this idea that their child will never have any independence.”
“Every child is different, there are resources available to assist with care,” McGinnis. “They can have jobs, even get married.”
McGinnis added that there are resources available to help families with the expense of the international adoption process.
“We do what we can to minimize the financial aspect,” McGinnis said.
Another challenge for the group has been China’s strict eligibility requirements for adoptive parents, “which can be a barrier for us.”
But the families say that the challenges are worth it in the end.
The families of the children have become close to one another through the adoption process. They call themselves the “Bamboo Cousins,” and they even hold reunions.
“They’re a tight-knit community,” McGinnis said. “They have a Facebook group; they’re constantly in touch providing support to one another. They even travel together.”
McGinnis stressed that there are lots of ways people can get involved in the Bamboo Project — from adoption to prayer and raising awareness.
“Working within the parameters China sets, we will do everything we can to make it possible for those who want to provide a family for these kids,” McGinnis said. “Often, we’ll see that families will self-select themselves out by thinking they’re not eligible.”
For those who aren’t able to adopt, “there are still lots of ways to get involved and become an advocate for these kids,” McGinnis said.
Read more about the Bamboo Project here.