My littlest one, my almost five year-old Cholita, is ecstatic about a certain date circled in red on our calendar. It's not her birthday, it's not Christmas, it's the day she'll head back to school. She adores all things scholastic--sharpened pencils, little chairs, worksheets, story time, sharing time, recess, and don't even get me started on the book orders.....
In China, her school experience would likely have been very different. In fact, she probably wouldn't have qualified for an education at all. This was not due to her orphan status (although that certainly wouldn't have helped), but solely based on the results of a blood test. Last year in a petition, thousands of Chinese citizens appealed to their government on behalf of their children. I could hardly read some of their entries:
From Yunnan: I have endured enough to be a Hepatitis B patient, but my child is too young to understand why he can not go to kindergarten like other children. Every time he looks at me with inquiry, my heart breaks. When will it come that my child can get an equal opportunity?
From Hubei: It is not our fault being infected by the virus and we do not desire too much sympathy and help. All we need is the right to be treated equally and the fair competition. We are impeded in schooling and refused by employers in so long a time. The determination of standing on our own legs therefore becomes faint in reality. In many times I almost cannot help yelling out the voice in my heart: how could we survive in such a society?
From Guangxi: I was just admitted by Jilin University in 2008 while I was diagnosed Hepatitis B in the entrance physical examination and was thus forced to quit schooling. What I have been working so hard for, turns to be meaningless. The sunshine in my life dims. I have no idea what I should do in future. I can not help wondering: when will this situation be changed?
From Guangdong: In current China. it is almost of no use for HBV positive youth to work hard. No matter how diligent, excellent, and noble they are. The tag of POSITIVE is attached to them forever.
Last year at this time, I celebrated a headline from a Beijing Newspaper, "China's Kindergartens to Take Normally Functioning Hepatitis B Children". It seemed such a momentous step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the reality is that the stigma is still strong and the hope of equal rights in Chinese education is still far from realized for these children. Instead of an outright denial, a parent is now required to produce "medical recovery documents" to show that their child is no longer infectious. Most children with Hepatitis B will never clear their virus. They may get to a point where their viral load is undetectable, but it's doubtful that will happen during childhood. So even with seemingly hopeful legislation, they can still be denied a basic education.
This is something I simply cannot fathom. I cannot read those pleas from parents in China and not think that that would have been my daughter--a young girl with an amazing mind, frustrated and angry that the world is passing her by. What a tragedy.