Shi Junfang may appear similar to most young, Chinese single women in her 30s. She is hard working, loves chatting and telling jokes and exudes charm with a quick smile. Yet, her character is remarkable since she has devoted her life as a Catholic nun caring for disabled orphans in Biancun Village, a rural community in Central China's Hubei province.
She works with 17 other sisters of the St.Theresa of the Child Jesus order. They live at the Liming orphanage, which houses 130 of their charges.
Shi, known here as Sister Maria, must use all her energy to protect them from harm. The youngsters get proper education, eat nutritious meals and play in the courtyard on a regular schedule to promote and maintain healthy lifestyles.
The children suffer from debilitating illnesses and disabilities and need constant medical care. But most of all, Sister Maria says, the children have a right to happiness and it's her job as director to ensure smooth operations.
She must show a positive attitude to maintain a harmonious living environment. This is no easy task.
"Those children need a lot and in my profession, I must never show my frustrations with them," she says. "At times, I'm emotionally excited to help these children and at other times, I feel like I can only give them so little."
She appears full of confidence. However, when she visited the orphanage for the first time in 1996, she expressed reluctance to work full-time there. She described the conditions as "primitive and smelly."
Afterwards, she prayed for the children and realized that she must "serve them." She wanted to improve the sanitary conditions, raise donations and provide better medical treatment for them. As a young girl, she had grown up near the orphanage.
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