Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage
By Kay Bratt
Published by Mariner Books, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-547-74496-4, 335 pages, $15.95 paperback
When her family relocated to rural China in 2003, Kay Bratt was thrust into a new world, one where boys were considered more valuable than girls, and where poverty in concert with the one-child policy had created an epidemic of abandoned infants. As a volunteer at a local orphanage, Bratt witnessed conditions that were unfathomable to a middle-class mother from South Carolina.
Based on Bratt’s diary of her four years working at the orphanage, "Silent Tears" offers a searing account of young lives rendered disposable. In the face of an implacable system, Bratt found ways to work within (and around) the rules to make a better future for the children, whom she came to love and care for. Her story balances the sadness and struggles of life in the orphanage with moments of joy, optimism, faith and victory.
After months of struggling with the many cultural differences and feelings of isolation after moving to China, Bratt makes the decision to meet her trying circumstances head on and is accepted as a volunteer in the local orphanage. Starting out as a hesitant observer, Bratt is shocked at finding conditions inside the orphanage to be worse than she ever imagined. She left the orphanage that first day profoundly discouraged at the utter disregard for human life, yet filled with an exhilarating sense of purpose to change the lives of these orphaned children.
Using email correspondence and an expatriate website, Bratt began to raise community awareness of the children’s miserable existence and gradually began building a volunteer group, one person at a time. With the support of family and friends, donations began to trickle in to implement the many changes needed at the orphanage. On occasional visits back in America, Bratt spoke at churches and further broadened her support group. Time passed quickly and soon she was busy at the orphanage coordinating the volunteer schedule, requesting surgeries for the children, and managing incoming donations.
At various times throughout her work at the orphanage, Bratt introduces us to numerous children who attracted her attention in part because of their desperate health condition, and also because she felt their need for human touch and encouragement to live. I found myself cheering for these children and eagerly anticipated their return to good health and the possibility of finding a permanent family to love and care for them after leaving the orphanage.
At times, the daily diary entries take on a monotonous and repetitious tone, which only mirrored the daily life inside the orphanage. The reader must also recognize that Bratt’s experiences are with only one orphanage in rural China and are not to be interpreted as representative of all orphanage conditions in other areas of China.
"Silent Tears" is an awakening to the emptiness and disparity suffered by orphaned children throughout the world. It is also a testimony of what one compassionate and caring person can accomplish when confronted with circumstances beyond the scope of normal human experience. It is the story of hundreds of children — and one woman who never planned on becoming a hero but became one anyway. Recommended for adult readers interested in Chinese culture and the social evolution of this both ancient and newly emerging country.
— AT Staff review