Monday, October 26, 2015
Wish You Happy Forever, Jenny Bowen
This is a book about Jenny Bowen's journey as she first adopts an orphaned girl from China and is then moved to create a non-profit organization called "Half the Sky" to improve the care that orphans get in China. Before Half the Sky, institutionalized children-if they were lucky enough to be adopted-had issues bonding with their new families. They didn't know how to love or play or BE loved. Jenny and her colleagues managed to help China see that children need nurturing and individual care to meet emotional needs in order for their brains to develop properly so that even if they weren't adopted, they could be productive citizens in their country. It was not an easy journey, and I'm sure MUCH was cut out to make this book a readable length, but I felt she did a good job highlighting the good and the bad.
Since Jenny was a screenwriter for movies, this book is well written and has a good flow. Her voice is unique and I felt like I was having the story told to me. Her use of italics to emphasize China's attitude towards things was particularly a nice touch-for me I felt like it was used with...not quite a sarcastic inflection....but maybe with a slight eye roll that would be typical for a Westerner's reaction? For example, she mentions that the Chinese in general are really concerned with things that are famous and EVERY city has something that it is most famous for. So the word famous is typically italicized.
I found it absolutely incredible the amount of support her husband gave. All this crazy time consuming stuff happened after they adopted their first daughter from China (their other children were grown and moved out) and then they adopted a second daughter! I often found myself wondering when Jenny had time for her own daughters. She would be in China for long periods of time. Finally they moved there for "a year" that turned into 5 (I think) before they moved back to American and even then, sometimes her schedule was a month here and a month there. It's hard to be critical, though, because her daughter's have a MUCH better life even if she's not with them the traditional amount of time for a mother. And ALL of China's children in and out of instiutions are better off because of her vision and her drive with Half the Sky. As recent as 5 years ago, a Chinese official recognized the need to change the whole perspective of early childhood education in the entire nation based on the principles of Half the Sky. He wanted her NGO to teach the country of China how to nurture and teach their children. How exciting is that??
And how sad it is that America keeps pushing it's education to look like the China of yesteryear. But that's not the scope of this book review.
Anyhow, it was an enjoyable read, at some times a page turner. I love how she didn't sugar coat her negative experiences and how she didn't let them get her down, but empowered her to look for other directions. I love how she taught that there are times to stick rigidly to your mission and the rules you've laid out for yourself, but it's also important to realize that there may be times when it would be appropriate to drift and deviate. You need to allow yourself a tiny bit of flexibility. Not so much that you bleed your organization to death, but when it is justifyable, there will be a way. I also loved how she was able to honor abd respect a culture while still pushing to change it at its roots. And how eventually the Chinese saw it too, they knew they didn't see eye to eye, but on a whole, they never felt disrespected. I think that's an important lesson to learn. She never told them outright that they were WRONG-even though you know that's what she was thinking. She only presented the facts and showed them that things could be BETTER. She was careful to use verbage that would affect them the most (using that famous word again to her benefit when talking about who performed studies on early childhood development) but it did not appear manipulative, just attention grabbing.
And long story short, this story shows that yes, one person's vision CAN make a difference, but it also takes a LOT of other peope believing in that same vision in order for it to be successful. And Jenny was patient enough to wait for the right time and the right people to help her make it happen. I know that I myself tend to get impatient with life or my dreams and the rate at which they are (not) progressing. Sometimes all you truly need is time. And then things will start to fall into place.
And it's AMAZING what Jenny and Half the Sky were able to do!