Long journey for orphan
FROM a shoebox to an orphanage and then to New Zealand.
That was how life began for Onehunga woman Jean Griffiths.
She was found in a park on Diamond Hill in Hong Kong with nothing but a shoebox to protect her.
It was the 1950s – a time where abandoned babies in China and Hong Kong were not uncommon in cases of extreme poverty.
Griffiths is now in her 50s and has been living in New Zealand since she was 6.
‘‘Everything happens for a reason. That’s what I have discovered. We don’t have to understand it.
‘‘It has taken a long time to accept myself for the person I am, including my history and ethnicity.’’
Griffiths spent her early days in the Shatin Babies Home orphanage, opened by English missionary Mildred Dibden in 1952.
By 1963 most of the children had new homes abroad.
Griffiths was one of 25 adopted into New Zealand families that year.
‘‘I really wish that I can remember a lot more. It was a very traumatic time and I guess I just blocked it all out. The memories I do have are of a happy time together,we were just happy kids.
‘‘All of a sudden I was on a plane with five others. When we landed all I saw was this big, burly man taking hold of my hand. There were only four little boys and no men at the orphanage so it was frightening.’’
The adjustment was Griffiths says.
She did not stop crying during the first three weeks and kept repeating just one word in Chinese – ‘‘plane’’.
‘‘Apparently the only thing that could stop me screaming was an ice cream. Obviously I wanted to go back home.’’
Griffiths also remembers the racism and bullying that came later from Kiwis not used to seeing Asian faces.
‘‘I had to really adapt quickly. I turned away from my ethnicity, I didn’t want anything to do with being Chinese.’’
Griffiths grew up in a Pakeha
stressful, family in Howick with two sisters and remembers the wonderful times they shared.
But as a teenager she started to question who she was and where she had come from. It took her a long time to accept who she is.
She has suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis since she was 17 and volunteers for the Christian Fellowship For Disabled. She is helping run a camp for people with disabilities this weekend.
‘‘When the deformity started that was another thing I just couldn’t accept. I was still having trouble accepting I was Chinese and then this . . I was like, ‘who is going to accept me if I can’t?’ It has taken a long time.’’
Griffiths has since met up with other Shatin adoptees and has been to reunions in Wellington and in 2010 in Hong Kong, when the group visited the orphanage.
She plans to head back in 2016 with a group of her ‘‘sisters’’ from the orphanage to scatter the ashes of a sister who died in February.
She says the first reunion was a real turning point and the upcoming trip will also be special.
‘‘There were lots of tears. A lot of us had never really wanted to talk openly about our adoption. It was really emotional.’’