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.’’

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