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At 14, Xiaoyun Willoughby has endured struggles, but her thoughts often are on others rather than herself.
Xiaoyun was born in the Guizhou providence in China. An orphan, she was placed with foster parents at a young age and stayed with them for nine years.
She has scoliosis and was in great need of surgery.
In China, once a child turns 14, he or she no longer is eligible for adoption. Xiaoyun was only months away from turning 14.
Virgil and Cindy Willoughby were in the process of adopting one daughter from China when, in February 2011, Cindy saw Xiaoyun’s file and wanted to adopt her, too. International adoption usually takes months, but within 10 weeks they had Xiaoyun, Cindy said. They landed in Louisville 15 minutes before she officially turned 14, just in time.
Had Xiaoyun not been adopted, she probably wouldn’t have received the medical attention she needed, Cindy said.
When preparing for the surgeries, the family found out what a miracle her adoption was. Because of her scoliosis and the curvature of her spine, Xiaoyun’s lungs only functioned at about one-third of what they should. Without surgery, she would have gone into cardiac arrest and eventually died, Cindy said.
In January, Xiaoyun had four painful surgeries. She was required to wear a halo and 18 pounds of weights to stretch her.
In her second surgery, some ribs and vertebrae were removed. The third surgery cut her along the side to remove another rib and more vertebrae. The final surgery was for rod placement and to fuse most of her backbone. Her back will never bend.
Now she uses a brace when sitting up but hopes to have permission to stop using it soon.
“She’s a tough little cookie,” her mother said.
Xiaoyun can’t figure out why Americans say that.
“Cookies aren’t tough,” Xiaoyun said. “They break.”
During her time recovering in the hospital, Cindy saw Xiaoyun’s compassion for others.
Nurses would ask if she needed anything. She often would respond, “a million dollars.”
Her family finally asked what she would do with a million dollars. She wanted to buy a million chickens for children in India so they wouldn’t be hungry.
That desire has morphed into Xiaoyun’s Chicks for Children campaign.
“They don’t have food, they don’t have shoes, anything,” she said.
She was quick to point out that most people have so much food they throw some away. The children she is trying to help in India don’t have that luxury, she said.
Through the Gospel for Asia website, www.gfa.org, Xiaoyun discovered a donation of $11 will give children in the Bridge of Hope program a rooster and a hen. These are children who live in conditions similar to those in the film “Slumdog Millionaire,” Cindy said.
The children are stuck in the caste system and considered untouchable, she said.
Xiaoyun chose chickens because she thought they would be the easiest for those who donated to afford.
“Eleven dollars is not that big of a deal, it buys two little chickens,” Xiaoyun said.
One rooster and hen can produce up to 40 dozen eggs a year to provide food and a source of income.
Xiaoyun is very observant and takes no excuses when it comes to donors. Every day people go shopping for clothes when they already have a closet full, she said.
“You really need those clothes?” she said. “No, you don’t.”
Instead of buying a pair of jeans, use that money to provide chickens for children in India, she said.
Her goal is to send one million chicks.
Xiaoyun’s mother is impressed by her compassion.
“Xiaoyun has a burden for the kids,” she said. “She’s passionate about it, which is pretty incredible.”
The family is planning a yard sale to raise money to buy chickens.
Xiaoyun also translates letters into Chinese for families who are adopting. She charges $25 a letter — $11 goes toward buying chickens and the rest goes to foster homes in China. She knows it’s important to be in a foster home rather than an orphanage.
She also has a heart for orphans waiting to be adopted. She created a YouTube video about what an orphan wants. It already has received several thousand views on the site.
Her logic is simple but profound.
She stressed that she can say to her mom “I’m hungry,” and her mom gets her something to eat. The children she wants to help in India say “I’m hungry” and there’s nothing to eat.
“We can help,” she said. “For just $11.”
Make a donation or follow Xiaoyun Willoughby’s Chicks for Children progress at www.mygfa.org/chicksforchildren.
Getting to know Xiaoyun Willoughby:
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.