Ou Ou’s feet are severely deformed, and she cannot walk to school. But the little girl smiles at misfortune, brightly chirping that she “will climb to school”.
Her caregiver Guo Gairan laughs as she plays with the child, but away from Ou Ou, she tearfully worries about the future. Ou Ou has been suffering from a stomach tumour for the past year, and they have not found a cure. Will the girl be yet another fading flower?
In China’s Shanxi province, numerous children are born with debilitating birth defects — a phenomenon experts attribute to environmental pollution. Out of every 10,000 live births yearly, a staggering 140 are born with brain and spinal cord defects — 18 times higher than the US average.
Ou Ou is one of the many disabled children abandoned by their birth parents and shunned by an indifferent society.
Unlike their neighbours, Guo and her husband Chen Tianwen, both in their sixties, have taken it upon themselves to care for children like Ou Ou. Over the past two decades, the couple has adopted 39 of these children, and continue to provide the surviving ones a safe and loving environment to grow up.
Filmmaker Su Jiaming follows the couple in their endeavour in his short documentary, Fading Flowers. Chronicling the daily activities of the family over the course of a year, Su provides much-needed insight into the difficulties of providing for the disabled and meeting their medical needs.
Even getting donated milk powder is a struggle when many callously donate expired products.
Su’s camera captures not just the hardship, but also the tender moments the family members share.
The couple emphasises on building companionship among the little ones, encouraging them to share the little food they have, and organising little family outings even in the harsh winter.
Despite their poverty, Guo and Chen continue to keep the family together, with dreams of making each of them at least a junior college (high school) graduate.
“Let them learn knowledge,” Chen says. “When they grow up, they would protect themselves.”
Slowly but surely, as spring approaches, some help begins to trickle in for the family. With renewed hope, the little flowers that were once fading may now go into full blossom.
Jiaming’s film won the Grand Short Award and the Best Documentary Award at the 2011 Shanghai International Film Festival.