'I'm not an orphan because I belong to you'
GYMPIE woman, Linda Shum visits China and comes back home every day.
She does this through the use of an app on her iPad which she uses to keep a watchful eye over the precious students and residents of her special needs school and foster homes in Jiaozuo, China.
That's because to each and every one of her 350+ charges, she is "Nai Nai” - their grandmother.
"I had one child say to me, 'I'm not an orphan because I belong to you',” the nominee for Australian of the year said.
For more than 20 years Mrs Shum has been saving Chinese orphans, one orphan at a time through her foundation - COAT (Chinese Orphan's Assistance Team), and the Eagles Wings foster homes she and her late husband built up across the city.
She has been visiting China since she received a divine calling two decades ago to help the nearly 600,000 orphans living in Chinese institutions.
Through donations and sponsorship, Mrs Shum and her team are permitted to take children from the state run Chinese orphanages and put them into foster homes and also enable them to attend the special school, the only one of its kind in Jiaozuo.
The mission statement of the school is "Every day, every child - happiness”.
Most of the children in the Eagles Wings homes have mental or physical disabilities and many need constant care.
But it all turns on the almighty dollar.
The money COAT and Eagles Wings receives goes directly to employing more staff.
The more staff they have, the more children they can look after which leads to more vacancies, which leads to more children permitted by the Chinese government to leave the orphanages.
"We have recently been allowed to take eight children out of the orphanage and into the foster homes,” Mrs Shum said and for those children, the improvement in their situation is remarkable.
"They are waking up as if from a nightmare,” she said.
It's not just Eagles Wings children that attend the school. Special needs kids that live with their families attend, some paying their own tuition where they can afford it.
Mrs Shum believes strongly in what she is doing to improve the quality of life, and create a future for these children - a future that would otherwise be denied them as they fall between the cracks of the over taxed Chinese system, which while it is improving, is moving at a snail's pace.
And while these problems may seem to be half a world away from Gympie, the people of this community can and do play their part in their solution.
"We're based in Gympie, Gympie people run it, we've got Gympie people on the committee, Gympie people sponsor or donate,” Mrs Shum said.
But more help is needed, and Mrs Shum is calling on more people in Gympie to donate or sponsor to help her help these children.
People can donate directly through the Eagles Wings or COAT Facebook page or at either the Eagles Wings or COAT website.
She said as a smaller organisation, they are more transparent in their charitable dealings and those who donate can see where their money is going.
"We've got two insurance policies, and occassionally we need a ream of paper or the printer needs ink. Aside from that, everything goes towards the kids,” she said.