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Abandoned child a precious gift from China

By Jennifer Sokol
April 9th, 2008
The Catholic Northwest Progress (

SEATTLE, Wash. (The Catholic Northwest Progress) - “Rao Ya Fen, female, born Nov. 2, 1999. Early morning of Nov. 5, 1999, she was found abandoned at the door of N. 50, He Ye Street . . .”

So begins a Chinese orphanage’s stark description of tiny Rao Ya Fen’s entrance into the world. A victim of the Chinese government’s 1979 one-child edict, her fate seemed doubly doomed by her culture’s centuries-old stigma: she is a girl.

But the compassion of those in the Shanghai orphanage, plus the response to God’s call by her adoptive mother, Shelda Dolan, have given Rao Ya Fen, now baptized “Caroline,” a chance to live.

“I was unmarried at the time, and wanted a child,” explains Dolan, a parishoner at Immaculate Conception Church in Everett. “I heard about the plight of abandoned girls in China from my friends, and it didn’t seem fair. Something then resonated within me to adopt a girl.”

Dolan used the adoption services provided by Americans Adopting Orphans, a Seattle agency founded and operated by a couple who themselves have adopted two Chinese children. The program is set up in both China and the Ukraine, and allows adoptive parents more choices and involvement in the process.

“They either do all the paperwork for you,” says Dolan, “or they help you do it yourself. They have a (Chinese) physician at the orphanage who meets with you when you arrive, and he performs a physical exam on your baby. He was just delightful. He wanted as many children as possible to be adopted.”
’Sweet Fragrance of Asia’

Language interpreters were also provided, says Dolan. “Everyone was kind and extremely supportive.”

An additional surprise blessing, Shelda met her future husband, Bill, during Caroline’s adoption process. Together with Bill’s son Sean, the Dolan family has now grown to four.

“I remember loving her immediately,” says Dolan, describing the first time she set eyes on Caroline in China. “I knew she was meant for me. When Bill saw her, he said, ‘Hi! I’m your daddy.’”

Caroline’s gifts are slowly emerging. Along with a precocious intelligence and wit, her mother says she possesses a natural intuitive sense. She participates in sports activities at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Everett, and enjoys weekly studies on both the piano and violin.

“During the adoption process, there was never a problem about Caroline becoming a Catholic,” says Dolan. “But the one thing the orphanage directors did request was that we would always honor her Chinese heritage. So we celebrate Chinese holidays and do other things, like eat Chinese cuisine.”

Caroline remains well aware of her original Chinese name, Rao Ya Fen, which means “Sweet Fragrance of Asia.” Like an aromatic flower, the gift of her life has continued to emanate with hope and beauty in the United States.

“There is never a winter,” says Caroline’s mother. “She just keeps blossoming.”

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