For the first time in their lives, 103 orphans at Beijing Guang’ai School lit fireworks on the Chinese New Year.

    "We used to worry about their food and lodging," said the school’s founder and headmaster Shi Qinghua.

    The school, at the foot of the Badaling Section of the Great Wall in northern Beijing, offers free meals, lodging and education to 103 street children.

    The 37-year-old Shi was formerly a government employee in the eastern Anhui Province. A firework explosion 10 years ago left him, his wife and their son badly injured. The family came to Beijing for medication, but soon ran out of money.

    For several months, the Shi’s were homeless on Beijing’s streets until a charity organization provided them with food, lodging and paid their medical bills.

    When Shi was finally able to provide for his family again, he decided he should do something for vagabond children, many of whom he had brought into his home and taught to read and write starting in 2003.

    More than 160 street children have stayed at his family school, about 50 of whom were taken back by their families.

    The school, financed largely by non-governmental charity programs and volunteers, often has difficulties making ends meet.

    Wider media coverage last year, however, drew flocks of volunteers and donations to Shi and his "children" ahead of the holiday.

    "We’ve got milk, candies, groceries, clothing, stationery and even medicine from businesses and individuals," he said. "I hope the children will learn to be thankful and grow up to be good citizens."


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