Monday, September 24, 2012

Karmaphilia's 21 Questions with Kay Bratt - Advocate for Orphans

Soundtrack for post [see Kay's response to 21 questions]: Praise You In This Storm by Casting Crowns on Grooveshark

I discovered Kay Bratt while browsing for new titles to read on my Kindle in France.  One of my greatest luxuries during my walkabout has been to indulge my true, true love of reading...did I tell you that my parents used the public library as a free babysitter when I was a kid?  They would drop me off early in the morning with 10 bucks for lunch and I would blissfully spend the entire day there.  Over the past several months, it has truly been an immense pleasure to lose myself by reading whenever wherever whatever I want.  A total drawback of being a lawyer was that I had to read for a living - cases, treatises, statutes, regulatory interpretations...snore - and so when I came home at night, the last thing I would want to do is open a book.

And hence my discovery of Kay's book, "Silent Tears:  A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage." As part of my next phase in life and desire to somehow make it a career to help the defenceless, I've researched various organizations related to assisting institutionalized children (orphans or infants/children otherwise in the care of the government).  It was kismet that I found Kay's book.   

The book is a nonfictional account, drawn from her journal entries, of Kay's time in China for several years while her husband was there for business.  She wanted to get involved in a charitable cause and picked the local orphanage at which to volunteer.  She became consumed with trying to help these children (while at the same time raising tweens and herself adjusting to a whole different life).  Her book details her struggles, the anguish and victory in fighting on behalf of these poor, poor orphans, many of whom had physical disabilities or were female and, therefore, abandoned.  China's one-child rule, while maybe understandable due to the extreme overpopulation of China, has lead to complete atrocities: because Chinese parents view children as their insurance policy for old age (social security? what's that?),  a child who is in any way deformed or is female (and thus given over to her husband's family later in life) has a very high chance of being ditched.  I'm the firstborn and a daughter so in another lifetime, baby me could have been the one left under a random bridge!  It is heartbreaking for the mother and usually a death sentence for the child.  

As can be expected from a developing economy, there is not much financial support for or interest in institutionalized infants and children.  Kay details her involvement, falling in love with the children, fighting the immense cultural barriers between her and the orphanage's employees and the frustrating bureaucracy.  Hard moments are frequent...sometimes sick babies just disappeared overnight. It would take mountains just to make sure the money raised in the United States went to a desperately needed surgery! And the state employees, through apathy or maybe just through self-hardening as a survival technique, seem to compound the high mortality rate and the immense sterility and sadness of the children's everyday lives.  

At times, Kay was so understandably emotionally overwhelmed and distraught, she wanted to give up.  Others who were less strong did give up; many walked away from their volunteer positions at the orphanage.  But Kay did not use emotional fragility as an excuse to give up on helping these children. No self-pity.  Kay even bravely documents her lifelong battle with depression on top of facing the emotional toil attendant to physically working in these orphanages.  At times she fell down...but she always came back for the children.  What an inspiration...she is so strong and we should all draw on that strength inside of us!  

Kay Bratt holding orphan from Chinese orphanage
Kay Bratt

Through Kay's tactful and patient yet persistent efforts to assist one baby/child at a time, she made a huge difference in many children's lives.  The stories are heartwrenching yet many times victorious.  Don't worry, this isn't one of those books that make you feel overwhelmed with anguish and want to run off a cliff.  Trust me, I'm one of those people who can't watch animal rescue t.v. shows because it breaks my heart too much.  Kay's book unflinchingly gives details on the horrific conditions and sad stories, but also gives immense hope that just one person can make a huge difference - life and death sometimes - in many children's lives.  I want to do the same thing...and you will too! 

After her husband's stint in China, the family moved back to the United States but Kay is still heavily involved in passionately advocating on behalf of institutionalized children.  She maintains a web-site/blog where you can read more about the organizations she works with here.  

On top of being an awesome human being, Kay is also a great writer.  Silent Tear's narrative is engaging and you will swiftly complete the book. 

And...surprise!  Kay is the FIRST ever to be profiled on a Karmaphilia questionnaire.  She so graciously responded to my request - I had never known her before I reached out to her - and here are her responses...don't you love the quote?  

She inspires me so much and I can only hope to be a fraction of how strong she is!  Thank you Kay for all that you do!

**Karmaphilia's 21 Questions is a questionnaire loosely based on the Proust/Vanity Fair interviews.**

Karmaphilia's 21 Questions:  Kay Bratt

1.         What is your idea of perfect happiness (on a personal level, not in terms of the world)?

Find what you are passionate about, and pour your heart and soul into it.

2.         What is the trait you most dislike in yourself?

Low self-esteem. I grew up with a difficult childhood and still cannot shake the feeling that I am sometimes being judged by others of my gender, and that maybe I’m not good enough.

3.         What is a trait you most dislike seeing in others?

Callousness. People who are mean to others in the world for no apparent reason truly irk me.

4.         What is the trait you most admire about yourself?

Compassion. It is everyone’s duty to do what we can in our own small ways to help those less fortunate.

5.         What is the trait you most admire in others? 

Compassion. See above.

6.         What is one bad habit that you hate but which you haven’t eradicated?

The worst I can think of is plucking hairs out of my head when I get nervous.

7.         What is your greatest extravagance?

My greatest extravagance is giving my give children most of the things they want, even some things that are not truly needed.

8.         What’s your foolproof pick-me-up when having a down day?

Spending time with my little dog and watch his carefree romping and playing to bring a smile to my face.

9.         Which physical trait do you like the best about yourself?

My physique. Growing up, I hated being skinny as it wasn’t attractive and I envied my curvy friends. Now in my 40’s, while some are battling their weight, mine is one less worry in life.

10.       Name something you love just for its beauty alone.

The view from my front porch of our yard, pond and the mountain behind it. Our place is not expensive or extravagant, but it is beautiful.

11.       Name an object/past-time/experience that gives you immense pleasure (besides s-e-x).  

Curling up with a good book and a mug of hot tea.

12.       Name one issue in the world that breaks your heart. 

Institutional care for orphaned/abandoned children.

13.       Name one issue that makes you furiously angry.

Over-spending of the rich on frivolous items like jewelry and parties. Money that could be used to improve the lives of many around the world is thrown away carelessly.

14.       If you could give $1 million to one of your favorite causes/philanthropic organizations,        which one would it be?

To a strictly researched organization that works to support children in orphanages.

15.       Name one celebrity whom you really admire for his/her philanthropic work. 

Angelina Jolie

16.       Name one of the hardest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in life? 

The corrupt Chinese bureaucracy and the huge amount of red tape it took to get through in order to help each child I worked with in the orphanage.

17.       What helped you most overcome it? 

My ingrained sense of tenacity and driven personality.

18.       What was your takeaway from this experience?

Never give up, even when all seems hopeless.

19.       What pithy advice would you like to give a recent college graduate?

Avoid looking for a ‘career’, but instead seek your passion in life and find a way to use it to support yourself. Money fades, but contentment can be forever.

20.       What is your current anthem (song that gives you energy, words you live by)?

Because of the challenges I’m currently facing with one of my daughters, Praise You in This Storm, by Casting Crowns is my current anthem.

21.       What is your aphorism/motto in life at this moment? 

It is never too late to be who you might have been. --Elliot


  1. Oh, interesting! I need to read this book, for sures.

  2. Yay, I hope you do!! It's really sobering and makes me very grateful for the lives that we enjoy here...