With 147 million orphans worldwide, millions more are unaccounted for on the streets.
Even those within orphanages may not receive the care they need, a local speaker explained to North Hall High School freshmen last week.
"At the orphanage I worked in, there were very bad conditions. You wouldn't want to stay there," said Kay Bratt, a North Hall High mom who traveled to China with her husband several years ago and worked in an orphanage.
After five years in China, they returned to Gainesville, and she still advocates for children around the world.
"It was very hot or very cold, and they were often attacked by mosquitoes," she said.
Bratt discussed the "one child" policy that encourages Chinese parents to only give birth to one child due to overpopulation of the country. Many children are often abandoned when they are born with disabilities due to poor vitamins in the mother's diet, Bratt explained, and other families abandon female babies because they want sons to carry on the family name.
"This child had spina bifida and was abandoned when she was a year and a half," Bratt said, clicking through a PowerPoint presentation featuring some of the children she knew. "That had to be heart-wrenching for the mother. The child was very serious and terrified to go outside. It took a lot of work to get her to leave."
Bratt was disturbed when she learned some of the practices at the orphanage, such as force-feeding children or strapping them to the bed in the winter so they didn't kick off blankets.
"People ask me why I didn't stop it, but if I had, the directors would ask me to never come back. I just cried and cried at what I witnessed," she said. "We volunteers took relief in the fact that we could comfort the child and sing to them and make them feel loved."
Bratt recounted several stories about children in the same orphanage, and the students listened with wide eyes. Several are reading her book "Silent Tears," which recounts the same stories.
"You never know what your words will bring back around. I never dreamed people would read my words, but I fulfilled my promise to tell their stories," Bratt said. "People wanted to know what happened to the children and would ask what they could do to help."
Bratt suggested several organizations for foster care or donations. She plans to help the class tackle community service projects this semester that include children's issues such as sex trafficking, orphanages and local homeless shelters.
Tessa Shirley, who teaches language arts to the three freshman classes, has pledged to run five half-marathons this year, or 65.5 miles. The students are working together to define a cause and promote Shirley's runs, asking parents, friends and community organizations to donate money for each mile she runs. They hope to raise a few thousand dollars to support several organizations that help children locally, nationally and internationally.
"When we do our report and research the plight of children, I think I'm going to focus on orphans now," said Brooke Copeland, a freshman who read Bratt's book. "The book was really thought-provoking. You think about how you go to bed at night, and you may fight off a chill, but that's it. Some of these kids had frostbite."