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Why I Need to Help a 'Sister' I Don't Really Know

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SOPHIE JOHNSON
Robert Durell

I lived in an orphanage in China for the first 5.5 years of my life. I was born cleft-affected and like a lot of other cleft kids, I watched baby after baby be matched with their forever families and go home. I remember when they moved me to the Big Girls Room, I was worried that my "new Mommy" might not be able to find me and would leave with a baby instead. That was my greatest fear.

Yes, I waited 5.5 years for my mom and dad to come. But eventually, they came. For some kids, they never do.

Two years ago, I returned to my orphanage and met a girl a few years older than me who still lives there. She was also born cleft-affected. Now that I'm 16 and understand the adoption process a little better, I realize just how random it was that I got picked by the orphanage officials to be made paper-ready for adoption and this girl didn't. As a result of that random act, I got adopted and have been able to have all the necessary surgeries and procedures to fully correct my birth defect. China has done what was medically necessary to keep this girl alive, but left her with an appearance that is far from "normal."

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Sophie Johnson meets her preschool teacher who remembered her!

That could have been me. After meeting her, I pledged that I would raise the money and get the orphanage to agree to use it to finish the job. She is a shy girl who doesn't like to go outside the orphanage because people stare at her. She is a lovely person who never got adopted by a forever family and now, because of her lack of self-confidence caused by her appearance, is at risk of never not being able to build a family as an adult. Just thinking about that makes me cry for her.

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Sophie Johnson and Ms. Pan, the orphanage official she is working with on this fundraiser.

She is now 20. It seems to me that that's not too old to turn someone's life around. My friends, Sara Joshi and Jacqueline Ayala, know how much I want to do this and are helping me. We have built a fundraising site to raise $3,800, which is how much my contact at the orphanage says it will take to have her facial issues resolved.

I trusted that one day my forever Mom and Dad would find me in the Big Girls Room. And I ask that you trust me now and help make a difference in the life of a girl who could just have easily been me. For more information, go here.

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Walking the beach near her home in Malibu California (photo credit: Robert Durell)