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Norfolk dad found families for a million orphans

PUBLISHED: 10:33 19 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:33 19 October 2020

Robert Glover  Picture: Mim Howell

Robert Glover Picture: Mim Howell

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Robert Glover was a footballer and submariner before introducing fostering to China and helping a million orphans into families.

As Many as the Stars by Robert GloverAs Many as the Stars by Robert Glover

Robert Glover was already a father-of-six when he was told he would be a father to as many children as there are stars in the sky.

He wondered whether it might have something to do with his work as a social worker, or as a church youth leader. Instead it took him to the orphanages of China and the chance to introduce the concept of foster families to the vast country.

Robert, who was awarded the OBE for his work, has just written his life story, and it is remarkable, fascinating, life-affirming, heart-warming and either packed with the most incredible coincidences or, as Robert believes, reveals the hand of God in his life.

“The first orphanage I visited in China, a little boy got hold of my hand. His clothes didn’t fit, his shoes were broken and he hung on to me. I wondered how I was going to break free from him,” said Robert. Instead of breaking free, Robert got involved, and the Norwich-based charity he set up has found foster families for an astonishing million abandoned children.

Robert and Liz Glover with their six now-grown children  Picture: Mim HowellRobert and Liz Glover with their six now-grown children Picture: Mim Howell

Every year tens of thousands of children move from orphanages to live with families across China, Thailand and Vietnam, thanks to his vision. “We restore children to where they should be - in a family,” said Robert, who trained as a social worker. “Children were never meant to grow up in warehouses. When we don’t let them have good mothers and fathers, they develop mental and physical problems; awful things happen.”

Robert grew up in Norwich, attended Norwich’s George White and Alderman Jex schools, and excelled at football. He dreamed of playing for Norwich City and was a trainee in the 1970s. He also had a spell with Colchester United but said: “Colchester wasn’t for me. I had always had my heart set on Norwich, but I was never quite good enough to make it.” Instead he joined the Royal Navy, and played football for naval teams until he was transferred to serve on a submarines – which proved less good for football. However his football career was not entirely sunk as he was signed for Portsmouth straight from the Navy and began coaching children, often from disadvantaged backgrounds. It led to a career in social work back in Norfolk and it was while working with youngsters in residential care that Robert became convinced they should live in families rather than institutions.

He met his wife, Elizabeth, while working in Sheringham and gradually their Christian faith became more and more important. When Robert landed a job as fostering officer on Guernsey they relocated to the island – but he could never shake off the feeling that he was destined to work in China.

“There was quite a lot coming out about the conditions for orphans in China and I just felt I wanted to find a way of helping,” he said.

Eventually he engineered the opportunity to visit on a fact-fact finding tour. A chance encounter led to a series of meetings with some of China’s top officials. Robert’s ideas about fostering fell on fertile ground as he discovered the importance of the concept of family in China and realised that the one child policy meant even materially poor people had room in their hearts and homes.

Back in Britain the Foreign Office wanted to get involved. “It was really right time, right place,” said Robert. “Apparently they had been trying to develop a relationship with the Chinese, but through bigger organisations, and I’ve since learned that everything in China is done through friendships and relationships, and they like working with small organisations.”

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Two years later the entire family – Robert and Elizabeth, plus Rachel aged 12, Lois aged 10, Megan aged eight, Anna aged six and four-year-old twins Joel and Joshua - packed up and moved to China. In a country with a one-child policy they were immediately a phenomenon. “When we went out we would have several hundred people following us, just to see this English couple with all the children!” said Robert. “It was a bit difficult.”

Robert’s job was to help set up projects where orphaned children could be cared for in families. It took three years to get the first 500 children placed and a pastor’s prophesy, when they lived in Guernsey, that the then-sceptical Robert would be ‘a father to as many children as there are stars in the sky,’ seemed long way off. But today more than a million Chinese children have moved from institutions to families, plus thousands more in Thailand and Vietnam.

Robert set up a charity, Care for Children, to help fund and run the fostering schemes. He found he had friends in very high places, cutting through bureaucracy and helping making things happen, including an official who had been one of Chairman Mao’s closest advisors. The concept of fostering had to be introduced and approved, and foster carers chosen, trained and supervised. Every placement was planned as a long-term forever family but children are fostered rather than adopted so that they can continue to be supported and monitored.

“I knew we could help these children. For thousands of years we raised children in families and then we try putting them in warehouses. This is restoring God’s order,” said Robert.

Alongside his work, Elizabeth and the children made friends and helped people in the often-poor neighbourhoods in which they lived, leading to many more lives being transformed.

The family returned to Norfolk in 2013, where Robert still works for Care for Children. And because the model had been so successful in China other countries were interested. Eldest daughter, Rachel, and her husband, Thomas, helped set up the Care for Children project in Thailand.

Now Robert has distilled the series of remarkable events, visions and answered prayers, which led to more than a million children finding families, into a book and Bear Grylls, who is a patron of Care for Children, has narrated a documentary telling the stories of China’s first foster children. He said: “Robert Glover is a friend and a true hero of mine.”

As Many as the Stars, by Robert Glover, with Theodore Brun, is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

For more information about Care for Children, and how to help its work, visit careforchildren.com


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