Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shantou To Beijing

Today has been a very emotional day for me, both happy and sad. I don’t know how many times I have taken the flight from Shantou to Beijing in tears. I am sure the businessmen always wonder about the blonde woman who looks out the window and silently cries the whole time.

This morning I woke up early and two of my dear friends came to the hotel to say goodbye to me. They brought traditional Shantou snacks for my children, and a type of local tea I had never seen before but which is made out in the rural countryside of the Chaoshan region. They take an orange and stuff it full of tea, and then they roast the orange over slow coals until it is hard and black. When you are feeling sick, you are supposed to take a small amount and add it to boiling water to drink. I did not get the name of this tea, but they told me if I like it they will go back out into the countryside to get more for me the next time I come. I cannot wait to try it.

As I was going down to breakfast, I was thinking to myself how very sad I was that on this trip I was unable to see my friend Ao, who had risen from being the hotel bellboy to the night manager. We have been friends for four years now, and I was so disappointed that my visit coincided with his days off. Well, when I got off the elevator, he was standing in the lobby waiting for me. I was so happy to see him again! We went to breakfast together and had a wonderful time catching up on news. Somehow we ended up on the subject of Chinese weddings and I learned so much more about the traditions here.

After breakfast, my friend Mark Zhu went with me to the orphanage. Mark helped translate for us on the cleft missions in both Luoyang and Hefei, and he is such a kind and friendly man. He had come to Shantou before my trip to help identify possible locations for a healing center. It was so quiet today in the orphanage. We stopped in the office to meet up with the director of the children’s section and discuss some things that they need. Last year we had sent feeding tubes for premature babies to the orphanage, and they have been so useful to them and have helped save many lives. They asked if it would be possible for us to buy more for them. If there are any Shantou families getting ready to travel for adoption, I certainly would appreciate you being a courier to take these important tubes to some very tiny babies.

I have the most incredible news that has brought happy tears to my eyes all day. Many of you might remember my story of visiting a rural orphanage that had many, many children who were ineligible for adoption because the orphanage did not know how to send their files to the CCAA. One of the children I met there that day was a little girl about 5-6 years old who was missing her hand. I will never forget telling a staff member there that so many families would love to adopt her and having this person say “who would want such a child?” This little girl was so solemn when I first met her that day, but after we pulled out some balloons, her gorgeous smile was lighting up the room, so much so that my story about her caused her to get the nickname of “Joy” among LWB volunteers. For two years we have asked about Joy, and asked if it would be possible for her to find a family. Well, the incredible news is that the Shantou orphanage has received permission to file paperwork on behalf of this child. Someday in 2007 we should see her on an adoption list! In addition, this orphanage sent staff today to Shantou to learn how to file papers on many of their children. So finally the beautiful children that we have helped surgically (we did many cleft surgeries for them in 2004), will soon have a chance of being chosen. This is such blessed news.

One of the office leaders told me when I arrived that they had a new baby who was missing an arm just like my son TJ. I was so excited to meet this child, so we went to the baby room (the exact same one my son grew up in), and I got to meet this gorgeous little girl. They estimated that she was about 3 months old, and to say she is beautiful is an understatement. Her arm is exactly the same as my son’s, including the fact that it feels like there might be a tiny elbow where her arm ends. She was so smiley! I know my husband is reading this feeling very nervous right about now, especially when I write that while TJ is missing his right arm, this little girl is missing her left. We were all smiling and saying they could help each other out! While I know my family is now complete, I went ahead and took a picture with this beautiful baby in the off chance God knows something I don’t. Can someone please go over to my house and resuscitate my husband now? Ha ha….

I went up to the third floor baby room to see one of my favorite aunties. She showed me her wall of photos that adoptive families have sent back to the orphanage, and I am supposed to tell Ping and Guo’s parents that she is waiting not so patiently for an update! I love this aunty because she always plays music and encourages the children to dance, and today little Jiao was just grinning and swaying back and forth, while poor Hua (who is so afraid of strangers) just stood frozen in her tracks like a deer, hoping if she didn’t move I might go away. Little Qian, from our top ten photos, was all smiles and grins. I have been told on multiple occasions that she is the smartest child ever to be born in Shantou (I love it!) and she was just so happy and excited to have visitors. She was walking around playing with a big yellow ball and she was just so proud of herself that she could catch it. The staff showed me the TA that had just arrived from Beijing for Fei Fei’s parents. She is SO beautiful. She was very intrigued with my digital camera and after I took a photo of a baby she wanted to see as well. When I took a photo of her and her aunty, she just kept pointing to the screen to see her picture again. In the back of the room was another new arrival, just a few weeks old. This beautiful little girl had fused fingers on one hand. She was sleeping so soundly but I went ahead and took a photograph thinking that someday she would probably have a family and it might be one of the earliest photos of her. I know how important baby pictures are to every parent.

I got to meet with the teachers today, and I asked them what would make their jobs easier with the children. They are loving the Montessori materials so very much, and asked if it would be possible to get a few more pieces to add to their supplies. I told them to please look through the catalogue and we would see what we could do. The PT leader also asked if we could buy 2 wheelchairs for the more serious children to make it easier to move them from their bedroom to the PT area.

We discussed the PAL program as well. All of the teens are allowed to take one class outside of school in whatever interests them. One is taking karate, another computers, another English. I learned today that one of the older boys is a whiz with taking apart computers and fixing them. I hope we can encourage him to do more with that. Exactly what job these teens will have is always on the back of my mind, as I so truly want them all to be able to “make it” in society someday. When you grow up in an orphanage, you have very few opportunities to learn real life skills, as you don’t learn to cook, you don’t learn to deal with money….and so when you are old enough to age out, the world can be a very intimidating place. We discussed the idea of a “halfway house”, where the kids could go with a houseparent and yet still learn some independence. Many of the kids are just so scared of being on their own.

We wanted to do something small for each teen in our program for the holidays, and the staff told me that they had discussed what the kids wanted recently, and they said they wanted a chance to go shopping on their own and learn to bargain, a very important skill in China. So we decided that we would give each child a gift certificate to a local market, and they can then try to buy as much as they can with that set amount. I know it might seem small, but it is one step towards them learning a very important life skill that kids in families experience each day.

All of the older kids came back from school about 11:30 and it was just SO great to see them again. I was so happy that we could all go to eat hot pot together during their lunch break, so we quickly went to the restaurant. In all, 15 older kids got to go with me, and boy can they eat! They must have eaten 100 beef balls! I love seeing that so much. While we were there I got to ask lots of questions about their life and how they are doing. I learned so much today! Hong sat at my table and it was great to have a chance to be able to talk with her. I told her that I know moving out of the orphanage is such a scary thought, as it is all she has known, but I told her never to forget that she is such a special young lady. While at times I know it will be hard, I just know she can do it. I told her that she has to believe in herself, and know that so many people around the world are thinking of her and believing in her, too. The government has agreed to
find her a job, so right now she is waiting for her assignment. I do so hope it is a job she will love.

I sat next to Ling during lunch. She is the older teen with the severe crossed eyes. Of course she asked right away how LuLu was. I am always so happy when they ask me about children that I do keep in touch with because they just hang on my every word, so anxious to get any glimpse into the new lives of the babies they helped care for.

One of the girls, who is the youngest of this group and still in the range of adoption, might have her file sent to the CCAA this year. I do hope this comes true. Qi is such a gentle little girl. She had a meningocele on her back when she was a baby, and following her surgery she does not have good bowel or bladder control. But she walks and dances, and the aunties told me that she has been given the gift of music, as they say she has the “voice of an angel”. Her voice is very high and clear, and when she sings it is such a beautiful sound. Recently one of our volunteers was in Shantou teaching some Red Cross self esteem materials to them, and when she asked Qi what she dreamed of being, Qi said that all she wanted in life was a “mama and a baba”. I will be praying this comes true. Surely somewhere in the world there is a family willing to accept her special need.

I have more wonderful news about adoption as well. I know so many of you have followed Fen’s story, and her disrupted adoption due to a seizure. Well, next week her papers will once again be sent to the CCAA, two years after she was first returned. The staff told me that even though she has some weakness on one side, that she is the most clever and active little girl, with an incredible memory and big vocabulary. This is very welcome news indeed.

I also learned today that one of my favorite staff members here, who is so kind and loving to the children, wanted to work in the orphanage and make a difference in the children’s lives because her own mother was an orphan growing up. Her mom’s parents were killed during World War 2, and so her mother grew up in the Guilin orphanage. I was so moved to think that now she has devoted her life to helping orphaned children in honor of her mom. I now understand the depth of her commitment to these kids.

During the lunch, it took all of my composure to not begin sobbing when Ling turned to me and said, “Amy, I want to thank you for all that you do for us and for working hard to make sure we get help”. I immediately told her back, “Ling, it is not work because you are my family”. Then Ling, one of the most gentle and loving children I have ever known, who has so tenderly cared for so many of the babies in the Shantou orphanage, put her head down and wept. I know I have said it before, but I believe so many of us take the word “family” for granted. FAMILY. It is something that every child longs for, and I had no idea that my simple reply back to her would bring on such tears. How I wish I could do more for her. She has never been able to go to public school because of her eyes, but I am so happy to know she is now learning characters in the orphanage school and also learning some English. But it seems like so little to give to this child who has always longed for a momma. Ling truly is a hero to me. She gives and gives and gives to others, and has a true heart of gold. In a world without immigration and borders…..I would gladly call her “daughter” tomorrow.

I had a very wild thought today when we were talking at lunch. The adults were talking about visiting Beijing and Guangzhou, and I asked if the kids had ever been out of the city of the Shantou. Of course I was told no. I asked if there were any places closeby that we could do a “field trip”, and Mark told me that there are beautiful mountains with hiking and fresh air just 3 hours from here. So then I was thinking, what if we sent these “city kids” to the country for a few days? To hike and have a real "vacation”, just like children with family? At first the director was adamant that it was impossible due to cost, but when I asked if we could get permission from Civil Affairs he said that we could. I am really thinking there needs to be an adventure for these incredible teens next summer. It is certainly something to think about. I have to admit I was thinking it would be so cool to send them to stand on top of the Great Wall, but I know that is a bit ambitious! I would be more than happy with 2 nights in the mountains. :-)

All too soon it was time for them to head back to school, and I had a plane to catch to Beijing, so with a lot of waving and hugging we said our goodbyes. Earlier in the day I had asked about where my son was found, as on my adoption trip I did not have time to even think about this. They told me it was very close to the restaurant where we had just ate, so suddenly I found myself on my way to his abandonment site. When we pulled up, it was like time stood still for me yet again. I had experienced the exact same emotions four years earlier visiting Anna’s site. The orphanage knew the exact spot where he was placed, and I stood there trying to fully absorb that this was where my son’s life changed forever. While it is his story to tell someday, I can say that what I learned today made me realize that he was left with hope in someone’s heart. I will never know if it was his mother or father or even a neighborhood friend who actually placed him there, but they did so hoping someone would help him. That gives me both great comfort and great sadness as well, as abandonment is just so tragic to me…but the reality is that it is how every adoptive family comes to know such joy in having a son or daughter from China. I still can’t believe I am so lucky to be TJ’s mom.

The whole way to the airport I kept blinking away tears, telling myself I could have a good long cry as soon as I said goodbye to my friends and boarded the plane to Beijing. There are so many kind people here. I truly believe they are trying their very best to help the children in their care. I am always so embarrassed when they thank me and tell me I am kind or that I work too hard. They are the ones caring for these children day in and day out. I am so thankful we can assist them and play a small part in each and every child’s story of HOPE. That is what I want for every single child living in an orphanage…to have hope in their hearts. We have to do our best to find every child a family, and when we cannot…we need to fill their hearts with the very real truth that they DO matter and that they CAN make it in the world and that there ARE people who believe in them and want them to know how very important they are to this earth.

Every child counts, not just those that we can hold in our arms and tuck warmly into bed each night. Every child that has been born deserves everything that we can give. Every child deserves to know that someone loves them. Each time I return to China, that truth is cemented in my heart even stronger.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Shantou To Beijing

I always know I have had a good day in Shantou when I stumble back to my hotel room covered in spit up, potty and lots of hugs. And today was no exception! We headed to the orphanage early and I asked my friends if I could please stop at a local market to buy some pork jerky for the kids as I did not have time last night to run to Walmart to get snacks. Children in Shantou normally see “Ayi Amy” and immediately think “the lady with lots of food”. There was no way I wanted to go there empty handed. We stopped at a local stall and quickly ran up to purchase some treats. Basically I just bought all the jerky they had in one HUGE bag. Then we headed to the orphanage.

When we arrived, the younger school children were all sitting outside having an English lesson. Oh how I love these kids that I have followed since they were tiny babies! I always wonder if they will still remember me when I come back, but sweet Long quickly put my mind at ease when he opened his arms to be held. These kids are just so much fun. Lan smiles non stop and is SO tiny and petite. When the teachers brought out some Kix, she kept trying to hold as many as possible in her hands but her hands are just so little! The teachers took a tambourine and turned it upside down and asked one little boy to be the “helper” to pass out the treat and I have to say all the kids did very well waiting patiently for their turn. After we had a very nice time visiting with the kids outside in the warm sunshine, we all went inside so they could show me their singing and dancing. The teachers were very excited for me to see what they had learned, but unfortunately by
then they had spied the toys I had brought, as well as the bag of balloons, so all thoughts of class went out the window. Min, one of the babies we did heart surgery for last year, was just so funny. There was one toy I had brought that had smiley face flowers that lit up and made noise when you pushed them. All the kids wanted to see it but Min tucked it into her arms and ran away as fast as possible. She would play the music while keeping one eye on the lookout for anyone coming too close, and if any child got within 10 feet of her toy, she would run again. She made my day by walking straight into my arms to be held. She is so lovely.

The older school kids then came in and after saying hello to them all, they did two musical numbers for me. The first was a karate number and it was so much fun to watch these kids be so serious and intent in their ‘HIYAS!” The second song was done with plastic tubes that they beat together as percussion instruments. At the end, they all posed and two boys lifted Qi into the air for a grand finale! It was spectacularly done. Just a few years ago none of these kids had any sort of education, and now their day is filled with music and learning. I got to watch them using the Montessori materials, and they were so intent in learning how to zip, button, and snap. It was just great to be with them. I am so excited about the possibility of opening even more "Believe in Me" schools in 2007.

I also spent time in our PT room that we helped build in 2004. There are 3 physical therapists now who work with the kids every single day. The kids have made great progress, and the staff is very happy. Some of the kids had such weak legs before they started PT and now they can stand and walk. The PTs are all so young and kind and seem to have a really great relationship with all the children they are caring for.

Then it was time to check on all the medical kids that LWB has been involved with in 2005 and 2006. Ummmm……I’ll just say this list was a little long. When I first showed it to the woman helping me her eyes got really big! But we worked out a system where we started on the third floor and worked our way down and it went much quicker than I thought. The heart babies who went to Shanghai recently look incredible. Their color is good, their appetite is great, and I know when they finally hit an adoption list they will be chosen in a nanosecond. I am just so happy we can help in this way. I know many of you remember baby Yi, who had such a severe heart condition. Well there is a new baby boy who we did heart surgery for in November who looks very similar to her. Yi's aunty, who still misses her SO much, has now made it her mission to nurse En completely back to health. Oh he is getting so spoiled! It is so fun to see her with yet another heart baby to love.

One of the babies we had helped, little He who had a large neck tumor, was actually domestically adopted by the surgeon! Isn’t that great? I have always liked that this orphanage does so many domestic adoptions. Even the director and vice director of the orphanage are adoptive parents themselves.

I was laughing, however, at my pitiful mastery of the Chinese tones as I really needed to photograph baby Hao (third tone) and I guess I said baby Hao (fourth tone), so they took me to a crib and I oohed and aahed and held this little baby for so long saying, “I know your momma, and she will come soon to get you”, and then I finally said, “what a cute girl” and they said “THIS IS A BOY”. Ha ha…..wrong baby. So back up to the third floor we went to find the lovely Hao (third tone) who will hopefully have a family very soon.

There is one little girl with albinism here who was recently on an adoption list. I still don’t know if she found a family or not but oh she is SO loving. Every time I come she wants to be held and never put down. Well, today was no different, and when I went into her room they were all eating lunch. The nutrition program in Shantou is so great as it allows the kids to have these huge bowls of seafood congee and vegetables, and all the kids were just eating so much but then Qin saw me and ran over wanting to be held. I decided to sit on the floor to cuddle with her and the moment she sat on my lap I thought “uh oh” because two seconds after sitting down she decided to go potty, all over my lap. Ha ha…..By that time I figured I was already wet so what difference did it make? I knew I would be meeting government officials later but I honestly believe they just think American perfume smells like urine. J Oh the memories of holding kids here!

After playing a bit more, we finally headed out to look at possible sites for a healing center. I had visited two locations in Hefei and I think I went to about 8 in Shantou. Boy we moved fast. The funniest one was the first house which I absolutely fell in love with as it had flowering vines covering the whole outside. However, the woman showing us the home didn’t realize that it had recently been rented on the first floor, so in I walk and I start taking pictures right and left of the house, when suddenly this man comes in and well….we left pretty quickly after that. I still love this house the most and am trying to figure out how we can convince the man he really would prefer living by the sea!

Each place that we visited got bigger and bigger in size, and I kept thinking “there is no way we could afford to own a six story building!”, but then the final place actually ended up being an entire senior citizen building that the government built and then recently closed when they consolidated SWIs. It was the size of a castle! We could house 10 foster homes in this one building. It certainly was peaceful however, as no one else lived anywhere near there and it was right by a small mountain and lots of trees in the back. We opened up one of the windows and all you could hear were crickets. But unless I win the Oklahoma lottery sometime soon (which is probably pretty doubtful since I don’t buy tickets), I am thinking this is a wee bit too much space. J

After visiting the possible sites, we all went for a dinner with Civil Affairs officials and I was told that Shantou would be the ideal location for a healing center because it is warm year round (good for babies’ health) and because it is by the ocean (good for babies’ health) and because Shantou has the best seafood in China (good for everyone’s health!) We were all laughing by the end as each person added another “best” to the list. I sure have a lot to discuss with the LWB team back home.

We finally got back to the hotel very late and I am hoping I can get some sleep tonight. Last night someone decided to “ding dong ditch” my hotel room all night long, so at 3 a.m., 4 a.m., etc….someone ran my doorbell and by the time I got to the door they were gone. So please say a prayer that tonight whoever it was has moved on to another location!

Tomorrow I am going back to the orphanage to see the babies and toddlers, and then hopefully my friends and I will take all the school kids out to lunch for hotpot. We are also going to go shopping for some new library books as a kind donor sent funds just for this purpose. Then it is off to Beijing again for a meeting with CCAA on Wednesday.

More soon!


Sunday, December 10, 2006

I don’t really know where to even begin today. It has been an amazing day that had me in three cities.

Early this morning I began the day in Hefei. As some of you know, Love Without Boundaries has been given approval to open a “healing center” for failure to thrive babies with cleft lip and palate. We will bring orphaned children from all around China to this center, carefully hand feed them and give them the medical care they need, and then when they are heavy enough, we will provide their surgery and post op care. This foster home will be a little bit different than other foster homes in China, however, because it will also do community outreach. We have seen so many rural families become overwhelmed when their child is born with cleft, and we want to provide support services to them in the hopes that we can actually help prevent orphans. We know this is a big dream, but all of the permissions have fallen into place and we know we can truly help change the lives of 50-70 babies with cleft each year. And I truly believe that if we can help prevent even one more baby from becoming an orphan, then that is success. I will never forget the woman last year on our Luoyang cleft mission who came in with her 28 day old daughter begging us for help. Her extended family did not want the stigma of having a child with cleft in the family, and she was crying so hard asking for help because she loved her daughter and wanted to keep her. Her baby was too young for surgery, and I will never know what became of that child as the mom was too poor to even have a phone for us to contact her. If we had a community outreach center, we could let hospitals in the region know that if any family gave birth to a child with cleft, they could contact us. Hopefully, in the very near future, if another woman like the one I met needed us, we could help provide emotional support and information on feeding and cleft care.

One of the reasons I am in China right now is to help identify the site of our healing center. One of the cities we are considering is Hefei. Anhui Children’s Hospital was so fabulous to work with on our cleft mission, and when we first approached them with this idea they were very open to it. So early this morning I visited two possible locations for the home. They were as different as different could be, and I will really have to think hard about which one would be the “best” as I really liked both of them. We want our home to be in a more rural location so that we can hopefully impact the local people’s opinions about children born with cleft. The first possible home I visited was an old two story farmhouse in YingHe village. All of the people in this area are farmers, and they grow both rice and vegetables. When we got to the house and I stepped out of the car, I was surrounded by such a feeling of PEACE. I really wish I could explain it exactly to everyone, but honestly it was one of the most peaceful places I had ever been, like I had stepped back in time. I heard birds chirping, and besides that noise it was so absolutely QUIET, which as you know is rare in Chinese cities. Every so often there would be a rooster crow. This house is set on the banks of a river (the village name means “meeting of the river”), and I could see boats floating by. Most of the people in this area seemed to be older, and more than one elderly grandma stopped what they were doing to turn and smile at me or wave. The house itself would need A LOT of work, but the definite advantage to this house would be that I asked the neighbors what they would think of having 18 or so babies with cleft living next door to them (many people in China still think of cleft as something “unlucky”), and all of the people immediately said they would welcome the babies with no problems. There would definitely be some things to work out (like an indoor bathroom and water to the house), but it was so peaceful there. At one point a neighbor asked me to sit down on a stool made out of a cut log and she offered me some tea. As I sat on her porch her cat came to sit down by me, and I just sat there thinking it truly felt like a village that would love the kids completely. The one big downside to me of this house is that it is 45 minutes from the city.

The second house I was shown is in the Shi He village, which is only 20 minutes by car from Anhui Children’s Hospital. It also is on a main road so transportation to and from the hospital would be very easy. A really nice market area is only 10 minutes by bicycle, so if any volunteers came to help in the healing center, they could easily “get to town” on their own. This village is comprised of farmers and factory workers, and while definitely closer to the city, it is still considered “rural”, which I could see for myself when I saw an elderly man out for a stroll with his water buffalo. This house is much bigger than the first one but definitely has more of a “factory” appearance to it. We could definitely convert it to a healing center with less work than the first one. The rooms are big and the lighting was good, but definitely noisier than the first home. Very roomy though! The other advantage is that the city bus runs until 9 p.m. so any daytime ayis that we hired could get to and from the location easily.

After visiting the two locations, I met with the vice director, many doctors, and the head nurse of Anhui Children’s. We had a FANTASTIC meeting, and they are truly hoping we pick Hefei as the site, as they would like to fully partner with us to provide medical care for the children and to help us with outreach. They have speech therapists on staff and would love to help develop a full “cleft team” to help each child as best as possible. We would also have a full time RN from Anhui Children’s on site at all times.

We decided to continue our meeting over lunch and before I knew it we realized that it was an hour to my flight to Guangzhou and I wasn’t at the airport. Oops! Thankfully the driver could go FAST and I made it to the gate just in time. I used my layover time in Guangzhou to write as many notes as possible about what I had seen that day, and then it was off to Shantou.

Two of the orphanage directors met me at the airport with a really kind woman from the UK who is in Shantou teaching English. We all went out to dinner and I found out that the four heart babies we have in Shanghai right now from Shantou are all doing much better. All four children got sick on the flight to Shanghai, and their aunties got sick as well. Thankfully we have a lot of good friends in that city and they quickly rallied the troops and were able to get to the hospital to help with the children while the aunties recovered. The kids’ surgeries are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. I hope they all feel in top form by then.

I’m heading to the orphanage tomorrow morning to visit our school kids and medical kids, and also will be looking at two possible sites if the healing center were in Shantou. Over dinner the director told me that Shantou gets in so many cleft children, and it is so difficult for them to gain weight because it is often hard for them to feed, especially if one aunty has 3 or more babies with cleft in one room. I know this city would be a good location as well (and it's warm year round!), and they have welcomed us to bring orphaned children from all over China for care. It should be a very busy day. I’ll write more tomorrow!

(since most of my photos today were of houses, I’ll post some extra photos from Dingyuan yesterday. I know everyone would much rather look at children than a house!)

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Friday afternoon after we got back from the Hope Foster Home, all of the LWB facilitators met together for the very first time in China. "Team China" is truly comprised of some of the most
dedicated and giving people in the world. We had a wonderful meeting talking about our 2007 plans and brainstorming on how we can continue to make sure that every single child in our program receives exactly what they need in order to have the best chance possible of thriving and finding a family. As I sat in the room listening to each of them share why they love helping children, I gave thanks that we have been able to find such incredible Chinese friends. After our meeting we took a cold walk to a great hotpot restaurant for our goodbye dinner. Of course even after we went back to the hotel, we continued to talk, and it was very late when we went to bed. I knew I had to leave the hotel at 6 a.m. to get to the airport so I knew I should have gone to bed earlier, but I was loving every minute spent with my friends.

When I am in China, I am always so touched by the incredible hospitality I am shown, and this trip has been no different. When I went down to the lobby of the hotel this morning to check out, all of my friends were standing downstairs to say goodbye to me, even though it was only 5:50 a.m. I am truly blessed to know such friendship in my younger children's birth country.

Zhang Ming and I caught a quick taxi to the Beijing airport, which was just packed. Thankfully we got through security pretty quickly and before I knew it we were on our way to Hefei, Anhui. The whole flight we talked together about LWB's dream to open healing centers for cleft children . I think we really came up with some great ideas at 20,000 feet. :-)

As soon as we landed in Hefei, we grabbed a car to drive to Dingyuan, the site of our second oldest foster care program. After about an hour of driving, we began to get into rural Anhui. As our car sped along, I caught glimpses of a water buffalo standing in the doorway of a building, little girls in padded coats and pigtails playing jumprope, old men sitting at roadside tables sipping tea and selling eggs, strong women carrying yokes and baskets filled with vegetables. I love the countryside of China. Hundreds of poplar trees whizzed by and miraculously the sun even came out for a brief moment. Zhang Ming finally told me that we were coming up to the
bridge that was the entrance to Dingyuan.

First we headed to the orphanage. LWB has done a lot of work in this orphanage. We helped them create a bright and cheerful environment for the babies in 2004, and it still looks wonderful. There are four baby rooms in Dingyuan, with only 43 children remaining in the orphanage as the rest are now either adopted or in our foster care program. The director told me they were so grateful for our help as at one time they had over 100 children in the orphanage, and now with just 10-12 babies per room, the aunties can do a much better job.

The baby rooms in Dingyuan are very clean and the babies look FABULOUS! We provide good formula to this orphanage and it is so obvious as the children's skin looks beautiful and soft and OH THOSE CHEEKS. "Peng" is the Chinese word for "plump" and every baby I saw was peng, peng, peng.

Friday, December 08, 2006

LWB at Hope Foster Home

Today I took 13 people to the Hope Foster Home to visit the incredible center run by Joyce and Robin Hill. It started out as a handful of us going, but then the Shangrao orphanage staff really wanted to go as well since they have two babies there at the moment that we have transfered. We all got to experience Beijing traffic at its finest :-) as we left our hotel by the CCAA at 8 a.m., arrived at the Lido hotel where we were meeting Hope's driver at 9 a.m., and then arrived at Hope at 10:50 a.m. It was quite fun for me because I had not had an "official" tour since 2004 and so I got to refresh all of my details about the great work they are doing there. The first room we went to had several of our medical babies. One of the babies we sent there for club foot casting was the first one I spied and she looked at me with a very furrowed brow as if to warn me not to come a step closer. The wonderful thing about having only 2 children to every ayi is that the children are SO attached to their nannies and it is so great to see them hurry over to their aunties for reassurance when they see foreigners. Within a few minutes, however, they realized we were "fun" people and not scary and then the laughter began. Digital cameras are the ultimate icebreaker for children as they all LOVE to take photographs and see themselves. Several children with quick hands grabbed the cameras from us and they were so happy snapping photographs. It is obvious they are quite used to being "hams" in front of a camera. It was so great to see Aurora after her heart surgery in Singapore. She looks AMAZING and has so much energy.

As we walked room to room it was wonderful to see so many familiar kids. Of course baby Hercules brought tears to my eyes as he just looks so wonderful. However, what a change from the last time I saw him in May when he thought I was the cat's pajamas. Now he is firmly attached to his ayi and he wanted NOTHING to do with me today. I was more than content to admire him from afar!

It was fabulous to see our new Heartbridge unit in person. That room has the tiniest and most fragile babies in Hope, and I noticed that when everyone went into that unit (of course after sanitizing our hands), that a quiet hush fell over everyone. The babies are just so little! I was disappointed that I couldn't see baby Yang right then because her IV shunt had clogged and she had to go to the hospital. I did see baby Song, though, who was the one who had the leaking spinal fluid for so long. She is GORGEOUS! All fat and chubby and just perfect. I also saw our gorgeous boy from Shangrao who had colon surgery and several heart children.

Following a wonderful lunch, I learned that baby Yang had arrived back from the hospital so I quickly went upstairs to meet this little fighter in person. Oh there just aren't words to say how tiny she is. I picked her up and it was like holding a newborn. She has SUCH severe heart disease and was breathing so very heavy, but she locked her eyes onto mine and she SMILED. I am starting to cry right now thinking about it. She has such a spirit about her. I kissed her head and told her that the next time I come back I expect her to be all chubby and healthy. Oh how I pray that is the case. She truly has such a severe heart. I know so many people, however, are praying she can have surgery.

Monday, December 04, 2006


How wonderful it is to get wonderful updates from China on our programs. One of those updates we have received involves three of our programs - Foster care, Medical and Nutrition. In a very poor orphanage in Central China, where the basic needs of the children are just being met, a wonderful foster care program has been created. This involves the tiniest cleft babies. So that these babies can get extra care and nutrition to get ready for their surgeries, we have placed a group of six babies into foster care in a neighborhood cluster. How nice it is for these foster mothers to have the support of each other. In addition to the support, these families have started a friendly competition to see whose baby can gain the most weight. These babies are all getting the best formula through our nutrition program. This has even expanded in this neighborhood where there is now a waiting list of families who would like to foster a cleft affected child.

Recently, three babies had surgery in Hefei during our cleft trip and they look wonderful! Each child was chubby and well loved. In addition, the two smallest babies will soon be transferred for their surgeries too. Every child looks so great and will have the very best chance at finding a family.