Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Assistant...
On our whirlwind trip to China taking 8 flights in 9 days and visiting 6 orphanages, we saw more than our fair share of gorgeous children with cute button noses, sparking eyes, & killer smiles. In every orphanage and town, we fell in love with children and wished we could just pick them up and take them home to be a part of our families. Yet, after seeing hundreds of kids, there was one particular child whose face continues to haunt my mind a dozen times a day since our one and only encounter. He was a 6 year old boy with an uneven smile and an awkward gait due to cerebral palsy. If I had not met him in person, I don't think I would have looked twice at his photograph or thought him as being special. He is not at that cute toddler age nor is he what you would call the most handsome of children. As a matter of fact, I think he was what Hollywood would call a "character face” and he reminds me of a very young Jerry Lewis. But there is something about him that shines and you cannot help but smile when you are with him. This is how we met.

At one particular orphanage, we asked to see the 25 children who the staff would like to attend a new LWB preschool. We were led upstairs to a room filled with active toddlers and young children happily playing and obviously excited to see strangers in their midst. They swarmed around us like bees to honey, curious as to what was in our pockets and lifting their arms for us to toss them around in fun. It was a little chaotic as we tried to match each child from our list and make sure that we had taken their photograph and asked the suitable questions. It didn't take long for one little boy who was dressed in a coat that was reminiscent of a leisure suit, to get the gist of our need to photograph the children and take the bull by the horns. One by one and he started pulling the kids here and there to get them to us in an orderly fashion. With his help, we found the correct child and lined them up against the plain wall and took their photo. It was fun to watch him urge the others to smile by saying “CHEESE” as soon as our camera was ready. We couldn't believe how quickly he had learned the ropes of photographing and recording the children. For the rest of the afternoon we referred to him as “The Assistant.”
My sister, who is an elementary school teacher with training in special needs, came with us on the trip and pitched in to help with the entry of data. She had her notebook to record the handful of new children and update our information. Once again, The Assistant was eager to help us with our record keeping. He was enthralled with the notebook. Noticing his curiosity, my sister took out a fresh piece of paper. Ever so carefully, The Assistant put his hand over hers and intently drew on the pad. Never mind the details that he does not know how to read or write. They drew smiley faces and peace signs with the same seriousness as if they were signing legal documents.
Soon, 4 more children arrived from their foster care parents to be photographed by our team. Not missing a beat, The Assistant ran over to them and helped them over the toddler gate and helped them with their hoods and straightened their clothes, ready to be photographed.
My sister told me that this boy is the type of kid whom teachers in the USA would cry when they graduated from their programs. He is a teacher’s dream.

Looking back at our photographs from that day, we all laughed at how almost everyone on our team had their photo taken with The Assistant.
My sister made sure that Linda knew that she would cover his education fees if the program moves forward. She vowed that she is going to have to sponsor The Assistant through college because with some help, he is going to make something of himself. And when he leaves the orphanage, she wants to buy him a bike. We all know how it is hard to leave when we make a connection. I don't know if it was a promise or a prayer, but as we left, she turned to him and said, “You just wait and see. I am going to dance and at your wedding” and she gave him a hug goodbye. You know, greater things than this happen every day…