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.