Thanks for contributing, Claire!
This post was written by a guest writer, Claire Hamilton.
Thanks for contributing, Claire!
Although prior to my internship I was unfamiliar with the Chinese sociological concept of ‘face’, it is highly important in how society functions. ‘Face’ is considered of fundamental value in all aspects of Chinese society. From my understanding during my short time in China, ‘face’ can be described as a person’s reputation and feelings of prestige within spheres such as the work place, family, friends and society generally. Face is more than just enhancing your ego as we may think of in the West and is closer to the concept of honour. Perhaps in the West our reputation is considered individualistic, Chinese face is more relational, focused on how a person and all his family and community is viewed by others; it can be earned and equally can be taken away. These ideas are thought to be related to the teachings of Confucius who taught, “with excellence and put them in their place through roles and ritual practices, in addition to developing a sense of shame, they will order themselves harmoniously.”
This concept may seem far-flung from the difficult realities found in everyday life for the children of the Chinese orphanage. However, taken to its extreme this concept of Face influences the attitudes towards the children of the orphanage. Despite Chinese law declaring various rights for disabled children CNN reports that, “Today, almost all of China's orphans have disabilities.” Often their parents feel unable to keep their children at birth as they are considered to have ‘defects’ or they do not match up to the high standards which society unknowingly perpetrates. Furthermore, Chinese cities have a poor infrastructure and are not equipped to support those in society with disabilities. The law says that children with special needs are entitled to proper schooling, but there are no provisions for funding. Without financial aid and community support it is unsurprising that young parents often from lower socio-economic backgrounds do not feel capable of keeping these children.
Hope Station realises it’s of fundamental importance to go further than the concept of ‘face’. Rather than concern over their reputation or a place in society, Hope Station exists to serve and provide lasting solutions for the children they support. Despite often difficult cultural attitudes, the goal is not to work against the efforts of the caregivers or community, rather it is to partner with and support them. Through this unity Hope Station aims to provide permanent solutions for vulnerable children by supporting childcare centres, advocating for adoption and raising community awareness. Through supporting Hope Station and spreading the word about this work, we hope that these children can take their place in society realised as unique, highly valuable individuals. I would love to see the importance of relationship in Chinese society work for and benefit these children; with their value and diversity being important to the community around them. The nannies care for their children but can only do so much. They deserve to be loved as the highly treasured individuals that they are. Please stand with Hope Station in seeing this vision come to life. Join us in praying for, supporting and encouraging the wonderful children of Hope Station.
This post was written by a guest writer, Claire Hamilton.
Thanks for contributing, Claire!
Having never visited an orphanage before, it was a privilege for me to join in with Hope Station to visit for the first time. I’m from a Northern Irish background and currently interning in Chengdu for two months with the Chinese Relief and Development Foundation. This experience was brand new as I don’t hold any prior knowledge of the orphanage system in China. This blog post serves to describe a few of my first reflections on encountering the wonderful children of the local orphanage…
Perhaps it’s a cliché, but including myself, many of us grow up hugely taking for granted what it means to be constantly cuddled and adored, by loving, caring parents. Although across the world, there are many who do not enjoy such a privilege, prior to my visit to the orphanage, I had not dwelt on the difficult reality and consequences of this. Parents across the world love sacrificially and fight for the wants and needs of their children every single day. Cliché or not, loving parents do one hundred times more things than just providing Christmas presents, they go above and beyond serving their children in ways we don’t often remember or even realize. Every child needs individual love and attention to become who they were created to be, with Hope Station aiming to see this realized for orphans across China.
“Hope Station strongly believes that each child deserves to have a loving, forever family of their own. Forever parents are the ultimate champion for a child, cherishing them and fighting for them no matter what life may bring. Unfortunately, many children live without parents for a very long time if not forever. These children are just as deserving of having an adult to champion them.”  Sadly, as is immediately evident even from my first visit to the orphanage, the severe understaffing leaves the children’s physical, mental and emotional individual needs neglected. Despite having caring nannies, they cannot physically attend to each individual child’s requirements as is necessary. The wonderful children lack parents to give each of them their varied basic physical needs, let alone the individual love and attention they need to thrive. This severe understaffing means that day to day, one Nanny watches a room of ten kids, for twenty-four hours a day. Even the possibility of attempting to attend to ten children at once is crazy! Despite their hard work and love for the children, with such limits on staff it is not physically possible for them to provide for the requirements of each child. Furthermore, this means these little kiddos don’t experience the wonders of life out of the four walls of the orphanage, or maybe even their rooms. The need for each of these individuals to be loved individually and unconditionally is immediately evident.
On meeting the children of the orphanage for the first time, the many wonderful sides of each child’s character are clear. These wonder-humans are each so precious and unique with their own individual personalities, intricately designed. From Ava who loves to cuddle, giggle and practice walking despite her cerebral palsy condition, to little serious Finn who looks intently at everyone around him, occasionally cracking a big smile.
These children deserve a million times more in life than just to survive, they were made to thrive. At Hope Station our vision is to see every child have a champion in their life who is uniquely equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to guide the child through healthy growth and development. With already experiencing so much adversity, these precious little ones need us to stand with them and support them. Join Hope Station in supporting them as family does… praying for them, providing for them and standing with them.
HOPE STATION believes every child who is orphaned deserves a champion in their life who is motivated by love and equipped to care so they can fully thrive.
These nannies are champions to these kids. And this video gets me every time. These nannies are usually running around changing diapers (for all ages), feeding hungry mouths, cleaning up messes, or sitting exhausted on the staircase. Just imagine spending 6 days a week, 24 hours a day, caring for 10 children with special needs on your own... All the mamas and babas (that's Chinese for daddy) and aunties and older brothers and babysitters and grandmas and grandpas out there can attest that to do that successfully is impossible. Many of the nannies have worked in this orphanage for over 15 years. That's over 112,320 hours of hard physical and emotional work...
Here is a rare moment of the nannies taking a much needed breather, and a sweet interaction of love with their kiddos. These nannies deserve all the respect we can give them. And they need help. HOPE STATION is in the midst of looking ahead to the next few years and developing new initiatives to support orphans and raise up champions around them. You can be sure that it's gonna include new programs for training and support of the women who do the impossible for the kids who need it the most.
Miles has a very special place in my heart. As a previous behavioral therapist for kids with autism, I get super pumped up whenever I meet another mountain-mover-kiddo with autism. I can spot them from a mile (or kilometer, if you will) away, and I have to restrain myself from running over and engaging with them on the spot. Each child with autism is so uniquely created. For those unfamiliar, let me just dispel the myth that every child with autism is also a savant, but it is true that the way each child thinks, acts, struggles, and loves is one-of-a-kind. Huge proof of the creativity of God, am I right?!
So like I said, Miles has a special place in my heart. He has grown up in the orphanage since a very young age, before Hope Station was ever on the scene. His entire life consists of one playroom where he eats, goes to the bathroom, and passes the time. At night he goes across the hall to sleep, and the next day he does it all over again. No outings, no break in routine, no activities to spark his interest.
If left to himself, Miles is pretty calm and quiet. He stands in the corner, flipping a piece of paper back and forth in front of his eyes, enjoying the visual stimulation it gives his brain. He makes sounds to himself, who knows if he is speaking in his own language or if he simply likes having the sound echo inside his head. When left to himself, this is what Miles is like.
But let me tell you what I see in Miles. I see a kid who loves to laugh. I see a kid who takes every chance he can get for hugs and squeezes and physical contact from adults. I see a kid who soaks up every possible ray of sunshine from the window and longs for a chance to feel it on his skin. I see a kid who has such a capacity to learn if only someone would take the time to talk and interact with him. I see a kid who listens intently to anyone who sings or plays an instrument. I see a kid who wants to explore and experience the outside world and all the real-life knowledge it has to offer.
There are so many other children like Miles in the orphanage. Stuck in their own little bubble of a world with no way out. Kids like Miles will most likely never be adopted, never have a champion who loves them as their own, never know the love of a family. And these are the kinds of kids that Hope Station champions. Whether it’s with hugs and squeezes, adoption advocacy, or training his nannies how to love and care for him well, we want to champion Miles. And Charlotte. And Asher. And Ezra... one kid at a time.
It’s about time we officially introduce you to all the new tiny faces that arrived this year… Meet Finn, Grayson, Lincoln, Ellis, and Lydia. Four tiny bundles of cuteness with so much life ahead of them. Each unique in their own ways, and yet somehow all stuck in the same place. Here are their stories…
FINN came to the orphanage during Chinese New Year, at just a few months old. He was so tiny and so serious all the time. I couldn’t get a smile out of him for anything. Bundled up in a puffy coat, that little, serious face peeking out gripped my heart every time I looked at him. We got lots of snuggles and cuddle time in the early months of his time at the orphanage. At 10 months old now, he has started standing with help and pushing himself around in a little wheely chair. Inside his little body, Finn is battling a blood disease called Syphilis. He, together with Grayson (see below), has regular check-ups at the local hospital to help him manage this disease. It’s not curable, but it is manageable. It’s likely that Finn could be adopted by a local family soon, so we hope and pray for that process to start soon.
GRAYSON. This little chubbster is stealing hearts left and right! A favorite of the nannies and other children, Grayson has been affectionately nicknamed “Little Chubby” since day one. And unlike his buddy Finn, he has smiles for everyone. A little touch, a look in his direction, anything works to get him giggling. Little would you know that Grayson’s body is fighting a daily battle against a blood disease called Syphilis. He and Finn together make regular visits to the hospital to get what they need to manage this disease. He may also have an issue with his hearing, but he hasn’t been able to get checked by a specialist yet. We are working with the orphanage to get him into the best hospital for this check. The best news is, Grayson has already been matched with a family for adoption! We haven’t learned anything about his family yet, but we hope and pray for smooth and swift processes.
Sweet faced LYDIA is the only baby girl at the orphanage, and by far the most beautiful. She, same as Lincoln, is a brave heart warrior. In fact, she has been in Beijing for over a month for heart surgery and rehabilitation. She just returned to this orphanage and is still regaining her strength. Lydia is still too little to be available for adoption (according to common practice in China), but we have already begun praying for her future forever family.
These little people are precious and have already seen so much trauma in their short lives. Now that you know them, you can join us in supporting them as family does… praying for them, supporting them, and cheering them on.
I go to the orphanage several times every week. Each time I go, I prepare myself to let go of my expectations for what will or will not happen. The orphanage is the kind of place that is always the same and yet somehow so unpredictable. I never know when I’ll discover a new child living there, or a new rule or routine, or a nanny who is uncharacteristically kind or grumpy that particular day. I have to go without expectations and take each day at a time.
For those of you who have followed my journey for a long time, you know the struggles that I have encountered with this orphanage: limited visiting hours, distrusting staff, governmental red tape, lack of cooperation, no openness to change, and so on. It takes supernatural (literally) perseverance to keep on keeping on in the face of such discouragement.
But then every once in a while, our kind Father gives me a glimpse into what He’s up to.
Last Wednesday was one of those days.
“It’s been exactly one year today since Josiah-now-Jay was adopted!”
“Wow, really? We’ve seen pictures of him, he looks so tall now and his skin is so much darker! Why do they let him play out in the sun so much?”
(It’s a common concern for Chinese parents and nannies to not want their children’s skin to be touched by the sun.)
“American families believe the sun is good for children.”
“Does he still speak Chinese?”
“No, he only speaks English now! Although he does remember how to say 我妈妈!”
(…Josiah’s name for his favorite nanny.)
My phone started ringing. It was Josiah-now-Jay himself video calling! I answered, and the young nannies nearly fell over when they saw him on the screen. Everyone started talking to each other at once, and it was a little chaotic. But the nannies were so pleased to see him doing well and growing up.
The two nannies and I talked for a couple hours as we played with babies, and pretty soon I was ready to start my therapy session with Hannah. They asked how it was going (that never happens) and asked if they could come and watch how I do it (I had to pick my jaw up off the floor). They came and watched me for twenty minutes, asking questions about all my supplies, making suggestions, watching me intently, and saying several times, “She can do that?!” Never before had any of the nannies shown interest or acceptance for my therapy methods. I could barely believe what was happening.
I stayed later than usual, well past visiting hours, because the gate guard never came to tell me I had to leave. To top off an already encouraging day, on my way out I was walking by the staff all eating lunch together. They pulled me over to their table and invited me to eat with them. We ate and chatted and laughed together… and all the while, I couldn’t escape the feeling that this moment was very significant. I walked away that day with renewed perseverance and purpose, thanking my Father for His kindness.
Max's story began before I knew him. From the moment he was born, his Down Syndrome defined him. He was likely abandoned because of it, even if he had loving and hopeful parents. The stigma of disabilities is high in China, and children with special needs are considered a burden rather than a blessing. Even with parents who love them, children with special needs are expensive, will likely never go to school, never get married, never be able to go in public alone. Max's life was a struggle from the start... taking on the rejection of his birth parents... being passed around from department to department and facility to facility before settling at the local orphanage... learning that crying wouldn't get him anything in a room full of other children who also needed to be changed and fed... figuring out the pecking order among a group of children who are all fending and fighting for themselves...
The Max I see today is funny and fun-loving. The first game he ever played with me was hide-and-seek... and it was his own idea. I still remember his sneaky grin peeking around the corner at me, daring me to come and chase him down. If there are bubbles, or balloons, or markers, or musical instruments in sight, he is all over it. Somehow, he even makes brushing his teeth look fun.
The Max I see today is smart and determined. For the first 10 years of his life, Max had never set foot in a school or read a single Chinese character. No one had ever given him the opportunity to go to school, likely because his verbal communication skills developed much slower than other children. But this kid blew my mind last year when I heard he begged his nanny to let him go to school with the other kids. They let him try it for a month, sure that he would change his mind once things got hard. Now months later, he's still going strong and learning so fast.
No more is Max defined by his disability. He has made a name and a place and a voice for himself that is beyond what we ever expected. Keep it up, little man. You're going to do amazingly great things in this world.
This is Hannah. She’s our little miracle. She may never understand how big of a role she plays in Hope Station’s story, but it will always be true.
Some of you may remember that in June of 2016, I (Rebekah) sat down with the orphanage Director and a colleague to talk about a new therapy program. She was surprisingly open to our ideas and asked lots of questions. My colleague and I felt good about where things ended, with her approval to let us try out our therapy program (victory!). But we still hadn’t signed any papers, and with all the past no’s we’d received, I was hesitant to get my hopes up. To my surprise, she followed us out of her office and downstairs to sit with the kids and continue chatting. As we sat there together with the children, she asked us a question I’ll never forget:
“This girl,” and she pointed to a child sitting near us, “She’s never been diagnosed, and we don’t know what to do with her. Can you help her?”
The story of fulfilled promises doesn’t end there...
I’ve been doing therapy with Hannah for 6 months now. We play a lot, explore a lot, run a lot, and eat a lot. I learned a lot about her lack of communication skills and daily living skills, her need to put everything in her mouth, and her love for all things plastic. She has a lot of needs, a lot more than what I and Hope Station alone can give her.
Can we just get real for a moment? I was thrilled that the director asked us to do therapy with a certain child, but I was not expecting Hannah to make very noticeable improvements. And when we started out spending time together, I kept telling myself that even if she doesn’t learn anything, I am still showing the orphanage that I want to hear and work within their suggestions and ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in therapy. I believe that play, and attention from a loving adult, and human interaction can work miracles in a child’s life. But Hannah’s needs were pretty intense and still mysterious.
A few months in, I started noticing little victories. She was more attentive to me in our sessions. She remembered where I kept her favorite things even if they were out of her sight. She started to learn our therapy routine and became more physically comfortable being around me. To my amazement, the nannies started noticing changes too. “Every time she sees you through the window, she starts smiling and running around the room.” “She is looking at me more these days!” “She is grabbing my arm and leading me to where she wants to go!” It was unbelievable music to my ears. Truly miraculous. I also started making connections between her behavior and potential diagnoses. I am not a medical professional who is qualified to diagnose special needs, but I have been able to make educated guesses that help me find solutions for her unique behaviors and needs.
Hannah has changed everything. And even more importantly, Hannah herself is growing and learning. Just as her name represents, she is a fulfilled promise from the great Promise Keeper.
If you read this post (Guanxi Moments Part 1: The Director), you’ll already know how important guanxi is in Chinese culture. “It often gets translated as relationship, or what I think is even closer, rapport (I know, you’re wondering if that’s even English)… In China, relationships are everything. ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’”
This is Episode Two.
And it’s a story that will forever be engraved on my heart.
Last fall, I had just returned to China after a summer in America. Throughout the summer, I’d been keeping in touch with Josiah-now-Jay and Maisy-now-Emma, who had both just joined their new forever families in America. It was always so special for me to hear from them and see how they were learning English, loving their siblings, and adapting to life in America. The photos and videos of their new lives were collecting in my phone… I had no idea how significant that would be when I returned to China.
“You miss him?” I asked.
“I really miss him. He was like a son to me. I will always miss him.”
“Do you want to send him a message in my phone? I can take a video of you…”
“Yes! I want to tell him how much I miss him.”
I then proceeded to record her video message for Josiah-now-Jay. I could barely keep from crying myself as she choked out her message to him between sobs and tears. She told him how much she misses him, how she wishes she could go and visit him someday. She told him how happy she is that he has a mom and siblings, a family to love him and take care of him. She told him to come back someday and visit her, his Chinese mama. She said she will remember him and love him forever. Never before had I seen such a show of affection and love between nanny and child. And it opened my eyes to a whole new dimension of the nannies’ hearts for the children they care for.
Here’s where Chinese guanxi comes in… That nanny used to be so cold towards me. She is used to volunteers who come, play with the babies, then leave her to deal with them as they cry when the volunteers say goodbye. The volunteers don’t come back. They are just another face in the revolving door of “good service” towards orphans. I understand how she could think that I am just another volunteer like that. But this changed everything. Now, I am the gateway between her and the child she loved like her own. Now she greets me with a smile when I come, and she asks me about Josiah-now-Jay every single time without fail. We are friends on WeChat (a Chinese messaging app), and our entire relationship has changed. Through my relationship with Josiah-now-Jay, I showed her that I am committed and dedicated to loving on the kids she loves. And for that, she’s let me in to her circle. I know now that if I ask her for help or a favor, she’ll be happy to oblige. Guanxi is a powerful thing.
Happy New Year! Here are a few of our favorite moments from 2016...
A huge highlight of 2016 was the relationships we built with the orphanage nannies. With each visit, they were increasingly warm and friendly towards us, and we finally were able to see the fruits of our regular visits and efforts to connect with them over the past years. Guanxi is a big deal in China (what is guanxi?) and we are so thankful to have come this far.
3 year old Ava (left) and 5 year old Leah (right) arrived at the orphanage and we have loved getting to know them both! Ava is a smiley and giggly little one who spends her days in the baby room at the orphanage, unable to walk or crawl due to cerebral palsy. Leah is attending Kindergarten and easily making friends with the other kiddos in the orphanage.
Ezra and Eli were both made available for adoption in 2016, and in the fall the announcement came that they could be adopted TOGETHER as brothers! We are excited to see if a family will come forward to adopt them together...
Here's to 2017 adoptions!
THANK YOU to all who supported, encouraged, donated, prayed, and thought of us in 2016. The Lord has been faithful to us and to the children we serve. And we are forever grateful.
A note from Rebekah...
If you've ever wondered what it would be like to start a nonprofit from the ground up, to open a home for ORPHANS with special needs in CHINA, you've come to the right place.