And so it begins. My regular visits to the orphanage this summer began on Tuesday, with my first full day there. We (myself, my friend Liz, CRDF staff Jerry, and our driver Master Yang) left Chengdu at the crack of dawn to drive an hour away to a small rural town where HS's partnering orphanage is located. We arrived around 9am, and ventured in.
One of my favorite moments of the day happened right away at the beginning. I led our little troupe in to the room where most of the kids were hanging out, and immediately one of the older girl's face lit up at me. Take my word for it, she is BEAUTIFUL when she smiles. She was happy to see me. She remembered me. What a wonderful feeling.
After a little while, I turned my attention to Charlotte (click on above right picture to see Charlotte sitting next to me). Some of you may have heard her story: she has little to no control over her bladder and bowel movements, so she spends the majority of each day sitting on a bucket with her pants at her ankles, watching the other kids play. Her otherwise perfectly working legs do not get the exercise and movement she needs to grow and move like a healthy little girl, so they are now stiff and weak. I took her by the hands and led her around the hallways and play room just for the sake of movement. Then we sat together in normal chairs, very close to each other, and I held her hand and rubbed her back for a while.
We spent an hour and a half with the kids in the playroom, doing activities like coloring, playing with a big inflatable beach ball, eating Lychee fruit, and making balloon animals.
We returned to the orphanage at 1:30, thinking that in the past that was when they let us back in. Apparently, however, the schedule is different in the summer during the hot months. We waited until 3:00pm to get back in, and then were only able to stay until 4:00. It was definitely disappointing to have so little time in the afternoon, knowing that we came all that way.
Nevertheless, we filled that last hour with lots of fun. One word: FACEPAINT. Always a hit with these kiddos. Liz and I painted hand after hand with butterflies and flowers and dragons and ying yangs. It got a little crazy when they found my extra brushes and decided to do some of their own (note to self: don't bring extra brushes next time). Once again, they were eager to bring us clean water every five minutes, and often washed their pictures off their hands only to come back for more. Even some of the nannies were interested in getting bracelets painted on their wrists.
We ended the afternoon at 4:00, but not before the kids asked when we were coming back. Finally, for the first time, I was able to tell them: "on Friday!" I'm not going to pretend that spending an entire day in that facility is easy or grand by any means--it is hard. But it is worth it. To bring any thread of hope to those kids is what I strive for, so I will visit them as often as I can. And for now, that means twice a week. For the whole summer. HALLELUJAH.
Of course, the moment passed and the frenzy began. With fifteen kids all huddled around Liz and Jerry and me, we tried (and probably failed) to give them all the attention and touch and hugs they needed in that moment. I broke out the coloring books and markers, hoping that I brought enough for everyone this time... Success--fighting and arguments over coloring books averted. Well, mostly.
Once most of them were set up with coloring, I was able to hone in on a few of them more individually. I started with Ella (below), one of the children I have known the longest. Ella has down syndrome, and all she cares about is being held and touched. I scooped her up and sat her on my lap facing me. We played and laughed and hugged, as I did my best to dodge her grabby hands going for my hair. Hard to blame her, it's a great handle for pulling herself closer to me.
At 11, we ventured into the baby room. Much to my surprise they were all new babies that I had never met before! There was no Zoe, no Elliot, no Riley, no Opal. I wasn't able to ask, but chances are these children either got adopted or transferred to a different orphanage in another city for reasons unknown (I still have a lot of questions about how guardianship works for all these little kiddos, but I hope that they went to places and people that love them dearly!). So right now, there are six babies in the baby room, some typically developing and some with physical disabilities. We held as many as we could, and I got to feed one of them his morning bottle. Most often, these little ones are given a bottle in their crib, just propped up on blankets next to them so they can feed themselves. That's about as far as you can get from breastfeeding (a big component to a child's development of attachment to his mother and later on people in general). I'm hoping to be able to get in on bottle feeding the babies pretty often this summer.
At 11:45 we left to go eat lunch--the orphanage gates close during the kids' lunch and nap times. The four of us went to eat lunch at "Farmhouse Restaurant" just a few streets away. This is always an interesting experience, eating whatever our Chinese friends order for us. This time we had tofu, spicy chicken and potatoes and beans, bean jelly, and a purple veggie dish. Turned out to be pretty good.
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.