The Max I see today is kind and warm-hearted. When I first started visiting the orphanage, he was shy and timid. Rightly so, when he is first meeting strangers. Over time, he started to warm up to me and the others that came to visit, and now he runs to me with a ready hug. He has a soft heart for the other children as well. Let him within five feet of a baby and in seconds he'll be smiling and cooing at them, touching their cheeks so gently.
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.
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.