A Visit to Loudi Foster Care
Having farewelled the children, families, and staff in Xinzhou, our Foster Care Director Cindy and I were soon speeding towards Loudi, central Hunan, on another fast train. With a short stop in the capital Changsha, I had four hours to enjoy the changing winter landscape and blue skies outside my window, the latter a rarity in most Chinese cities.
Flat plains of fallow fields changed to mountains and tunnels as our train approached Changsha. As the city outskirts came into view, I recalled my much-loved book, Doctors East Doctors West, that sits on a bookshelf at home, and marveled at how much China has changed since its author Dr. Edward H. Hume opened the Yale-in-China Hospital in Changsha 101 years ago. I thought about the medical exchanges LWB has had over the years and the medical exchanges and sharing of knowledge that will happen in the future.
We could not have wished for a warmer welcome than what we received from our wonderful manager, Jane, her husband, and mother-in-law. They invited us into their home and prepared a delicious dinner, the hero being a chicken dish with the most flavorsome broth. Opening their home and sharing this special meal spoke volumes about their generosity and hearts, and it is an evening that shines in my memory. Despite the bitter cold, Jane and her husband walked us to our hotel downtown, and companionable conversation kept us warm. We looked forward to the next day when we would visit the children in our foster care program.
The morning was dull and overcast, but our meeting with our foster families was anything but that. Each visit was full of smiles and joy and laughter as the children delighted in the toys and the new faces that brought the toys.
Accompanied by several orphanage staff and Jane, our first stop was a kindergarten where three-year-old Samuel has just begun attending.
This was the first of two kindergartens we were to visit in the morning. Relatively new, I was surprised to find it on the third floor of a high-rise. Equally surprising, was to find an exercise gym running almost the length of the corridor for the children to use in group exercise periods.
Our timing was perfect, for Samuel’s class was just about to have their morning exercise on the equipment. As we walked into his room, he jumped up excitedly thinking his foster mother had come to pick him up early. When he realized this was not the case, he quickly returned to his friends and lined up to go outside to partake in his morning exercise.
I was surprised to note that the line of boys was twice as long as the girls’ line. As Samuel swung across the monkey bar, climbed through the hoops, and balanced on the swinging blocks, his teacher and the kindergarten director spoke positively about all the gains he had made in such a short period of time. These comments were reiterated by Jane and his foster mother, whom we went to see directly after.
Samuel, like nearly all our foster children, lives in a small, but impeccably kept apartment with his foster family. As we ascended the narrow stairwell, I saw coal brickets used for heating and cooking and large bags of rice.
Space is clearly at a premium. Outside, meats were hung to dry in preparation for Chinese New Year.
We got to meet Samuel’s new foster sibling, Gibson, a little boy full of curiosity still settling into his new surroundings.
Gibson carried the bag of snacks we brought and wanted to share his rice cracker with us. His caring nature was touching.
Our next visit was to the home of Brooks and Jack.
Brooks loved his new musical instruments, and it was evident that his recent physical therapy block had helped him considerably. Although mobility remains an issue, he is tuned into what is going on around him he has a smile that will lighten any room. (Brooks is eligible and waiting to be chosen for adoption).
Jack (seen above) watched all that was going on but kept his distance from the strangers that were taking up so much space in his home.
From the boys, it was but a short journey to the home of sweet Kayla and her foster sibling Alice, both of whom have Down Syndrome. Their foster mother dotes on both girls.
When we spoke to her she said that she had no interest in idle gossip and playing mahjong, as so many do when they retire. Rather, she gets immense joy from fostering and ensures that the girls have whatever they need, be it massage and exercises, new clothes or just attention.
Kayla was absorbed in her new xylophone and Alice, whom we accepted into the program after our visit, was very inquisitive about our visit and walked around making sure that she had a share of the spotlight.
Henry and Thane live in very close proximity to Kayla and Alice. In fact, their mothers are friends and a support to each other. Thane had a smile on his face almost the entire time we were there and enjoyed trying out all his musical instruments. It was pleasing to see that he was trying to walk, but, as the bump on his head testified, he is still not too stable on his pins.
Henry, like Thane, liked his musical instruments, but with little hand control, it is perhaps the bells that can be velcroed around his wrists that may be his instrument of choice. (Like Brooks, Henry is also waiting to be chosen for adoption).
Our last visit of the day was to another kindergarten, sandwiched in between apartment buildings.
With a large iron gate to prevent the children running out on to the road, the kindergarten had a long area that the children could use to run around and play; a small playground was tucked into the back. Here we were introduced to two more children who are now a part of our program. Meet five-year-old Jillian who has Apert syndrome (seen below).
Four-year-old Justin was also welcomed to our program. We caught him right before his nap.
It was wonderful to meet all the children and their families, but equally special to leave knowing that we could offer foster care placements to another five children: Gibson, Alice, Jillian, Justin, and Deirdre, and more in the next few months. These five children all need sponsors, so we invite you to spread the word.
This month, March, marks thirteen years since we began our Foster Care Program in Loudi, and we are proud of the support of so many children over these years and the sustained relationship with the Loudi orphanage.
~Kirsten Vizjak is LWB’s Director of Foster Care and volunteers from her home in Australia. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing Kirsten’s observations and photos from her recent trip to China. Next up will be her visit to Tongren foster care.