A Visit to Qiandongnan Foster Care
‘Pack light’. As I ascended the steep steps in my heeled boots to our first foster family home in Qiandongnan, I was beginning to regret my footwear decision. The concrete steps were of uneven height, and no sooner did we get to the top of one flight then there was a corner and another flight of similar steps ascending ever upwards.
It was with a sigh of relief that we walked along the front of a small apartment building and I was told that this was where the two families fostering Lewis, Chandler, Hanna and Clyde lived — in fact, all on the same floor. Knowing that we were almost there, the last flights of internal stairs in the building were a breeze. I just wanted to meet the children.
As we entered the tiled and spacious apartment we were greeted enthusiastically by Clyde. He was overjoyed to see that we were a party of five and that we had brought gifts. Following him were Hanna and Chandler, while Lewis watched what was happening from the arms of his foster mother. All were keen to play with the toys and had no qualms sharing with each other.
Touchingly, of his own accord, Clyde left his new toy and brought us each a cup of warm water. He was quite chatty and I was told that he speaks with the same accent and intonation as his foster mother.
Lewis was totally absorbed in his toy for the whole time, while Hanna and Chandler followed Cindy around, keen to score some candy.
Both have a sweet tooth, and Hanna was extremely quick in getting into the prime position to take not only her candy, but also Chandler’s out of Cindy’s hand.
Many flights of steps later, both up and down, and we were at the home of Liv and Warren.
Qiandongnan is not known for its abundance of sunny days, but wanting to protect Liv from the rays on those days, we gave her all the essentials including hat and sunglasses, and she modeled them in style.
Warren was less interested in what we brought him and more interested in the television, turning and moving his walker towards it when given half an opportunity.
Our next stop was at the home of Maizie and Preston. More narrow laneways of uneven steps and another apartment building. Ascending the narrow winding stairwell, I stopped on the landings not only to catch my breath but to take in the view across the city.
The clouds still hung low and rain looked probable, but I could see a tributary of the Qingshui river and mountains behind the buildings.
Like all the homes we visited, we were warmly welcomed and on the small dining table were deliciously sweet mandarins and sunflower seeds for snacking. Underneath the table was a heater, and a warm coverlet extending to the ground kept the heat in. With no heating in most places, these little tables are where families gather and keep warm, chatting and snacking and watching television.
Although a little overwhelmed by all the new faces, it was not long before both Maize and Preston were smiling. They delighted in being held high in the air and when placed in Cindy’s arms, Preston showed his joy by babbling and gurgling.
Their foster mother said that she could not go to bed before midnight when both would wake for one last bottle before sleeping through until 6:00 in the morning. I wondered at her stamina and that of the other foster mothers who had to climb up and down several flights of stairs and then many more in the narrow laneways just to get from Point A to Point B. At the end of January, soon after my visit, we received the wonderful news that Maize was adopted domestically.
Before moving to another area of town, we had one more visit, to little Kristin. When we arrived, the family were beginning to make the Chinese New Year sausages. We had seen these sausages being smoked, but this was the first time that we saw a family in the preparation stage.
Kristin had just gone down for a nap so our timing was not great. Only two days earlier, she had been discharged from hospital and was still not very well.
Our last visit was to the family of Timothy, Titus, Oskar, and Willow. They were waiting for us as they had a trip planned to a nearby playground that afternoon and needed to leave before it became too late.
As sponsors of these children know, the children are often out and about enjoying physical exercise whenever possible. Willow and Timothy loved the harmonicas we brought as gifts, and although Titus liked his musical instrument set, it was the harmonica that captured his imagination.
Willow kindly lent him hers and watched as Timothy and Titus marched around the room playing the harmonicas to their hearts’ content. Both boys loved having photos taken, especially selfies.
Willow has the kindest heart and snuggled her foster mother as she watched the boys have fun with their toys.
Oskar was engrossed in the magnatiles and showed his aptitude to create and communicate using sign.
Timothy, Willow, and Oskar are eligible for adoption and are waiting to be chosen. We have heard that Titus has just recently been chosen for adoption — how wonderful!
Before boarding our train to the capital Guiyang, we stopped at the orphanage, located very close to Kaili railway station, to meet with the director and to have lunch.
Two girls who call the orphanage home joined us. One of the girls had been on the second Life Skills camp and spoke highly of her experience and all that she had learned. She told us that she still maintains contact with some of the other participants from Lanzhou orphanage whom she met. Since that camp, she has gone on to study nursing and is transferring into a course to study to be a doctor with the support of the directors. She is very clear about her career pathway and wanting to help others. The other young girl is equally dedicated to her studies and is doing a phenomenal job to maintain her ranking of top three in her high school, despite deteriorating eyesight. It was clear that the children and their needs were a priority with the orphanage.’
We were delighted to meet with Robin. This sweet girl who was previously part of our foster care program now lives in the orphanage to ensure she receives an education, this being an impossibility in the part of the city where she had been fostered.
Robin conversed softly and shyly with Cindy and delighted in the small gifts I brought her from Australia.
And so we left Qiandongnan and Kaili, bound for Guiyang and Lanzhou the next day.
~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 Lanzhou foster care.