Our first full day in China was spent in Qiandongnan, in the southeastern part of Guizhou province. This was my third visit to this mountainous region, and I always love coming here because the foster families in our program are just fantastic. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, Qiandongnan is a Miao and Dong minority prefecture.
One of the first kids we met was Cecilia, seen above, who was leaving for her adoption day just a few hours after we arrived. Cecilia’s foster mom had her all dressed up in a traditional Miao outfit for good luck. She told us that Cecilia was so excited to meet her forever family that she had packed and unpacked her bag several times trying to get it just right.
Most of the foster families in Kaili live in one particular village, and they love to meet in the afternoons outside a little shop so the kids can visit and play with each other. As you might know, it is pretty rare to see children in wheelchairs outside in China, and so it was wonderful to see Ryan out in the sunshine. Ryan is unable to walk independently, and we all loved watching how every foster family interacted with him. We gave him a toy stuffed dog, and I watched several grandpas come over during our visit to talk with him and make sure the dog was safely in his hands. I absolutely love the feeling of community that these children get to experience in foster care.
Baby Jana was charming us all with her smile, and she also had on her traditional Miao headdress. We have heard that she will soon be adopted, and we know her foster grandma is going to miss her greatly.
Joel had just recently come back from Kunming where he had his cleft lip repaired. We loved his new haircut, and it was quite obvious that his foster mom adores him. In fact, the orphanage director told us that while most families get four bags of formula each month, Joel’s mom always asks for eight. I think it is quite obvious that he is drinking all of them!
Tara is the beautiful little girl who was born with dwarfism that we met when she was just a baby. We had brought each little girl in this program their very own baby doll, and Tara was so excited to get hers. Guizhou women carry their babies in beautiful embroidered baby carriers, and Tara had insisted she needed one as well so she could carry her baby the proper Miao way.
I loved seeing little Robin again. This three year old has Apert Syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by the premature fusion of the skull bones. Children with this condition have fused fingers and toes as well. While we were there, we learned about a new baby boy they wanted us to take into foster care. When they brought him to see me, I immediately suspected that he also has Apert Syndrome, and so I rolled up his sleeve to see that he did indeed have the fused fingers as well.
Since Apert Syndrome is an inherited condition, and since this area is considered a true “small town” by China’s standards, I could only wonder if Robin and this new baby are biological brother and sister. The timing would be right if the birthparents had tried again to have a healthy child.
Baby Debbie watched us with wary but beautiful eyes. She has been battling a chronic infection for the last few months. Her foster mom has to take her to the hospital for IV treatment for 15 days out of each month. She is so devoted to this little girl that she said it was not a problem at all to spend half of each month in the hospital as long as it means Debbie will get well. Did I mention how much I love these foster moms?
In all, there are approximately 400 orphaned children in Qiandongnan prefecture. They have recently built a new city orphanage in Kaili, and so we visited there as well. As soon as I arrived, a tiny person came up and threw her arms around my waist for a huge hug. At first I thought it was a child, but when she pulled back I realized it was a woman about my age. Her name was Lucy, and her smile was like pure sunshine. She lives on the senior side of the social welfare institute, and I was so happy to learn that the children and seniors interact with each other all the time. We met a really kind Peace Corps volunteer while we were there as well, and he told us that the kids could use tutoring help, especially on how to use a computer. Like many orphanage children, when there isn’t a mom or dad to push them to study hard, it is very easy for the kids to fall far behind their peers who have families.
Currently, the plan is to have the older children who are school aged live in the city orphanage so that they can easily get to school, while the babies and toddlers will be based out of the Qiandongnan orphanage, which is more rural.
After our two orphanage visits, the officials invited us to visit the Kaili Sunday Market. Every Sunday, the Miao and Dong Minorities from the surrounding villages travel to Kaili in their ethnic costumes to set up stalls in the market. The Miao people still spin and dye their own clothing, and they insisted on dressing up my daughter in an ethnic outfit, which I learned cost a small fortune since everything from the cloth, embroidery and beading is handmade. The local price was 3,000 rmb for the handmade skirt and 1200 rmb for the shirt (about $700 USD for the outfit). We were told that it would be a lifelong investment, and you would wear your costume to every festival and celebration in the region.
As we wandered through the tiny alleys, there was such a beautiful assortment of costumes, jewelry, and local arts and crafts, including the hand embroidered baby carriers. Lots of local service people set up stalls as well, so we watched people getting haircuts on the sidewalk and even having their feet treated.
I was so happy to find the rare pipa fruit in the market, since it is only available in China for a few short weeks each April. Yes, we bought a big bag, and thoroughly enjoyed eating what I can only describe is a blend of something between a peach and a mango.
We then headed to a store to purchase some fun items for the older kids, like pingpong, badminton, hula hoops, and coloring books. After a really long but wonderful day, we headed to the hotel to catch a few hours sleep before our journey to Weng’An the next morning.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer
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