Having adopted two little girls from China, I was very aware of Love Without Boundaries and the special programs that it provides in China. The day I walked through my oldest daughter’s orphanage in March of 2002, I knew that I would return one day and “give back” to the kids left behind. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do, but I knew I would return. Once you walk through an orphanage, it changes your perspective on life….at least it did for me.
Fast forward to the Fall of 2010. I saw a post on Facebook from Amy Eldridge asking for volunteers for a “Teacher Training” trip. I was interested in gaining more information and emailed Amy. I was chosen to be part of the “team” and was thrilled. As nervous as I was to be traveling all the way to China with three “strangers,” the months that followed were filled with excitement and anticipation. We had frequent conference calls, telephone calls, and email conversations to decide on our agenda and responsibilities. As the months progressed, those three “strangers” began to be less “strange.” We began to develop the goals and plans for the training, and each of us had the opportunity to teach mini-workshops tailored to the needs of the students in the Believe In Me schools. Under the direction of Amy (who I am convinced does not require sleep to function) and Kate Dlugozima, the former director of education, we collaboratively formulated the plans for the week.
Each of us had our specific discipline and “specialty” to offer. My background is in special education, so I focused most on adapting “circle time” activities, incorporating sensory activities into daily lessons, addressing challenging behaviors in the classroom, and developing visual schedules. We had an amazing speech language pathologist who was able to teach about speech development, oral motor activities, picture boards, and so much more.
Each day the teachers and students were led by our amazing art instructor who was able to provide open-ended art experiences with various materials. Our fourth team member offered the teachers basic information about different disabilities, dispelling the myths and stigma associated with some of the diagnoses that the children in our school may have. She impressed upon them that EVERY child has potential to do amazing things if given the support to do it. How true is that!
As early as the first afternoon we were there, I was struck by how very dedicated each of the Believe In Me teachers were. They truly cared for the students in their care, and one could tell by observing their interactions with the children as well as their concern to “do better” and to “do more.” Time after time I was amazed by an incredible job they were already doing.
The kids, oh my, the kids. One just as amazing as the next. Little bitty babies navigating the classrooms with bodies working against them but determined to get to their destination. Children bundled up in layers still running around, exploring and happily participating in all of the activities we planned for them. They were soaking up all of the activities and just wanted more. More knowledge, more information, more stimulation, and more love.
As the week progressed, we were flexible and modified the agenda as needed. (I never imagined making play-doh in a wok, but we did it!) We were able to adapt what we already planned to really meet the needs of the teachers and students. That is what special education is all about. Planning lessons and changing gears when things need to change direction.
As we said good bye to the teachers and staff, there were many tears. It touched me how very appreciative the teachers were for our training and the information that we shared with them. I knew my life was changed, and I would be back. Little did I know how MUCH my life was about to change.
In December 2011, just nine months after the teacher training was held, I was on a plane headed back to Fujian province. This trip was to bring home a little girl that I met on that trip. That little girl is now my daughter, and she is amazing, smart, beautiful, and meant to be a part of our family. Every single night when I tuck her into bed, I thank God…..and Love Without Boundaries for bringing us together.
On February 19, 2011 I boarded a plane for China with three strangers. Over the course of seven days, my life was transformed in more ways than I could have ever imagined. On February 26th, four friends landed at JFK airport in the United States, each one of our lives impacted in ways than we could not articulate. But we understood. We didn’t need the words. Each of us hope and pray that we were able to teach those incredible teachers and students from the LWB Believe in Me School just a fraction of what they taught us. My life (and my family) will never be the same.
If given the opportunity to work with Love Without Boundaries, I would shout loudly, “DO IT! You will never regret it.” Whether you are a sponsor or a volunteer, there are so many opportunities to get involved and make a difference. What is your gift? What is your passion? Join the LWB team. It will be one of the most fulfilling areas of your life. Trust me… I know.
~Michele Mugavero, LWB Training Coordinator
If you are a special education teacher, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or speech pathologist and have an interest in joining this year’s Teacher Training (July 16-20 in Huainan, Anhui, China), please click here to complete the application; the deadline to submit the application is March 15. We also hope that some of you will consider making a donation to offset the cost of this special education teacher training. Thank you for supporting this life-changing venture!