Next on our trip was a visit with the children in our Zhang Village foster care program, which is located in Hefei. When we first began this program many years ago, it was for children with more intense medical conditions who needed to be monitored closely by our Anhui Healing Home staff. At first, it was located in a small village of Hefei called “Zhang Village,” and all of the children lived in one community. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you feel about it, that village was demolished last year to make way for new high rise apartments, something which of course is happening more and more in China. Now the children are located throughout the city. So while it technically should be called “Hefei Foster Care,” we are sticking with the original name for nostalgia’s sake.
Everywhere we went on this trip, we heard repeatedly that foster care for orphaned children will shrink in China as huge new orphanages are built to house the children instead. We are of course all hoping that this will not prove to be the case, since all research on foster care versus institutional care clearly shows that the former is preferable for a child’s developmental well-being. The foster families we visited on this trip are doing such an incredible job, and I wanted to highlight two kids as wonderful examples.
When Aiden first came into our hands, he was a very fragile baby with cleft lip. After spending time in our healing home in Anhui, he moved into foster care. Aiden not only lives in a lovely little village with lots of other kids to play with, but he has a foster grandma and grandpa who absolutely adore him.
His grandpa takes him to kindergarten every morning on a three-wheeled tricycle, rain or shine. He told us that when Aiden gets to school, he always clings to his grandpa’s pants legs, but after a few moments he can be convinced to stay for the day.
His grandpa always waits to make sure Aiden has settled in well before riding his tricycle home. I think if you ask anyone what they wish every orphaned child in the world could have, the first reply would be “love.” Aiden has it in buckets! When his foster grandpa was telling us about him, I believe he used every possible positive adjective available. He said emphatically that Aiden is “smart, handsome, kind, funny, and charming.” At one point he even said, “This child is more special to me than my own grandchildren.” Aiden is growing up feeling so secure and a part of a very special family unit, and that made all of our hearts very full.
Another child whose life has been transformed by foster care is little Chloe. Many of you have followed her story and understand just how many challenges this little girl has faced. Her foster mom deserves a gold medal for the patience and care she has bestowed upon this precious child. In just a few short months out of institutional care, we have watched Chloe transform. We had brought her a baby doll as a present, and Chloe was absolutely fascinated with the doll. We showed her how her eyes could open and close, and then the first thing Chloe did was kiss her baby. She also showed us how to properly feed her, which was a beautiful thing considering Chloe has struggled in a huge way with feeding issues herself.
She was so polite to us as visitors, running to get little stools for us to sit on. At one point I played a song on my phone, and she showed us how she can dance. When we were talking with her foster mom, we noticed that Chloe was sitting on the stool softly singing to her doll. While Chloe doesn’t speak herself right now, she understands everything and was making up her own lullaby for her baby. When it was time for us to go, she very clearly said “bye bye” to us and blew us kisses. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the van as the enormity of the progress she has made in a family setting sank in.
I love quality foster care. The kids in this program are thriving, and I send my deepest thanks to everyone who sponsors a child and allows them to have their own mom and dad.
~Amy Eldridge, Chief Executive Officer