A Visit to Shantou Is Like Coming Home
Returning to the Shantou orphanage is always like coming home to me. I have been visiting this orphanage for over nine years, and two of my children spent the beginning of their lives in this facility. This trip was especially poignant to me as the word “changes” kept swirling through my head. There are so many changes in China each year, both wonderful and somber, and my heart felt split in two as it soared with joy at moments but then also crumbled at the increasingly complex needs. Everyone with a heart for the orphaned has to face the reality that almost every child abandoned now has a medical need, and so the issues the nannies face are often immense. The days of orphanages being filled with healthy baby girls due to the one child policy are over, and yet that myth is still perpetuated in news articles and blogs.
In the past, when I would visit here, so many of the older children in our school program would rush out to greet me with giggles and smiles – children whom we knew would bless any family but whom at the time many officials felt had too complicated of special needs for adoption. Medical needs such as blindness or mutism or cerebral palsy, but the children were so amazing and full of life and desire for a family that we worked together to make sure every child possible had adoption paperwork filed. And they are all home now with families. My first thought honestly when we visited the school was how much I missed seeing them…..until it hit me of course that they are ADOPTED and cherished and exactly where they were meant to be, with parents who love them. A palpable change…..but a wonderful one.
Many of the remaining kids in our school program I have watched become teens, ineligible in the past for adoption because of mental delays or autism. They greeted us with huge smiles, and wanted to perform a dance for us that brought tears to my eyes. I met a new little boy with Down Syndrome who solemnly bowed to me and then took me by the hand to show me his artwork. The first words out of his mouth to me were, “I want a mom and dad.” I am so happy that the government is now allowing the adoption of children with Down’s, and I hope someone someday will see his file and just know they are supposed to bring him home.
The Shantou orphanage has always been progressive in wanting to try programs for the kids in their care to help them develop in the best way possible, and we spent time in their infant development room, where local university students and nannies encourage the children to crawl and walk on schedule. We also spent time in their PT room, where nannies spend each day working with the children found with cerebral palsy and muscle weakness to hopefully get them to a point where they can find a home. With 99% of the babies now having medical needs, however…..it is easy for orphanage staff to become overwhelmed. That was the theme of this trip to China in 2012 – orphanages asking again and again for advice, equipment, and therapy support for the growing number of children entering their care with special needs. Every orphanage director and Civil Affairs official I met brought up the same concern: that orphanage populations in China have changed COMPLETELY since 2000. And the children’s needs are often very complex.
That evening in Shantou, we took the older girls who had aged out of the possibility of adoption to a restaurant, and we had many precious hours to catch up. Many of you will remember Hong, the first child from an orphanage in Guangdong to graduate from college. She is now working as an accountant in a government office and has her own apartment. Li Ying – the beautiful young girl with vitiligo who had been told her whole life that because of her skin condition she could never be a teacher like she dreamed, and who has now graduated from teacher college thanks to your support. Wei Xuan and Dan Feng – both in college now while still living at the orphanage – and who promised me that they would study hard. And Cui, who came to the orphanage as an 8-year-old girl from another province, sick with abdominal issues but who refused medical treatment by us until we could assure her that “all the babies were taken care of first.” Her loving heart is so evident, and I am thankful that LWB can now support her in nursing school. I heard from the nannies that anytime a child has to have a shot in the orphanage, they all want Cui to give it because she is just so gentle.
As I left Shantou, I did so with the thought that all of life is a series of changes. To be truly effective in China, we must continually look at our current programs and how they support the ever-changing population of children. Our goal with LWB has never changed, however – to bring as much hope and healing as possible to those who live as orphans. But I think it is imperative for those committed to their care to recognize that the needs of the children are becoming increasingly complex.
~ Amy Eldridge, Executive Director