Journey to Guizhou – Day Three (Tongren)
Guizhou gets more rainfall than any other province in China, and travel throughout the mountainous regions can be a real adventure, with winding dirt roads and rockslides. I want to give a public shout out of thanks to our most excellent van driver who got us to all of our destinations safely. Tongren is a mountainous city in the northeast part of the province, with absolutely beautiful scenic spots such as the Nine Dragon Cave and Jinjiang River.
We got to Tongren very late at night, and yet the orphanage staff and Civil Affairs were waiting at the city entrance for us when we arrived. Once again, the hospitality we were shown was humbling. After sharing a late night meal together, we agreed to meet bright and early in the morning to visit the orphanage and all the children LWB Spain sponsors for foster care here.
Our first stop was the new Tongren orphanage, which was such a nice facility. Tongren has several larger rooms in this orphanage and they are trying “on site” foster care in the main building. We met one of the moms and her two little girls, and that was just a priceless moment. We had pulled out bubbles, and the younger little girl had never seen anything like that before. When I blew out a stream of dozens of bubbles, she literally SCREAMED with delight and I will never forget the look of absolute wonder in her eyes.
We then walked over to the old orphanage, as the babies have not yet moved to the new facility. I could write long paragraphs on how amazing the care was – but I will just sum it up to say that this orphanage is doing everything RIGHT. The first two babies we saw when we walked into the orphanage were two babies with cleft, and oh my goodness – they were moose babies! The babies are all HAND FED (hooray!!!!) and their skin was gorgeous. The kids were happy and interactive, and that was a true testament to receiving loving care from the staff here.
I have to admit to not being able to see all the babies in this orphanage as I immediately made a new friend (a sweet little boy who loved my balloon pump), and he kept me busy pretty much the whole time making him swords and other items. Each time the director would try to speak to me and get me into another room, this little boy would simply come up, grab my hand, and lead me right back to my backpack. I loved him!
One of the new arrivals to the orphanage was a gorgeous baby girl who had been found in the mountains, and so she had frostbite on her ears. She got lots of cuddling from our team member Maire, and we would love to see her added to our foster care.
I credit so much of Tongren’s success to its orphanage director. Director Liu was a doctor for 20 years and head of his hospital department, before deciding to switch to orphan care. He told me again and again that foster care is the best way to take care of babies, and he wishes that all their babies could be in foster families. I was amazed to learn that this city has a WAITING LIST of families wanting to foster, as in some cities we have really struggled to find families willing to open their homes to babies with visual special needs. I really hope this is a program we can expand, as we then went to visit the foster families – and the job they are doing is outstanding.
If you would ask me now which foster family I loved the best, I couldn’t tell you as I loved ALL of them. The apartments were clean, the foster moms so kind, and each baby was chubbier than the next. I think they were probably having a contest on double chins. : -) A few of the babies were so heavy to hold that we had to take turns passing them around, and we laughed with their foster moms about how strong their biceps must be!
All of the kids we met were interactive, happy, and laughing. One of the little girls in our program is blind, and one of the best moments was when we went outside and her foster mom opened her arms and called her and she literally went RUNNING into her foster mom’s arms. I was told how much the local community has accepted these children, and it was just so obvious. How blessed any adoptive family will be to adopt from this city, as their children will have been so loved.
The last home we visited for the day was of a little boy named Patxi. You might remember him from past photos as he always has a Ben Hogan style plaid golf hat on. When we knocked on his door, he welcomed us with his foster mom and baby sister and offered us slippers.
He then carried around a plate of apples and insisted we each take one. He showed me his room where he sleeps, and I was so happy to be able to take pictures for his adoptive parents to be. He was yet another little boy who loved balloon swords, and he and Maire had good old fashioned sword fight before we had to leave.
The orphanage staff really wanted to take us to the local caves, which are the biggest in Guizhou, but we had run out of time visiting the families (which we assured them was the most fun we could have in Tongren). And we had such a treat in the afternoon anyway, when I asked how many older kids they had and whether or not any of the older orphaned children had stayed in Tongren. They immediately began telling me about a 25 year old young man who was disabled, who was such a great artist that he had been selected to study in Beijing for two years. He now lives back in Tongren and owns his own art shop. Well, of course we said, “Art Auction!” and they made a quick phone call and told us we could visit his shop. What an honor it was to meet this remarkable young man! His specialties are watercolor peonies and calligraphy, so we purchased two pieces and then he made a gift of a third. He was just so kind, and he told us he wanted us to have the artwork to give back for all he had been given in his life by the Tongren SWI. We were especially moved when we learned that he gives art lessons to support himself financially as well, but if a family has a child with special needs, he will give FREE art lessons to that child. How great is that? Again, this young man is a testament to being raised by kind and caring people.
When we asked the orphanage what they wanted the most, the director didn’t hesitate for a second. He immediately said, “a playground for the kids.” As we traveled around the city, I didn’t see any parks that had playground equipment at all, so I know a playground could be used by both the orphanage and local community. The kids in foster care have to come in weekly for check ups at the orphanage, so Director Liu said they could then play on the equipment with their foster moms and dads.
After a lovely dinner, it was time to head to the airport. The orphanage staff insisted on staying with us until the last possible minute. They saw us through check in and stood waving until we went through security and turned the corner.
I am so happy we had this special day in Tongren, as it made all of us there that day remember why we do what we do. After meeting so many children who were thriving and happy in foster care, we all said that the word HOPE was foremost in our minds.
I am just so grateful to all of the wonderful volunteers in Spain who completely run this program and who have found committed donors to place these great kids in foster care. What a lasting gift of love these children are receiving, and how wonderful to visit a community where orphaned children are so encouraged and supported.
Amy Eldridge, Executive Director