The next part of our recent trip to China was to Guizhou Province, which is home to several minority groups, including the Dong, Miao, and Yi. As we reported last year, the Dong people live primarily in eastern Guizhou and are renowned for their beautiful songs about both nature and love. Their songs are very important to their courtship rituals, which always involve music. In early relationships the young men and women sing traditional songs, but as the relationship deepens, they will begin singing spontaneously to each other. We were blessed to be able to listen to several traditional Dong songs on our first evening in Guizhou.
The next morning we visited the new Qiandongnan orphanage facility, which opened earlier this year. This is truly a massive facility, with space to someday hold over 1,000 children. The kids were having a wonderful lunch of hot noodles when we arrived, but were immediately distracted by our bags of goodies we had brought. The majority of children currently living in the orphanage facility have more moderate to severe special needs, and the orphanage is wanting to set up a PT room to provide much needed therapy to them.
Following the orphanage visit, we began our visits to the foster families. Life in rural China can be extremely hard, as many of the families whose lives have been spent farming live in small homes which have no heat or running water. Most homes have a small coal stove in the center of the room, and that is the only source of heat. Children here are bundled in many layers of clothing and coats in order to keep them warm, and one of our China team members joked that in the countryside it was tradition to put the baby bundled in the crib at the end of autumn and then when you take her out in the spring – she can walk! It was a very cold and rainy day in Kaili when we visited, and I understand that keeping the babies bundled in the cribs all day is often a necessity. I have to admit to coming back to my home in Oklahoma and just standing by the thermostat to my central heater thinking how very much we often take for granted in our lives. One of the men who traveled with us was raised in Guangxi Province, and he told me about how all the kids in his town would collect coal scraps and coal dust to make the heater briquettes for the stoves, and how they would be absolutely black at the end of the day.
Most of the foster families in our program are from the Miao ethnic minority group. The women are very tiny – many not reaching five feet, and both men and women use embroidered baby carriers to hold the babies. What I love about this foster care program is the complete sense of community in the village where the orphaned children are placed. At each home we visited, multiple families would crowd in to see what we were doing, and all of the adults in the room could easily tell us anything we needed to know about a child. The kids who could walk ran door to door and were warmly welcomed at any home. As we have discussed in the past, children born with special needs are often not accepted easily in Chinese society, and it was a wonderful thing to see that all of the children in our care are completely loved and accepted by this community. The foster moms asked us many questions about their children’s special needs, as they wanted to make sure their kids were getting the best care possible. Even though the conditions are very poor in the homes, the love is IMMENSE, and all of the children were doing so well.
Little Tilda was very happy to see us. When we first arrived, she was safely bundled under a quilt in her home, but she quickly climbed out when she saw we came bearing gifts. We are so happy that she will be adopted very soon!
Linda is a little girl in our care who was diagnosed as being deaf and mute. However, her foster mom told us that she has begun saying a few single words, and so we are very hopeful that means she has some hearing ability. She loved our bag of princess clothes that some really kind people had donated for us to bring, and she chose a pink purse and Cinderella wand for herself. Of course, later on we saw her trying to whack another child with the wand when he got too close to her purse, so I was wondering if the idea of a princess wand translated well to the local culture — or if the foster mom was wondering why I had armed her daughter with a jeweled weapon from the US. : -)
Emma is one of the babies we are hoping to send on our upcoming cleft surgery trip in April to Kaifeng. The weight requirement for a baby is five kg – and her foster mom is doing such an incredible job with her that she is now weighing in at seven kilograms. We think she obviously qualifies as ready for surgery! Emma was so interactive and alert, and she is obviously very well loved in this community.
I just cannot say enough wonderful things about the care of the children in foster care here. I think it is very obvious that both the orphanage staff and local officials all believe that every child should have the chance to experience life in a family. As I watched the children run up to their foster parents for comforting and as I saw the easy, natural love that they received from the adults throughout the village, I gave thanks that these children were given the opportunity to be raised outside of an orphanage’s walls. We are so grateful to everyone who supports foster care. I know that the transition to an adoptive family might be very hard in the beginning, because the children are so bonded to their foster parents. But I also know that because these children have experienced such LOVE – they will be best equipped to develop deep and lasting bonds with their new families.
~Amy Eldridge, Executive Director