Celebration is in the air! Today is the Lantern Festival, the last day of Chinese New Year. As I sit here, fireworks are exploding across the city. Everyone is dressed up and we have seen families doing all sorts of things together to celebrate this day. They have been flying kites, wandering past the street vendors, and going out to eat. The streets have been filled with balloons, foods, and festivities. How fun it is to be in China today! The firework shows have been spectacular, with a show right below our hotel window.
There are many things to celebrate as we all reflect over the last two days that we have spent in Henan. What a wonderful experience that Lori, Nancy, Tracie and I have been able to share with the people in this province. We have been so warmly welcomed by orphanage and government officials. It has truly warmed my heart to see so many people who care about the beautiful children in their care.
Our visit started out yesterday with a meeting with the Zhengzhou SWI staff. When we arrived, we were brought into a room with the most beautiful toddlers.
These toddlers were seated in a bright room with balloons hanging from the ceiling and there was a feeling of such warmth. As we entered, they welcomed us with clapping and cheering. I was clapping and cheering inside as well, as I knew what a special opportunity we were offered with this invitation to visit this orphanage. We brought with us cakes and yogurt to celebrate the New Year. Each of us enjoyed our time with every one of these children. They loved the bubbles we brought. Not only did they like watching the bubbles, but they also loved blowing them. One little girl even tried to take the bottle away from Nancy to do it all by herself. One of the children that I played with was a beautiful little boy with albinism. I learned that this child has a family waiting for him in Holland. How lucky his family will be! This child is absolutely precious.
After our visit with the toddlers, we headed off to two baby rooms. Each of us loved cuddling and cooing with the babies. I held the most adorable baby and had such a hard time putting her back down. She had the most chubby cheeks and beautiful smile. Another sweet baby that was held by Tracie had an unrepaired cleft lip. This child will be our first medical child we will partner with Zhengzhou SWI to repair. I am so excited to be able to help this child.
Once we were done with visiting the children, we were taken into a conference room to discuss how we can work together. We were able to meet each of the directors and learn how hard they are working to help the children. They are doing their very best to help each of the children in their care. They have 169 children (80 babies), most with special needs. Many of the surrounding orphanages send their children to Zhengzhou SWI because they know that they will get good medical care. We talked about many of the children we saw and how LWB might be able to help. A book that described the accomplishments of the SWI was presented to each of us. I am so excited about the relationship that we have begun.
As soon as we finished a delicious lunch, with much toasting, hosted by the Zhengzhou SWI, we were off to Kaifeng. The trip took a little longer than usual because of the pouring rain. I couldn’t wait to visit with the people that I was able to meet last January. I felt like I was returning to see old friends. The vice director and orphanage doctor were waiting for us to start the foster care visits. Because it had been raining for two days, the director was so thoughtful and bought us all rubber boots. We all had fun walking in the puddles with our new bright boots.
Our first foster care visit was with one of our favorite little girls “J.” J is a child who had heart disease, but her heart was repaired by the government sponsored surgery program, the Tomorrow Plan. This little five year old girl just shines with personality. Her cute little voice chatted away as she told us all about her home. Her foster mother got her all dressed up for us, doing her hair, putting on a bright red silk vest, and a beaded hat. J was so excited to open the gift we brought her, including a tutu, wand, and stickers. She immediately added to her outfit and stuck stickers on her hands and forehead. What an absolutely adorable child. What love this child receives from her foster parents! You can just see how proud they are of her and how much they adore her.
We visited a total of 14 foster families. Every child seemed to be so loved and cared for. Each of these families was so welcoming, letting us traipse our muddy boots into their house. None of these families cared at all about their floors, but only about showing us their children.
As we were visiting the last group of foster families, the van we were traveling in tried to turn around at the end of a driveway and became stuck in the mud. At this point it was pouring down rain, and it was getting dark and chilly. It seemed the whole neighborhood came out to help get our van unstuck. They needed to dig, push and pull to finally get it out. Because we had 10 suitcases in the back, they needed to unload them in order to remove the weight from the rear wheels. They carefully piled our suitcases on top of rain coats. We huddled together, under umbrellas, trying to keep our pile from toppling over. The vice director and I laughed about our two unbelievable experiences together – the last time I was in Kaifeng, we spun out of control on a highway in a blizzard, and now this time the van got stuck in mud and a torrential rain.
After we were on way again, the driver brought us to the hotel so that we could clean-up quickly. We also rushed to put gifts together for all of the school children. These beautiful children touched our hearts last year when we visited. We wanted each of these children to have a special Chinese New Year gift and asked them if they could have anything, what would they want? In our bags were four MP3 players, a badminton set, roller blades and safety gear, a baby doll, a pen set and biographies, and backpacks. The kids were so excited to get these special gifts and I will never forget the look on their faces as they looked into their bags. I asked how the children would get music on their MP3 players and learned that the tutor we hired to help them had already downloaded the software on his computer so that we could help them load music. We shared dinner together and we all enjoyed watching each of the children eat. These children were so caring towards one and other, as they dished food on each others plates. I also had to laugh as two of the children left to use the bathroom and returned with the boy trying to shut the door on the girl, running away and giggling. They truly are a family.
At dinner, we heard that we had a very special breakfast with the leader of the civil affairs. He had heard the story of us visiting the families in the rain and getting stuck in the mud. He said that he wanted to meet us all to show his appreciation. This gentleman was so warm and generous, offering his help to us in whatever way we might need him. You could tell how friendly and genuine this man was. During the meal, I decided to tell him how happy I was to meet him. Every one laughed when they told me that I had told him instead that I wished him a promotion! He told me that he was in the highest position that there was, and then laughed. This meal was quite memorable to us all, because not only did we enjoy a wonderful Chinese breakfast, but also such graciousness.
After we said our goodbyes, we were off to the Kaifeng SWI. The orphanage was excited to show us all of the changes they have made. With the help of the wonderful Shanghai LWB club, there was a beautiful new playground and bright murals on the walls of the baby rooms. The baby room was our first visit and once again we were all cooing over the babies. One baby had so much fun “talking” to us, making all sorts of noises. After the baby room, we went to their playroom and passed out Kix cereal and made balloon hats for everyone. Two of the school girls were in the playroom too and soon became quite proficient at pumping up the balloons. In no time, they needed us only to tie the balloons and they were making balloon creations too. I loved their giggles and their pile of their balloon animals they had when we were done. They just laughed and laughed when we popped a balloon, because all of the kids would go say something that sounded like bang. One of the girls tried to twist and hold her ears at the same time. What fun we had!
For lunch, we went to a local restaurant and tried some delicious dishes. We had a window seat and were able to watch all of the holiday festivities. As soon as we were done with lunch, but before we left Kaifeng, we went to a local embroidery store. Kaifeng is famous for their beautiful embroidery. We bought a gorgeous piece for our heart art auction that will be held in May. The vice director and our facilitator did the bargaining, telling the woman about our organization. She too was happy to help us by giving us a good price.
As our plane left Henan, I reflected on all of the beautiful children, our friends old and new, and the partnerships that have been created and are beginning. I just love how we are all working together as a team of people to help these beautiful children.