Saturday morning we left for the orphanage bright and early for meetings with the staff. It was wonderful to hear that the orphanage will once again increase the number of children sent for adoption in 2006.
One of the main topics we discussed for a long time was a new project for the older kids in the orphanage. Through the PAL program, we want to set up a small computer lab in the orphanage where the teens can learn how to use Microsoft Office. We hope with having skills in Excel, Powerpoint, and Word, they will be able to get entry level office jobs in the event they are not able to attend college. They will also learn business English, which I think will help them a lot in the future. We will arrange for teachers from a local university to come in the evenings to do the classes.
Around 10 a.m., we went upstairs to visit the teachers and kids. We knew we were on an extremely tight schedule since we had lost an entire day due to the snowstorm so we were determined to work fast. We had an afternoon flight to Beijing so we only had a few hours. Karen went into the main room to photograph all of the children in the school program. She told me it was so much fun because the kids were all so interested in our camera and wanted to cluster around her to see what she was doing. The older boys stayed right next to her while she worked. So many of the children from my last visit have now been adopted (hooray!) and so we had many new children who had now joined the program. The teachers are so proud of their students. As each one sat down to get their picture, the teachers would cluster around and straighten their clothes, smooth their hair, and then of course get them to smile. Some of the older girls were also there helping as they are now on vacation from school for spring festival. It was truly a group effort!
Karen took a break from photographing to pass out cereal to the kids in little baggies. I sure hope the teachers can look at “cereal time” as a science experiment because the younger kids were definitely doing a gravity experiment as they watched in wonder what happened when you opened your baggy and turned it upside down. :-)
Karen was especially touched by little TuanTuan who noticed that one of the girls didn't have her own bag of cereal. He walked over and started feeding her his cereal. Every time I visit I see the kids taking care of each other as friends. I had wondered what the dynamics would be like this time as most of the original kids in the school have now been adopted overseas. I could only smile as I saw the new “posse”. Their friendship for one another is so obvious, and there is even one little“crush”. Guo and Ping are definitely boyfriend and girlfriend at the ripe old age of two. Whenever they have to sit down for class time she saves him a seat and calls out “Guo! Guo!” for him to sit right beside her.
While Karen was having all the fun in the big room, I was talking with the teachers to make sure we got an updated report on every child in the school. I can't say enough good things about these women. We now have three women who work with the kids, and each one is as kind as the next. As I would call out each child's name, they would get so excited telling me all about what was special about THAT child. They do a remarkable job considering that the children have such a wide variety of ages and such varied special needs. They really try to encourage each child to do all they can. One of the teachers apologized that they cannot show me huge academic gains in the kids, but I told her that the goal of this program is to help each child's self esteem, to help them know they can accomplish a goal, and mainly just to let them have FUN in a school environment. Truly it is a kindergarten, which just happens to have kids from 20 months to 14. But the changes in the kids are remarkable. Everyone who visits sees the light in their eyes.
The teachers told me that they had really been researching curriculums because they do have such a WIDE variety of special needs to work with in the classroom. All three very excitedly told me that they felt Montessori materials would help the kids. I have to admit that I don't know a whole lot about this program but will definitely start looking into it when I get back.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye as we had to catch our flight to Beijing. We went back to the hotel quickly, and we saw Ao had come in early to say goodbye to us. There just is no way to describe the kindness we are shown in China. I could write for pages and pages and never be able to fully convey the sincerity of their friendship. I am always so humbled that I have been given the incredible gifts of knowing them.
Our flight to Beijing was thankfully uneventful after all we had been through to get to Shantou. We honestly were so tired when we landed, but we immediately saw a sign saying “PHF” and soon had the pleasure of meeting their founder, who had come to pick us up. The drive to Langfang was much quicker than I expected, and the time just flew by as we all got to know each other better. Tim asked if we were hungry (yes!) and so we stopped at a local restaurant for a late dinner. Their chief operating officer came to join us, and we had a wonderful time sharing kung pao chicken and fried green beans, which sure tasted better than the granola bars we had been living on in Zhengzhou.
I had never been to PHF before, so they quickly gave us a nighttime "drive tour". It was so much bigger than I expected and really is a true "village". I was really looking forward to the next morning when we could see the kids in person, but since it was so late they quickly took us to their guest home. It was so lovely, and so WARM. :-) The walls were decorated with pictures of the children in their care as well as artwork that the preschoolers had done in class. While I talked with their new medical director, Karen had the fun job of looking up Hands of Hope tile numbers, as we were visiting there the next day and had offered to photograph some of the tiles for our friends. They have the entire wall in a database, and all you have to do is type in a child's name or a piece of the tile wording and it will show where it is on the wall. At one point, I sat down to look at the file, and was quickly overwhelmed with emotion as I once again read the heartfelt messages that parents had written for their children. I remember when Lynn Fillmore began doing the virtual wall of Hands of Hope. I actually got to a point where I could no longer read the messages on it because I couldn't even see the words through my tears. There is so much love on that wall. That is the truth......pure and simple. Each and every tile on that wall represents someone's love for the children of China. I could not wait to see it in person.
A little after 1 a.m., Karen and I finally called it a night. The funny thing is that the guest house had several bedrooms so we each could have our own room. As we got on our pajamas and headed to sleep, I peeked my head in and told her how strange it felt to be sleeping alone after we had lived in such close quarters for the last week with each other! I really felt lonely! Ha ha....
Rick picked us up early in the morning and gave us a tour of PHF. The homes are each separate buildings but very close to each other, like a neighborhood. The houses have names like the “House of Love", the“House of Peace", and each one was filled with the most beautiful children. In the first home we went to, I saw the cutest little boy in a walker. He had the face of an angel, and I soon learned that this was Asa, the heart baby we had wanted to help the year before. He has very severe heart disease and we were unable to find a surgeon to help him. I kneeled down by him and wished there was a magic wand to simply heal him. He is so beautiful. At times I know fully that life is not always fair, but I looked at him and I saw that he was happy and loved.......and for that I am so grateful.
The moment that struck me the most in this room was when I was photographing some of the toddler kids. Little Miles, who is in the process of being adopted, was quite the ham. Each time I took a photo he of course wanted me to do “review" and show him what I had taken (when did almost every child I meet learn about digital cameras?) :-) I had taken a photo of one of the aunties with two of the kids, and Miles looked at it and pointed to the woman while proudly saying “MAMA!!!” I just thought it was so wonderful that this little boy had a “mom" in his life.
The next house we walked into had five little boys and two little girls, and they were all dressed for Chinese New Year. The boys had on matching yellow silk jackets and they were all lined up having story time. They looked so cute! All of the kids absolutely love Rick, and when he came in they all piled on. Again, there was just so much happiness here. And it was really fun to sit and look at books with the kids. Thank you to everyone who sent board books for them.
The third house we visited had older children. Both Karen and I got very emotional when we walked in and saw L, the little boy we had met on the cleft mission with heart disease. For those who have followed his story, you know that many heart surgeons have told us that he is inoperable. He has weighed heavy on both of our hearts, as one of the hardest things we have had to do was send him back to the orphanage after the hospital we had sent him to told us there was nothing that could be done. To see him at PHF was incredible. His skin looked so beautiful, and he had gained weight. He was dressed in a cute sweater and was sitting on the floor playing with legos. He gave both of us a huge smile when we came in and both Karen and I tried our best not to burst into tears right then and there as we didn't want to upset him. He just smiled and smiled at us. Karen told me later that a little girl had come over to play with him, and L had broken apart his own legos to share with her. He is such a sweet little boy. Once again, there aren't words to tell you what it meant to me to see him. I will never give up hope that he can be healed.
In the next house we got to see little B, who also was unable to have heart surgery last October. When we walked into the room, he saw us and gave us the BIGGEST grin. He came right up to me and I really think he remembered me from the cleft trip! I could not get him up in my arms fast enough. This little boy is so special to me as I have prayed for his health and happiness for almost 18 months. Once again, to know he is at PHF and being loved is a dream come true to me. I told Rick that many times, working with sick children can be very hard emotionally. I always remember something that my husband once told me that brings me comfort when I see kids who truly are inoperable. He told me that I needed to remember that in the whole plan of eternity, the difference between five years and seventy years is very small. The important thing for any person isn't necessarily how many years we have, but how much love. To know that B is being loved is one of the greatest gifts in the world to me. No matter what happens to him......if he truly cannot have surgery....he has known what it feels now to be loved in a "family". That brings me a comfort that I can't describe.
After the home visits, we went to visit Hands of Hope. This had been a two year project for Angel Covers and LWB, so to see it finally standing there right in front of me was wonderful! Rick quickly told me that I needed to imagine it in April, when the landscaping will be done and the ground won't be so barren, but to me, it was a beautiful sight. I really love the design of the wall, and they have organized it in such a way that it is very easy to find the tiles. I slowly walked along the wall, reading each message, and had to blink away tears. I recognized so many of my friend's children's names.......they were here, on a wall in China. Their names are now a permanent part of their birthcountry.
Karen and I quickly photographed the tiles of our friends, and then we each took a moment to simply read them. It was amazing to look at over 2000 tiles. I hope many more families will buy a tile for their child so that this wall of true love can continue to grow and help even more children. I know there are over 40,000 children who have been adopted from China. Wouldn't it be something to have a tile for each of them? What an amazing sight that would be.
As Rick took us on a tour of Shepherds Field he showed us the new guest houses that families will be able to stay in with their children when they visit. They are such beautiful rooms (I've added a photo). As I walked around this complex, it struck me that the journey of Hands of Hope was finally complete. It had ended exactly where it needed to be. In the future, when families come back with their children to show them their tile, they will be surrounded by orphaned children who are in loving foster homes. They will be able to play on the playground while their parents take the time to slowly read each carefully written message to the children. I truly believe that Hands of Hope has found the perfect home.
After a wonderful lunch, we headed to the Beijing airport for our long flight home. As I write this, we are now at 30,000 feet somewhere over Alaska. Our trip is almost complete. I want to thank everyone who followed along and sent such wonderful notes of encouragement to us. I know all of us have the same goal......to show as much love and care as possible to the children of China who wait for their forever families. It is the thread that connects us all to each other. There is an old Chinese saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. After working continuously for three solid years in China, I also believe that the blooming of an orphan's heart begins with a single act of love. This trip has reaffirmed what each of us knows so completely.......every child counts. Thank you, from all of us at LWB, for being a part of our story of hope.