Sunday, January 22, 2006

Final Days

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 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.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Friday- Safe Arrival

Safe Arrival

Well, I am thankful to announce that we made it safely to Shantou. We have now learned that over 60,000 people were stranded in Zhengzhou due to the ice and snow. The chaos even made the front page of the China Daily, so I will be saving that copy for my memory book.

The Zhengzhou airport finally reopened around 9 p.m. Thursday. Everyone clustered around the windows and gave a huge cheer when the first airplane took flight. The plane that would take us to Guangzhou still had not arrived, so I decided to take my briefcase to use as a pillow and lie down on the tile floor in the airport for awhile. I had just closed my eyes when I suddenly heard people yelling, pounding, and hitting glass. I honestly thought that a show was taking place, so I got up to see who was performing to help pass the time in the airport. Instead, I quickly learned that the passengers to Guangzhou (our flight) had just learned that the plane that was supposed to be for us, was instead going to take the Shanghai passengers all the way to their city, turn around and come back to Zhengzhou before then taking us to Guangzhou. We would have another 8 hours of waiting for the plane to return and would not be able to take off until around 6 a.m. Well……….let’s just say the Guangzhou passengers didn’t take that very well. We saw food being thrown at the customer service people, lots of yelling, and various other interesting moments that attracted an even larger crowd.

At around 10:30, we heard them call our flight number but of course with the destination of Shanghai. The next thing we knew, a large group of passengers from our flight decided to storm the gate, insisting to board the plane themselves. The amazing thing is that around an hour later, all of their noise paid off. The next thing we knew they suddenly had “found” a plane for us. Karen and I thought we were going to have to wait until 4 a.m., so we were busy talking to new friends in the airport and all of us completely missed them calling the flight to Guangzhou. Suddenly a man ran up and said it was the last call to Guangzhou and the gate was one level down. We raced downstairs only to be a few of the last people to board the bus to our plane. Can you even imagine if we would have missed the flight we waited almost two days for?

We arrived in Guangzhou at 3 a.m., collected our bags and headed to a hotel. We managed to check in at around 4 a.m. Remember the night before where I said our Chinese male friend had to share a room with us? Well, we went even one better this time. The man behind us in line at the hotel discovered that we had received the last room and he would have no place to stay. Our facilitator is such a caring man, so he asked if it was okay for him to stay with us. Karen and I were laughing in bed that night that we had a stranger from Guilin staying in our room. We never got his name but he was very, very nice. I am sure he is not telling his wife. J

After two wonderful hours of sleep, we got up at 6 and headed to the airport to catch our flight to Shantou. I still couldn’t believe that we were actually going to make it there.

We arrived at the orphanage and soon learned that because of our time constraints, instead of us visiting the foster families, they were coming to visit us. It was so much fun seeing one family after another pull up the orphanage. The love of the foster parents for these children is so obvious. These children with special needs are thriving under their care. I couldn’t believe my eyes when a small van pulled into the orphanage gate and I saw little Bi sitting on her mommy’s lap in the front seat just smiling and waving away. Her mom had scrubbed her so clean that her cheeks were pink, and she had dressed her in a darling dress with two little hair clips on her head. This little girl, who just six months ago struggled even to walk, now is at a full run. Her vocabulary was just amazing and she wished us Xin Nian Hao (happy new year) over and over with a little grin that showed off her dimples. She is non-stop smiles, and her foster mom is oh so proud of her.

The orphanage gate opened again and in came Hua, riding with his mom on their motor scooter. I was happy to see that both he and his mom had on helmets. J I have to tell you that he was thinking he was looking pretty cool in that helmet and he took a moment to strut around a bit to make sure the other kids saw. J

Everyone from the orphanage gave a huge cheer when Fen arrived. The kids in the orphanage had not seen her for awhile and they were all excited to see her come back. As soon as Karen walked over to her, Fen looked up and said “how are you? I am fine!” in perfect English. Karen told me that she was holding Fen upside down at one point and when she raised her back up, she said (again in perfect English), “I like that a lot.” What a lovely little girl.

The orphanage had prepared gifts for each foster family for Chinese New Year, and each child got a new pair of shoes, a Chinese outfit, and their family got an enormous bag of rice and some juice. It was one big celebration and I am so happy we were able to be there. I kept telling the foster moms, “thank you…..thank you” for the care they were giving the kids, but they kept grabbing my hand saying “thank you for letting us parent these kids”. How many times can I say that I love foster care?

After the foster kids left, Karen and I went room to room with one of the doctors to see the newest children who have medical needs. There are over 25 children who will need surgery. Baby He, who has a tumor on his neck and who is fully sponsored for surgery now, is so adorable. I didn’t realize how young he was when we got his case, but he is so tiny with the brightest little eyes. He will be moved for surgery immediately following spring festival. Karen got a photo of each child needing surgery and we will immediately start looking for sponsors when we get back to the states.

We also took photos of all the kids who had surgery this past year with us. Everyone knows how much I love those heart kids, and our latest group is no exception. The orphanage had told me that baby Shan was the new “Little Monkey”, and they are right. She is so beautiful but an absolute peanut! We immediately recognized Baby Wen, who has gained so much weight following her surgery. She is so smiley and has the chubbiest cheeks. Each of them had on a homemade crocheted hat and they looked adorable.

As we walked room to room, the orphanage pointed out those children who will soon be going to America and Ireland. Oh what lucky parents! Each child was more beautiful than the next. Sometimes the aunties would pull me over to show me the photo albums that parents had sent to the orphanage. It was so neat to see them pointing to the pictures and telling the babies, “this is your mama….this is your baba”. Even though the staff is always so sad to see the babies they care for leave, they are just so happy that they have families. That is their wish for every child.

Before we knew it, it was time for our dinner with the teens. We were able to take 20 of them out for traditional Shantou hotpot. The kids decided to walk to the restaurant, but the staff insisted we go by car since they felt we must be tired from our long journey. One of the teachers was recently given a new car by her daughter. They have nicknamed it the “green apple car” as it is the exact same color as a Granny Smith apple and is almost as round. It is actually called a “QQ” car and you can buy one in China for about 40,000 rmb ($5000). She offered to drive us to the restaurant as she had just learned to drive the month before. . She is SUCH a careful driver, with two hands firmly on the wheel. It was sort of funny to Karen and I that she was being so diligent as no one else in Shantou seems to follow traffic rules. J

The hot pot dinner was so much fun. It was the first time the kids had experienced this type of meal. The kids ate and ate and ate, and it was wonderful to look around the tables and see everyone laughing and talking. After dinner and the passing out of the huang bao, we took some of the teens to Walmart in order to buy some “female things”. We told them we wanted to take six girls with us and when we arrived at Walmart we discovered it was half boys and half girls instead. Now we had a quandary as we knew we had a mission and it certainly didn’t involve boys, so we sent them off to the electronics department and told them we would find them later. J Out of privacy for the girls I won’t discuss what all we bought, but suffice it to say, when we checked out and the boys actually saw what was in our cart, they stationed themselves AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE from the cash register. It was absolutely priceless.

We finally got back to the hotel at around 11 p.m. and started filling cereal bags for the kids for the next day. A few moments later, my friend Ao phoned to say he was in the hotel. He asked if we could come down and meet him and his girlfriend. Even though we were very tired, there is no way we would miss having a chance to see them, so we went down and had a lovely visit. Karen and I have a saying on this trip of “why sleep in China when we can sleep in the US?” There is just so much to do and so few hours, so sleeping is the absolute last thing on our list.

We finally called it a night at 1:30…..and I fell asleep knowing Saturday would be a great day as we were going back to the orphanage to do school reports. The education program is one of my favorites as it is very heartwarming to see the kids so happy and excited about school. Earlier in the day we had seen some of the kids all lined up single file walking through the hallway to their class. Over and over we heard, “Nihao Ayi!” (hello aunty!), and many of them ran over to give us huge hugs of welcome. As I got ready to fall asleep, I started thinking about how very little it costs to sponsor a child into school. Ten dollars a month is such a small amount in the grand scheme of things, but the amount of hope and absolute FUN is immeasurable. In school they get to learn nursery rhymes, do fingerplays, dance, paint and hear stories…..all of the simple joys of being in kindergarten. I remembered their hugs and how excited they were to be heading to class. Before I fell asleep, I definitely had decided that the sound of a child’s giggle is priceless.

Friday, January 20, 2006

January 18, 2006....a day like no other

Early in the morning, we awoke to snow that had fallen during the night. The temperatures were below zero and we could hear the wind whipping against our hotel window. It was terribly cold. The first order of business was making arrangements for one of the babies we had seen the day before to be transferred to the Hope Foster Home. He has more severe medical needs at the moment, and we both felt that he would have the best chance of a full recovery if he was moved to Beijing where he could be daily monitored by their medical staff. We worked out all the details, and I am happy to say that little Lei is moving to Beijing before spring festival. We are overjoyed that we could help him. What a blessing it is to know Joyce and Robin are there. The orphanage staff was so very grateful. They love this little boy but know that he really needs more one on one care.

The orphanage really wanted us to see some of beautiful Kaifeng, so even though it was bitterly cold, we all bundled into their van and headed to one of the ancient parks. Kaifeng was one of China’s ancient capitol cities, during the Song dynasty which was around 950 AD. We slowly pulled up to their own forbidden city, which was situated on a beautiful lake with pagodas. Up on the hill was a huge statue of the emperor and we could see one amazing ancient building after another.

We all took a deep breath to brace ourselves for the cold and headed out to stroll through the park. I could never do it justice.

We saw pagodas and statues, and the old mill where they ground flour

(Karen gave the grinding wheel a try), we saw huge wooden circles that looked like giant ferris wheels that men would manually turn to draw water and irrigate their fields. As we walked deeper into the park, we walked over a very famous arched bridge and came up to the huge gates to the ancient city.

All of the people working in the park were dressed in the clothing from the Song Dynasty so it really was like walking back in time. Inside the city we saw the inn that travelers of old could stay at, the market, and much more. Normally when I go to China, I never get to tour because I am so busy working. I think I have to hold the record for the most number of times to Beijing without ever seeing the Great Wall, so this was a real morning treat for me to get to see some of the incredible ancient sites of China. Finally, we realized that none of us could feel our toes or fingers anymore and so we headed back to the van. But not before stopping to buy some handmade children’s vests for the art auction. They are so cute! We also found an old ceramic statue of a wise man of China. I wish we had more time to look in the little stores but as I said…..we were FREEZING.

By this time, the snow began falling, and we realized that the temperatures had plummeted and we were literally skating upon solid ice that used to be the road. As the van turned out of the parking lot, we started to fishtail and literally were only able to go 1-2 miles an hour. They had wanted to show us more of the city, but we told them that since the airport was 140 km away, we really needed to head to Zhengzhou. We managed to get back to the hotel to grab our bags. Just as we arrived, Zhang Ming got a call that the van driver who was supposed to take us to the airport had called to say he would not venture out on the roads as they were unsafe. We discussed many ways to get to Zhengzhou but no one wanted to head out. Finally, the orphanage director called one of his old friends in the military and he agreed to come and take us to Zhengzhou. When he arrived, we loaded all of the luggage in the back, and we tried our best to discourage the director and vice director from driving with us but they absolutely insisted.

So all of us headed off but only got a few minutes out when they got a call that the province had closed the highway due to snow. With a deep breath, we decided to take the back roads to Zhengzhou. As we were leaving the city, they pointed out the ancient wall of Kaifeng which used to surround the entire city. During a time of great poverty, villagers had dismantled the bricks of the wall to build themselves shelter. About ten years ago, the city decided to rebuild it as it was, and they asked the local citizens that if their ancestors had taken bricks to build their homes, could they please donate bricks to the project. Instead, the local people dismantled their own homes so that the very same bricks that once guarded the city could do so again. Sometimes in my life, I see images that are so absolutely breathtaking that I wish my eyes were a camera so that I could save the image forever and share it with everyone. As we drove by this snow covered ancient wall, four young girls drove by single file on their bicycles, and each girl had on a different brightly colored coat with colored scarves over their faces. It was such a beautiful image that it literally took my breath away.

The drive was much more interesting than the highway trip we had taken coming in. We slowly drove through village after village, each with their own wall and gate. At one point, we drove through the Sunshine village where so many of the children who lost their parents to HIV now live. That was also a moment I will not forget as everywhere we looked we saw young kids, walking down the road, being pulled in a tractor, and playing in the snow.

Shortly after passing this village our van began to fish tail. It literally was like we were in slow motion as we began to do a 360 on this crowded road. The last image I saw was an enormous bus heading straight for the van. I saw us turning one way and the bus swerving to miss us with lots of cars behind it. I closed my eyes and said a prayer bracing for the impact that I knew would crush our car. But it never came. Miraculously, we had slid to safety in the middle of the road. The bus had somehow missed us…..but that was impossible. Karen and I were both shaking as we tried our best to maneuver back to the direction we were originally headed. You have to remember that these roads were packed with people, cars, huge trucks all taking the same path to Zhengzhou since the highway was closed. Finally we got pointed in the right direction and headed on. To say we were shaken is a huge understatement. We were all shocked to the core.

The assistant director, who is one of the most lovely women I have ever had the privilege to meet, tried to calm all of our nerves by pulling out some bread she had bought for our journey. I think I saw everyone’s hands shaking as they put the bread to their mouths. Each time the van would begin to fishtail we would all hold our breaths and brace. About 10 kilometers further up the road, it happened again. The car began to spin out of control and once again (I am amazed at how this happens), time went into slow motion as we saw a truck, a car, and then us spinning to the side of the road where a steep gulley awaited us. I counted two complete spins and realized we were not going to have enough time left to avoid rolling down the ditch. And then we stopped. And we were on the edge of the road and safe……I told Karen later that it was like out of a movie, where a car goes to the edge of the dock over water and teeters. One more foot and our van would have rolled. The director and I had to get out of the van this time while the driver tried to get us the right way. I was saying “thank you, thank you, thank you” over and over that we were safe, and then I just had to start smiling and laughing as I watched the sea of cars and trucks passing us on the road. I realized that here was this blonde lady, standing in the middle of rural Henan on the side of the road in a snowstorm, and everyone who was passing by was pointed to their companions in utter and complete curiosity as to what in the world I was doing there. I saw old truck after truck filled with men in their army green trench coats passing me in total amazement. Yet another image I will not soon forget. J

Our driver wondered if the large amount of luggage in the back was the reason for our problem, so we rearranged the suitcases and headed off again. We still had 2/3 of the way to go to Zhengzhou but thankfully there were no more close calls. We were all nervously laughing while learning the words for “scared out of our minds”, “swallowing our hearts”, and many more fun phrases that I can honestly say I never want to use again in China. The director said, “when we get to the airport I want to take a picture of all of us with this van because this is a day I will never forget”. I made a mental note that from now on, every January 18th I am going to send the orphanage flowers for the day we did NOT lose our lives.

We had several more hours on the road to talk, so we used the time to discuss more of how we could help Kaifeng. They really need foster care, especially for the cleft babies. The vice director said she knew if the cleft babies were in loving homes, they would be fattened up so quickly. They have a new arrival who is less than a month old, a beautiful little girl, so Karen and I made the “executive decision” that she and I were moving that baby into care just out of our own pockets. She will be snug in a foster home before spring festival. I told Karen that if she and I weren’t good friends before this trip, after what we had lived through we were bonded forever! And now we share a baby. J

The orphanage also has five children who need school sponsors. We talked about how this could work and they promised to give us monthly reports on the children if we could begin such a program.

We also discussed their true need for an incubator. Since most of the babies they get are straight from the hospital as newborns, so many of them are too tiny to be in a crib without warm heat. This orphanage is so excited about international adoptions. They plan to use all the funds raised to help the kids medically. We discussed which kids should be sent for adoption and talked extensively about the older girls. They promised to file on the young girls we had taken out to dinner. They did not realize that children with Hep B could be adopted. They should hopefully have at least 8 children to send for adoption this year. I am so thankful.

Finally, after many hours, we saw the outskirts of Zhengzhou. I really hated to say goodbye to these kind people. I promised them we would see each other again in the future however. They have such a true love for the kids. At one point, the director asked what our opinion was on fancy facilities versus caring staff. He told me that he knew that their facility was old and in need of much help, but he said “we love these kids and we hope that love is more important than wealthy surroundings”. We could not agree more.

Once we got into the airport, we parked the van and all of us got out thanking the heavens for our safe arrival. We found a woman sweeping the snow and had her take lots of photos of our group to commemorate the fact that we were alive! It honestly was quite funny at that point. We headed into the terminal and we tried our best to get our luggage through without a fine but there was no doing so today. I told Karen that I thought we had used up all of our luck on the road which was fine by me! We said goodbye to our new friends and both Karen and I had heavy hearts that they had to drive back all the way in the blizzard. We actually learned later that it took them 13 hours to make the drive home.

We made it to the gate just as they were announcing that the airport was being closed. The flight before ours was the last flight out. What were we going to do now? We exited the airport security area to find a ticket agent to see if we could get booked the next day to anywhere in China. Could we go to Shanghai? To Beijing? Any flights to Hangzhou? “Bu yao.” (don’t have). It is spring festival time here and there are no seats available. “Is there first class? We will pay first class?” Bu yao. Can we go to the train station and take an overnight train anywhere out of the city? “ Bu yao. The highway is closed….the trains are sold out “ So what can we do? Then they started telling people that they had to leave the airport. “No one can stay in the airport.” Outside the wind was wailing and the snow was blowing parallel to the ground. This was the only time Zhang Ming had to yell. They wanted us to leave, and we walked outside for a moment and it was bitterly cold. We were not dressed for snow… fact, I had on clogs! They told us to walk down the long road to look for a hotel but I told Zhang Ming I would not leave the airport without a confirmed reservation because hundreds of people were trudging out looking for a room. He started phoning hotels and they were all full. Karen and I looked at each other and said, “we cannot leave”. I honestly couldn’t feel my toes that point and both of us were shaking and could not stop…..we were so cold. I honestly have never been as cold as I was last night. We stood pleading with the security people and I could hear Zhang Ming saying “Americans…..orphans……so cold…nowhere to go…..” but it wasn’t working. Finally Karen and I had to make the decision that we would have to do a little civil disobedience. We went over and sat down against a wall and said we would not leave the airport to stand outside all night in a blizzard. We thought the security people might be really angry with us, but one man in uniform walked by us camped out on the floor and winked at Karen as if to say “you go girl”.

Just then Zhang Ming came back in from outside and told us he had found a cab. He thought the best move was to search for a hotel as they had turned off the heat in the airport and were closing up. So off we went, without our luggage, and began slowly inching along the road to hotels to see if there was room. At the second one, I told Zhang Ming that I would go in instead of him….maybe they would find a room for a foreigner. So I went into the hotel and asked and at first the two desk people vehemently shook their heads saying no room. But then suddenly one of them pointed to the back wall to a sign that said “Presidential Suite”. That was most definitely available. “how much?” I asked. $180 US. With my limited Chinese I tried to find out if there were bedrooms but there was just one room… bed. I realized that we were traveling with a Chinese man and I didn’t know how he would feel sleeping in the same room. I went back to ask him and he suggested at first going to a different hotel to try, but then the taxi driver told him that all the roads into the city were closed. We assured him that it would not bother us at all…..but it was up to him. We certainly didn’t want to make him uncomfortable, but we all knew we had no choice…there was no where for us to go. We were sharing a room. At least we had found shelter for the night.

They told us at the desk that there was a party going on in the suite and so we couldn’t have the room until 10 p.m. We went to find something to eat, as we had eaten nothing but the small piece of bread on the way to Zhengzhou. The whole hotel was freezing….no heat……and when the waitress poured the boiling water into our cups, instead of drinking it Karen and I cupped it with our hands trying to get any warmth into our bodies. We ordered some soup and it tasted wonderful and thankfully was so spicy that it made us feel even warmer. At one point Zhang Ming said to me, “Amy, you have the wrong shoes for this weather.” I must be tired because even typing that I am still laughing at how funny I thought that comment was.

Finally we were taken to our room. They had made up a couch for Zhang Ming to sleep on, but there was no heat at all in the room and no hot water. I kept asking him if he would be okay sleeping in the same room as us and he said he felt it would be fine. At that point I told him that we were now officially “very good friends”. It was also at that point that we all started laughing so hard (I have never seen him laugh so hard) because we suddenly noticed that the entire wall of the bathroom was solid glass. Anyone in the room could look right in at anyone showering or going to the bathroom. This was a slight problem! J Zhang Ming told the hotel that they had to cover the window, so some young girls came and scotch taped a sheet to the window. I told Karen, “of course you realize when you get in the shower the steam will cause the blanket to fall off”. Ha ha…….but of course, we realized later that there was no hot water so it was a mute point.

It was so cold in the room that we all just slept in our clothing. I really had no feeling in my feet and it was strange to move them in the bed and not be able to feel the sheets. Thankfully we managed to fall asleep and Karen and I both got about 4 hours before waking up the wind rattling the windows and pure snow out of the windows. We woke up poor Zhang Ming and told him we wanted to head to the airport anyway. We were determined to be first in line. I had a whole day of work to do in Shantou and I was already going to miss the whole day. So at 6 a.m., we headed out. The roads to the airport were deserted.

As I type this, it is now 4 p.m. on Thursday and the airport is still closed. People are everywhere. I am staring out the window at the Chinese flag which is blowing so hard in the wind that it is straight out. I can hardly see anything out of the windows. We have talked to people in the airport who have reported that all the trains are sold out and there are no flights left before CNY to any other city. We have no choice but to wait. It is very cold and the people around us are understandably upset.

We are praying we make it to Shantou. We have foster care visits and education reports to do….and so many things to discuss with the director. At this point, I am not holding much hope. If the airport is closed today…..then we will have to figure out a way to get to Beijing so we can get back to the US this weekend. I told Karen to remember that no matter what…..we had already accomplished so much. Baby Lei is going to the Hope Foster Home! Baby Na is going to foster care in Kaifeng. Every child counts. The whole trip was worth it just for that news.

Tuesday in Kaifeng


I really don’t even know where to begin. Today was one of those days that will live in my mind forever.

We started out by shopping some more for the orphanage kids. Bicycle shopping was just so much fun. We picked out some really nice bikes and the store owner threw in some really sturdy metal baskets for the front of them and even bicycle bells for free.

Then it was time to head to the orphanage. Kaifeng is a city of 300,000 people and the orphanage normally houses about 80 children. It sits on the outside of the city, down a rural street. As we drove down the road we saw men walking their oxen.

When we got to the orphanage, I immediately recognized the vice director from the cleft mission. She is such a kind woman and it was wonderful to see her again. Another vice director and the section chief were also there for the meeting, and I took out an envelope full of pictures of one of the first children adopted from the orphanage. (Kaifeng has only been doing adoptions for less than year). When the vice director called out the child’s name, the other women literally RAN to see the pictures and they were all so happy and excited to see her looking so wonderful and healthy in the U.S.

As we toured the orphanage, I watched the aunties and staff and the overall feel is one of great kindness. We went to the first baby room and right away we spied one of our cleft babies. He was doing the same “hook ‘em horns” sign with this fingers from September! We also saw another baby we had evaluated on the mission and I couldn’t get her in my arms fast enough. Karen and I went bed to bed to check on each new arrival and we identified many children that will need surgery. One beautiful little girl had a meningocele, another had significant hydrocephalus, there was a little boy with obvious heart disease and the cutest new cleft baby who had just arrived this month. He was so precious! He was snoozing under one of the blankets that was sent by the WCC group. The aunties asked me if the blankets were homemade and we assured them they were homemade with a LOT of love. They all smiled at that and gave a thumbs up.

We had a great time in the next room with the older children. We got to see Li, who had recently had his leg amputated. He was sitting in his new wheelchair and he is just so cute. We also saw Bei, who had the surgery for his burns, and he is the sweetest little boy with Downs. I came in and kneeled down to take his hand and he was rubbing my hands over and over with the biggest grin.

I got out my balloon pump while Karen started handing out Kix. Everyone needs to trust me that Kix are a necessity on an orphanage trip! Nothing breaks the ice faster. Long was also in this room (we did his hernia surgery), and we had an absolute ball handing out matchbox cars and making balloon hats. The five older school kids were at first a bit reserved, but within two minutes they were our new best friends. They were blowing up balloons and eating Kix and having a grand old time.

In the next room we visited, there was a little boy who touched my heart so much. He was about four years old and was completely blind. When I kneeled down to shake his hand, he grabbed my hands with his and began rubbing his cheeks. He couldn’t see the Kix that we had placed in front of him, so I put a few in his mouth and the look on his face was pure joy. The director gently took his hands and tried to show him with his fingers that the cereal was in front of him. I could have sat there all day feeding him, but I knew we had a lot more to see and the time was passing much too quickly.

As we got to the end of that room, Karen pointed to a baby and asked if she had a special need or not. The aunty said, “we don’t know if that is even a boy or a girl because the police just delivered that baby 15 minutes ago.” Oh what a tiny little child… was obvious from her size and the shape of her head that she had just been born within the last few days. It was very emotional for me to hold her, because she kept opening her mouth and turning her head into my body to try and nurse…..she was searching for her momma and she had the most bewildered look in her eyes. We told the aunty to please get her a bottle and she immediately began to eat with such intensity that I could only wonder how long it had taken for someone to find her and bring her to the orphanage. I am writing “she” because they did a quick check and she was a very tiny baby girl.

We noticed so many interesting things about this orphanage. One of the main ones was that the number of non special needs children in the orphanage was so small…..only 3 babies could go through the non special needs adoption track. The other interesting statistic was that 90% of all of the babies are left at the hospital in town. Karen and I both agreed that these two facts together seemed to show that people in this region rarely abandon their babies simply because a child is a girl. 90% of the time, it must be that they go to the hospital and are told that the child has a medical need and then they most likely cannot afford the care.

It was wonderful to see all of the great formula that had been delivered through our nutrition program. 14 enormous cases of the best formula you can buy. We wanted to take a picture of a child holding a can of the formula, and so they brought the cutest three year old to be our model. Well…..let’s just say she didn’t really want to be a model at the moment. She reluctantly held the can but there was no way in Hades that child was going to smile. Everyone was laughing as she basically ignored us through the whole photo shoot. She was determined to look ANYWHERE besides at my camera. She is a beautiful child and she will hopefully be adopted in 2006.

After we toured the rest of the orphanage, we came out to discover that the bicycles we had bought had been delivered. We called the school kids out and they were SO excited! We told them to hop on and go for a ride and so they treated us all to their bicycle skills as they rode up and down the lane to the orphanage, ringing their bells of course! This will help them so much because now their journey to and from school will only take about 15 minutes by bike.

We headed off to lunch and when we arrived at the restaurant, as soon as we got out of the car we saw CuiCui and her father. They had come from their village to meet us! CuiCui, the oldest child we healed on the cleft mission, looked INCREDIBLE. The repair could not have been more perfect. She came over and gave us a HUGE hug, and her father came up and thanked us again and again for bringing this “miracle” to his daughter. We also got to meet her 11 year old little sister, who was quite shy but so cute. We all went up for lunch together, and as we waited for the food, her father told us how much he wished we could have gone to their village. He said the entire village was ready to welcome us with open arms because they were so happy for CuiCui. She is well known in her village for being so smart, and everyone is hoping she can pass her college entrance exams in June. Her father said he understood we were short on time but that anytime we ever come to the area, we are so welcome to his home. They had brought gifts for us, which of course we did not want from them as we know how very much they struggle just to live each day. We were told by the woman who had gone to get them for us that their village is a very poor one, and their family is one of the poorest. They spend just 1.5 yuan a day for food. They have five in the family and live in a tiny house with only 3 beds in one room. Karen and I both noticed the father’s coat… threadbare it was, but he was SO proud of his kids. I cannot even begin to tell you what a kind man he is and what an unforgettable moment it was to see him and his daughters in Kaifeng. Karen and I both noticed that none of their family was eating during lunch and we realized that they had never eaten in a nice restaurant before and they believed they would have to pay for what they ate. We encouraged them to please eat up!

The director decided he wanted to start toasting, and that part was pretty interesting as I do not drink. I like to “fake it” during toasts, but after one very eloquent one, he said “please bottoms up”. Well…since we were standing facing each other I was caught so I took a deep breath and drank up. Then it was CuiCui’s father’s turn, who toasted us while saying “I have never drank before but since this seems to be your custom……” ha ha ha……

All too soon, lunch was over and we had to say goodbye. I told Karen later that the cleft trip was so much work….so many months and months of planning and worries, but looking at CuiCui, you know that even for ONE child, all of the work is worth it. Her entire life has been changed. She had written us a letter and in it she said, “I never dreamed such a gift could be given to me.” I hope that everyone who went on the cleft trip, and all of the people who supported the cleft mission with their donations realizes what they have done for this beautiful young lady.

After lunch, we went back to the orphanage to rock babies and discuss some of their needs. I met one little girl who is one who is missing the same arm as my son Hao. Oh did her aunty love her! She was all bundled up in this quilted snowsuit and we asked where they got their clothes and were told that the aunties sew them each by hand. Oh they looked so warm! This aunty kept telling me how beautiful, smart, and loving this little girl was, and I told them “I wish I could adopt her when I adopt Hao and have twins!” and they all laughed and said “wouldn’t it be lovely if it was so easy?” Her papers have actually been filed for the waiting child program and I think it will take a whole ten seconds to find her a family when she hits an adoption list.

We continued to evaluate the kids and came to a tiny little baby. We were told that she, too, had been brought just that day, from the hospital. She was just gazing up at me and seemed so content. Oh she was lovely.

We discussed many ways that the kids could be helped….from foster care to education to helping with new windows and a playground. I have to say that this director doesn’t ask for anything….and is very reluctant when pressed for their needs. I like him very much. They do have a nice big area that would be wonderful for a playground. There are definitely days I wish I was a millionaire. Of course, I would only be a millionaire for one day as I would spend it all on the kids immediately! J

We quickly ran back to the hotel for a moment, and in the short time we were there, Karen managed to blow all the electricity in our hotel. She tried to plug in a surge protector and the whole system blew. We were trying our very best not to be heard laughing (in a mortified way) as we heard the man next door calling the front desk to inquire why there was no electricity. Thankfully it was up and running quite quickly!

The next part of the day was just completely unforgettable. We had asked to take the older kids out to KFC, and asked the staff to come as well. We all met up at 6 p.m. and the kids were SO excited to be eating out. We were told they had never eaten out before, and I wish I could captured the exact moment when the waitress put the menu in front of them. It was filled with pictures of all the dishes you could order and their eyes were as big as saucers! We told them to order WHATEVER they wanted, and so each of them got chicken, French fries, a hamburger, and ice cream. For some reason, the ice cream came first but we figured “this is a night to remember so of course we should eat dessert first”. One of the little girls had the most amazing expressions. Each time she would put a scoop of vanilla ice cream in her mouth, she would close her eyes in pure delight and give a little sigh. Those kids ate EVERYTHING……a huge burger, lots of chicken, our chicken, fries, cream pies, ice cream, and then even seconds on ice cream. We taught them to play tic tac toe while we waited for the courses, and they quickly caught on and beat us several times. They were real strategists. J It was such a fun evening, and I will never forget it. We told the vice director that people in the states truly want to adopt older children and at first she didn’t believe us, but then after we assured her that the 9 and 10 year old girls WOULD be chosen, she turned to her colleague so excited. We told them that 14 was the cut-off, but that every child up to that age should have the chance of adoption. I hope we see many more kids from Kaifeng on waiting child lists this year.

Following dinner, we took a stroll down the food vendor street to sample traditional Kaifeng treats. They are famous for their peanut butter cookies, their black rice pudding, and their apricot tea. I tried a little bit of everything, and it was so neat to see them make the apricot tea. They poured the hot milk from an enormous dragon kettle that they told me was an antique….it had been passed down for generations. It was mixed with cherries, apricots and sesame seeds and it was really delicious. Finally we couldn’t stay out in the cold any longer and so we had to reluctantly say goodbye. It was such a full and wonderful day. As we drove back to the hotel, I reflected back on all we had seen that day. My thoughts kept going back to the tiny little one all bundled up and safe in the orphanage but looking so overwhelmed. There isn’t any way to properly describe what it means to me each time I hold a newly abandoned baby and know that my own family could not be the way it is now without the sadness of this initial moment. Oh what I wouldn’t give to have been able to hold my own daughter at the same age….but since I couldn’t, I cherish the moments when I get to rock and hold these newest arrivals, saying a prayer for each of them that their own mommas will be coming very shortly to take them home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Snowed In

We are using ZM's cell phone to get internet access. We are in a BLIZZARD. The roads are CLOSED. There are no flights. No way to the trains. No de-icers, no snow plows, NO HEAT. HELP!!!

Trying to laugh in spite of it all.


Monday, January 16, 2006


I wish I could write that we almost slept through our wake up call, but unfortunately (as always) we both did the first day in China, wake up at 3:30 a.m. ritual. It was great to be able to have the extra time to talk about our trip goals. After a quick breakfast, we literally walked across the parking lot from our hotel to the China Center for Adoption Affairs for our meeting. It was SO productive and we ended up spending all of our available time that day there.

We began by discussing our medical program and we gave them the list of children we had healed in 2004. We discussed our upcoming art auction and told them (in hope) that we could most likely heal 12 babies. I know that is such an ambitious goal for one auction, but I really am hoping that with the right publicity we can spread the news that this auction is all about healing kids. The CCAA will pick one region with many heart kids and we will work together to make sure they receive heart surgery following the auction.

Our next topic was the LWB cleft mission for 2006. They gave us several ideas for locations and agreed that September or October would be a good time period. We will have a lot to discuss in the next few weeks as we try to come to a decision!

We gave them the beginnings of our special needs education manual and they were so happy with what had been done so far. We both agreed that this would help orphanages to better understand medical special needs and increase awareness that the majority of kids are absolutely adoptable. We are really hoping for a summer publication, with distribution to over 2000 orphanages.

We had a wonderful discussion about domestic adoption. The CCAA has now set up a division specifically for domestic adoptions and they hope that more and more children will be adopted within China. There has been a marked increase in domestic adoption as more and more people realize this is a wonderful way to have a family. Within the last six months, they have compiled a great deal of information on domestic adoption that will be posted online. The man who is now in charge of domestic adoption told us that he used to work in the matching room……it was very really neat to discover that he worked there during the same time period that our girls were matched. He might have been the very man who chose our daughters for us.

Following our discussions, we had a VERY short tour as we were cutting it close to our flight to Henan, but it was wonderful for Karen to get to see where her children first placed with her family. The CCAA will be moving shortly and I have to admit I am a little sad that the infamous matching room that formed so many of our families will no longer be this particular one that I feel looks so grand . There is something quite fitting to having a beautiful crystal chandelier shine down on all of those baby files. Karen really enjoyed meeting the director of this office and told me later how emotional it was to see piles of children’s paperwork on a desk with one big pile of dossiers next to it. Very soon……the beautiful children whose tiny photos peeked out from each page will no longer be orphans, as each of them will be matched with their own forever family.

We made a mad dash to the airport (after making the bellboys lug the same 200 pounds of luggage down that they had just lugged up the night before!), and once at the airport, Helen (one of our amazing facilitators) had the wonderful job of negotiating with the airlines on exactly WHY we should be allowed to be double the allowed weight limit on our bags. I heard the words “Fu Li Yuan” over and over (orphanage) and she came back smiling while saying “we are fine!”

As we went to our gate I reminded Karen that we needed to buy bottled water so we dashed into a store. Obviously we just didn’t read the labels well enough. I sat down and took a HUGE swig of what I later learned was “sweat water”. I’ll leave it at that.

The flight to Henan was very quick….just one hour, and it was interesting that they played a movie during the flight that didn‘t require headphones. It was an ancient Chinese war movie. I wasn’t watching it but every once in awhile I would jump in my seat when the clanging of swords loudly began again.

In Zhengzhou we were met by Zhang Ming, our facilitator, and he did a great job of not fainting at the sight of our luggage. We managed to squeeze it all into the van and we were off to Kaifeng. The drive was really pretty as we passed hundreds of tiny farms. The whole way, however, we only passed one small town as we were on the new highway.

Right now I am typing in our hotel… is an old hotel but absolutely lovely. In fact, they have given us the suite and we are sitting on leather sofas with an antique chandelier over our head. Not quite was I was expecting in rural Henan. It is absolutely perfect. We learned from Zhang Ming that early that morning, before we arrived, the director went to our hotel to make sure it was okay. When he saw the condition, with the dirty beds and carpeting, he was very distressed. This extremely kind man drove around looking at all the hotels in the city until he found this one. I am continually so touched by the kindness I am shown when in China.

We glanced through a travel book on Kaifeng while waiting for the director of the orphanage to come meet us, and there are almost 30 national historic sites in this small town, due to it being one of the ancient capital cities of China. There is something really amazing about reading that the buildings are from 900 A.D. I felt horrible for the bellboy here, however, as it is an old hotel and there is no elevator. He had to carry our six bags up the stairs, and it just about broke my heart when he came up with the last one absolutely panting. He tried to refuse our tip while deep breathing and bending over but there was no way he was going to win that argument.

Soon after the orphanage director arrived and we had a great meeting discussing the orphanage and its history. Then the fun for the day truly began. We went shopping for the kids! (one of my favorite activities) They took us to a large shopping mall, and we were off. The older kids needed school supplies, and we loaded the cart with pencils and markers and notepads. The director is so kind and was very hesitant to accept what we wanted to buy. While we were picking out pencils, Karen noticed him glancing at the smallest, wobbliest little table and she came over and asked me if I thought the kids had a place to study. We asked if the students had desks and he said “mei you” (we don’t have). So the desk shopping then began! We found a GREAT desk that had little shelves and drawers and was very sturdy. We bought five of them and got free delivery and assembly…..I know the kids will be so excited to have a place to put their things.

Then it was time for backpacks, and it was great to see the director picking out JUST the right ones for the kids. He wanted them to be different so there would be no mix ups (just like my house!), and he really took the time to make sure each one would work well for the kids. Then it was off to the water bottle section because you can’t have a new backpack without a new water bottle to go with it, right?

Karen and I took a moment to pick out some gifts for the aunties, and then it was check out time. By this time we were LOADED to the brim of our carts and we gathering quite a crowd of interested people. I loved as the moms brought their beautiful little toddlers over to see, bundled to the max for the winter in huge puffy coats and yet their little bottoms were open to the world in their split pants. I saw a lot of really cold looking bottoms. J We all started laughing when we got the total and everyone was standing around staring as our facilitator counted out the funds. We were so happy that the director was able to get a discount card after our purchase as we had bought enough for him to qualify for free membership! That will help for the rest of the year. I cannot believe how much stuff we were able to buy for $150.

Tomorrow morning we will head out shopping once again, this time for bicycles for the older kids who now have to walk a long way to school in the cold. I am so excited about delivering the bikes. I know they will be so excited! I really like this director as he isn’t asking for anything more than the exact amount they need. He told us they only needed five bikes, even though I know they most likely need more.

Well, I had better close as it is very late. We have not had access to the internet for two days. Maybe tomorrow we will find an internet café. I am so excited that I will get to see the kids we have helped medically that I know I will have a hard time sleeping. Tomorrow will be a busy day but I am sure it will be one we will not forget soon.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Amy & Karen in China

Sunday in Beijing

The flight to Beijing went by so quickly and before we knew it, we were standing by the luggage carousel waiting for our bags. Both Karen and I commented that this felt like such a quick trip and neither of us could fully comprehend that we were standing in China. As our bags came off, the people around us were smiling and laughing at the size of our bags and one man asked if we were moving to Beijing! Karen turned around and said, “no, just spending one week!” and off we went with about 400 pounds of donations while the man’s mouth was on the floor.

Robin Hill from the Hope Foster Home was waiting right outside with his son, and they quickly loaded our bags into the van and we were off to visit Hope. It is amazing to see how many new trees have been planted for the Olympic games…..everywhere you look there are new trees. I knew we were getting closer to Hope as we got more into the countryside… one point we had to wait for a young woman to herd all of her sheep out of the road as we passed.

Soon we pulled up to their complex, and I was amazed to see the LWB special care unit completely built on the outside. The last time I was here it was just beginning. Robin took us on a quick tour and we were able to see the rooms where the babies will sleep, the ICU area, the physical therapy room and then the guest bedrooms for people who wish to intern and volunteer there. They have already started painting the rooms their designated colors. We also saw the large bathroom facility which will accommodate children in wheelchairs. I know the facility will allow us to touch so many babies with critical medical needs. I am so grateful to everyone who helped support this project. Sometimes when you are at Hope, it is easy to forget as you look at each beautiful and happy child that all of these babies were so critically ill at one point. How wonderful that even more children will be able to receive the daily medical care they need.

After touring the new unit, it was on to the fun part….playing with the kids. First we went to the main play room, where some of the kids we love so much were playing.

Little Rebekah and Teresa were all giggles and smiles.

Oh my is Rebekah smart! I would take a photo with my digital camera and then she would run over and switch my camera to “review” and then scan through the pictures. She is quite the techie. She insisted on taking many photos of her friends and I was loving it as she and some of the other kids posed for me.
Aurora, one of the babies we helped with heart surgery, was looking so cute in her little red dress, and she would smile when I pointed the camera at her, but if I tried to get any closer than that she would shake her head, “no no no”. She is a real “aunty’s girl”. Karen was getting a work out putting Teresa upside down over and over and over….she loves to look at the world from that angle!

We got to see the two beautiful babies from Hunan whom we sent to Hope for club foot casting. They are beyond gorgeous and just so sweet. We just found out this week that one of these angels is missing the bones in her lower leg, and she will most likely need to have that leg amputated and then have a prosthetic made. We all are hoping that her file makes it quickly onto a waiting child list so that her medical treatment can be done by her family. She is absolutely lovely and Dr. Joyce says her personality matches that as well.

We also got to see ChenChen, who just had biliary atresia surgery. While she still looks yellow, she is doing well and the surgeon feels like it was a successful repair. They will do monthly bloodwork on her for the next six months to make sure all is well. She is SO tiny….her little fingers are so delicate and tiny. She was sleeping peacefully when we went into her room and I didn’t want to disturb her so we just let her keep dreaming. J

We got to see Parker, who recently had his facial surgery in Australia. He is such a spirited little boy who immediately ran up and took my hand. He also was a ham for the camera and loved the “review pictures” part the best. Robin Hill was the one who took him on the long flight to Australia for his surgery and we all had a great laugh after watching him run nonstop around the room imagining how that plane ride went!

There is a new boy with complex heart disease who has just recently arrived. Oh he is so blue…..his oxygen levels at times are only at 40-50. I hope he can get heart surgery as quickly as possible. He is BEAUTIFUL…..but obviously very ill.

It was so great to spend more time with Joyce and Robin Hill. Their dedication to these kids is so inspiring. They never give up on any child. They have been offered the fifth floor of the Luoyang orphanage to do a special needs/palliative care unit and I am just so happy that they have decided to move forward with this project as I know they will give tender loving care to some kids who have true medical needs. The total facility will be over 8000 sq feet and they believe that 50 children will be able to live there.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the kids and head downtown so that we could get checked into our hotel. Tomorrow will be a busy day and we actually will be in another province to sleep! Better sign off so that we can get a few hours rest.