Our newest guest contributor is Katherine, who is currently living and teaching in China. She also has the unique opportunity to spend time volunteering at a local orphanage. Katherine blogs over at Life of a Pilgrimand although she is not an adoptive mother, she has a unique perspective and invaluable insights into life in China.
I’m going to be real honest with you; I’ve struggled a lot with what to write here. First of all, I’m extraordinarily humbled to be posting here. I’ve never adopted. I’m not even a mother. I’m a huge believer in practicing what you preach—and if you aren’t practicing it, then be quiet. I can’t give you advice on attachment, I can’t commiserate with the pain of waiting, I can’t help you figure out the tangle of paperwork. I’ve never walked in your shoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday I do, but as for now, I can’t speak to any of those issues.
So why am I joining the discussion here? I’m wondering the same thing just about now. I’m wondering why I emailed Stefanie saying I’d love to share. What I have to offer is simply one tiny glimpse into life in a government orphanage in China. It’s one small, and by no means normative, view of the landscape of Chinese orphanages.
I moved to China five years ago with very little knowledge and understanding of the culture. The past five years I’ve learned a lot, but the more I learn the more I realize I don’t understand. If there is one principle to hold onto while discussing China, it’s that China is a land of contradictions. This is a frustrating realization when you’re trying to learn about the culture. Our human tendency when we’re learning something new is to make generalizations and equations. If A is true and B is true then C must be true. However, such simplifying strategies just don’t work in China.
This fact is especially true within orphanages, and is one of the reasons for my hesitation in sharing. I can tell you any number of heart-wrenching and heart-warming stories, but if these stories are set up as norms, they become false and misleading. In sharing, learning, and preserving the stories of these precious children and of your child, there must be a balanced acceptance of the broken and the redeemed, the good and the bad, the noble and the corrupt. A focus only on the good creates a romanticized version of orphanage life and adoption that fails to acknowledge that things are not as they should be. A focus only on what’s broken fails to acknowledge the intimate activity of the Defender of orphans, working to bring redemption and healing in the darkest corners.
With all of that being said, today I want to share a bit about some of the changes I’ve witnessed at our orphanage in the past five years. This overview will hopefully give you a broader framework within which to tuck future stories I may share (that is, if Stefanie ever invites my long-windedness back).
One of the most encouraging things to witness the past five years has been the move of the orphanage, both figuratively and literally. Five years ago, the orphanage was in a one room old building behind an elderly and disabled home on the outskirts of the city. Most in the city were ignorant of its presence. When one of the foreign teachers at our university heard there was an orphanage, she found a student who could take her. What began was a gradual period of building relationship and trust and what resulted was an unprecedented freedom in visiting the orphanage whenever we want to.
We began to take students with us to the orphanage, and when the need for surgeries arose for several children, a fundraiser was held on our university campus to raise money. In a way, our involvement in this project “shamed” the school. The fact that foreigners were caring for their own people didn’t sit too comfortably with those at our university. As a result, more and more student groups began to visit the orphanage. Some Saturdays we would arrive and every single child would be in the arms of a student.
In those early days, the orphanage was able to build a new building next to the old one. It was a two-storied bright pink castle, and was a huge improvement over the previous building. They were in that building for about three years before the biggest move came. About two years ago, the orphanage moved from the outskirts of the city to the very heart of the city, becoming the only orphanage in the province to be downtown. The building, with cartoon characters sprawled over its outside walls, is hard to ignore now. Community awareness and aid is increasing. There are more domestic adoptions now.
While this history is extremely encouraging, there are still many things that weekly break my heart. There is a great deal of corruption in the higher levels of orphanage administration in our region. Children’s files are moved extremely slowly to Beijing for placement. While the nannies at our orphanage truly love the children, there aren’t nearly enough of them. While those with minor special needs are usually adopted as toddlers, those with more severe special needs are for the most part left behind.
Hope and despair, brokenness and redemption, beauty and shame. Such is the complex and contradictory world of the orphanage. What’s left for each of us to do within this picture is to fight for justice and love. We embrace and applaud what is good and right, and we seek to take part in the redemption of what’s broken. However, our greatest comfort remains in the fact that the big picture orchestration is in the hands of the only One who intimately knows and cares and understands each little life.