Blog

Love Stories: What I Saw When I Stopped Searching

April 25, 2017 2 Comments

We are so quick to fill in the blanks, aren’t we? We get one part of a story, and we use our imagination to complete the rest.

But it’s too simplistic to do that with the care of orphaned children halfway around the world… to see an image and create a tragic narrative, hear a testimony and judge an entire community, read an account of a single incident and make assumptions about an entire system.

We want to have eyes to see the good.

And there is most definitely good to be found. So this month we are sharing stories that exemplify the good. The lovely. The things that remind us that there is always hope.

Join us this month as we share stories of love in the unlikeliest of places.



……….

I flashed my big American smile as normal when the team arrived on campus that morning. I’m sure no one could tell how anxious I was as I slowly sipped hot water with the directors and dismissed the team of American volunteers to the various rooms where they were serving.

I had long been preparing for this trip, more so than any other trip before. We had been going into this particular orphanage for a couple years already. We had a long-term vision for supporting the caregivers and, therefore, the children who they cared for. We knew the best way to do that was to build relationships first. And, we had. We entered in, gave a lot of thumbs ups, patted a lot of shoulders, enjoyed many a cup of hot water and even more selfies. Then, we entered in again and again after that. Our hope was that we were now at a different place than we were on Day 1 of Trip 1. We didn’t want to be seen as foreign experts who came in and told them how to do their jobs better; we wanted to be seen as helpful appreciators. If that were all we did, it would be enough. But, if we could give them more, I wanted to give it.

I had pitched the idea to the directors months ahead of time — a caregiver training in the form of several workshops. The American volunteers would help care for the children so a few leaders, a few foster parents, and a few ayis from each age group of children could be included. I’d need their permission though to have our cameras out from the start because the training would involve video footage that the volunteers would take during the week. I’m not sure what they thought of the idea initially, but I knew they trusted me and that it must have seemed like a good idea to some decision maker because I got a yes.

For months, I studied curriculum developed by the Fred Rogers Center called Simple Interactions, was mentored by the man who championed its development, created a PowerPoint presentation for each workshop, dreamed up ice-breaker games, and copied handouts.

While I prepared to lead the workshops, the team was tasked with capturing the videos I’d be using. Simply using their smartphones, they had the job of capturing on video developmental interactions between caregivers and children, simple interactions, that we’d watch together in the workshops with the goal of magnifying good things already happening there so that that good would grow.

I knew this place. I knew the staff. Yet, a little voice in my head whispered: What if I can’t find the good? I can do all the prep and make all the copies, but it all depends on those videos. What if we don’t catch the good we need? When I shared the whisper with my mentor, he replied: “There is always good to be found. Just take out your phones and start recording.”



And so, we did. It was going well until one of the directors casually mentioned that the afternoon workshops I had thought were going to be on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were now going to be one several-hour-long workshop on Tuesday instead… the next day.

We’d only have one day of videos. I have three PowerPoints and lots of plans. How in the world will this work?

In my smoke-scented hotel room that night, I chose several video clips from hundreds saved on 15 different phones, clips that showed connection between a caregiver and a child. I took slides from the three PowerPoints I had spent so much time overthinking and put them together to make an all-new one, inserting the video clips from earlier that day. It wasn’t what I had envisioned, but it would be enough.

Now, here I was Tuesday morning, sipping my hot water, casually making plans for the time before the workshop that afternoon. There were several children in the kindergarten class being adopted and some who would be available for adoption soon. Before the workshop, I’d go there to take some pictures and notes to give anxiously awaiting families and encourage the teacher while I did.

When I entered, I saw a girl I had seen on earlier trips. She was memorable; she had no legs.



Despite her stature matching those of her students, she was no child; she was a young woman who had grown up in that place as an orphan herself. While her childhood friends and roommates left and never returned, she remained until she grew out of becoming a daughter on paper.

Now, she was no longer a child there, she was a caregiver, a lao shi, a teacher. I found myself completely focused on her rather than the children I was there to observe. Sitting in a tiny plastic chair on the perimeter of the room, I grabbed my phone…




I had not only captured something good; I had captured something remarkably beautiful.

When her verbal prompts weren’t enough, she literally came alongside her student, covering his small frame with her own. In that posture, she guided him so that the hand that was not able on its own was now able. She then let go, showing him he could do it now.

You are a clever boy. You can do it.

And, he did.

Like this, lao shi? Did I get it right?

She smiled, nodded, encouraged him along, gently erasing little mistakes so that he could try again, prompting him with quiet words and her eyes so that he would not forget the last little details, giving him all the time he needed rather than what was convenient, quieting the other children waiting for him so he could finish well, so that in the end he’d experience success with no shame… and smile.

That afternoon, the small group I anticipated for the workshop filled a conference room. Every well-dressed administrator sat in the front backed by rows of leaders backed by still more rows of foster mothers with working staff in matching pink sweatshirts filling the spaces left in the back. Despite the starts and stops inherent to speaking with a translator, they seemed engaged, taking photos with their phones of the images on the big screen and my slides featuring words in both English and Chinese about the importance of relationship.

They responded to each point and each little video. A few brave souls stood to speak in response when I asked them what was happening in the videos and sought to magnify the good. But, it was her video, the video taken only hours earlier that I had no plans of getting, that made the biggest impact that day.

I saw her cover her mouth and hide when she saw herself on the screen. The girls sitting in the back beside her literally lifted her up so that she could be seen. In a room full of her superiors, she shared why she thought I had chosen this simple interaction, her simple interaction, to show to everyone there. How I wish I had a video of this moment as she became tall and humbly articulated how she just wanted her student to feel like he could do it.

I smiled so big that my cheeks hurt and clapped my hands out of sheer joy like a child. I praised her for giving him exactly what he needed and teaching him something in a simple interaction that is infinitely more important than vowels on a chalkboard. Those who filled the room either looked intently upon her blushing face or scribbled notes of some sort into notebooks before them.

And, in that moment, she felt no shame, and she smiled knowing she did it.

There is always good to be found. And, perhaps the greatest good can be found when you put aside the search and simply see.


Love Stories: A Second Chance

April 24, 2017 2 Comments

We are so quick to fill in the blanks, aren’t we? We get one part of a story, and we use our imagination to complete the rest.

But it’s too simplistic to do that with the care of orphaned children halfway around the world… to see an image and create a tragic narrative, hear a testimony and judge an entire community, read an account of a single incident and make assumptions about an entire system.

We want to have eyes to see the good.

And there is most definitely good to be found. So this month we are sharing stories that exemplify the good. The lovely. The things that remind us that there is always hope.

Join us this month as we share stories of love in the unlikeliest of places.



……….

On April 7, 2015, a tiny, frail, terrified baby girl arrived at the orphanage. She was estimated to be a year old, but she weighed only 10 pounds.

She was completely shut down.

She watched people carefully, but she never smiled, and her affect was always flat. Except for crying. She cried a lot. But she quickly learned in the orphanage that crying served no purpose. No one paid much attention to her. She was rarely touched or held. She spent her days lying in a cold, metal crib with only her fingers and toes to play with. She spent hours moving her thumb in front of her face.

Several weeks later, a team from Lifeline Children’s Services visited the orphanage. This particular orphanage is known for being an incredibly difficult place. There are very limited resources, and there is a serious lack of attention for the children living there.

The team from Lifeline saw this baby girl, and they immediately knew that she was not doing well. Her eyes searched them as they held her, and they could tell that there was life behind her eyes. But they described her as “the baby with the saddest eyes” they’d ever seen.

The orphanage staff told them that this baby girl was unable to smile. She wasn’t eating well. She very rarely even moved.

One Lifeline team member held this baby for several hours during the visit. The woman smiled at the baby and talked to her. The baby watched her, her little eyes glistening with tears, but she never responded to any interaction. Except she clung in desperation to the woman’s shirt.

When it was time for the team to leave, someone else had to take the baby to put her back in the crib. The woman couldn’t bring herself to be the one to leave the baby in the metal crib.

As the team left the orphanage that day, the baby girl was heavy on all of their hearts, and they knew that something needed to be done quickly for her. It didn’t appear that she was going to survive much longer in her current condition. She was physically deteriorating, and her little spirit was broken.

About a year earlier, Lifeline had opened a new foster center, City of Grace, near this orphanage in southern China. At this foster center, 13 children were given a safe place to live where they receive love, attention, nutritious food, and individualized care. The nannies at the center are trained in how to connect to these children and how to help them develop.

The team from Lifeline knew that this baby’s best chance for survival was to move from the orphanage to the foster center where she could get more attention. They prayed that this baby would be able to hold on at the orphanage for a few more weeks, as another child would be leaving to meet her forever family; then it would be her turn to move to the foster center.



On May 21, 2015 this baby, my Elena Hope, was given another chance at life.

As she was picked up from the orphanage and taken to the foster center, the orphanage director told the foster center director, “This child cannot smile. If you are ever able to get a smile from her, please let us know.”

When Elena arrived at the foster center, she was very malnourished, sick, developmentally delayed, and withdrawn. The staff at the foster center knew that they needed to act quickly and that they needed to take drastic measures to reach her before it was too late.

For days, someone stayed right by her side around the clock. She was never left alone. She was held and rocked and talked to. She was patiently fed. She was given toys to play with.

Because of the nannies constant presence at her side, she was learning that she was safe and loved. And very slowly, she started to come back to life. Little by little, her guard came down, and the nannies started to see hints of a smile.

Then one day, she gave them a full smile. They found that she was not only fully capable of smiling, she had a very adorable smile! In the orphanage, she just had nothing to smile about. The nannies gave Elena the nickname “redeemed eyes” because of her transformation during her first few weeks at the foster center.



And she continued to thrive at the foster center. She gained weight as she started eating nutritious food on a consistent basis. She learned to sit on her own, and then she started crawling and trying to pull to stand.

Due to her early malnutrition, she had (and still has) very low muscle tone. But the nannies worked diligently to help her develop.

They encouraged her to climb and crawl, bounced her on balls, and played games to try to get her to move.
They took her outside and pushed her on swings and let her explore the grass.
They took her to a pool and let her splash in the water.
They took her to an indoor play area and helped her on slides and let her play in a ball pit.
They gave her art materials and let her finger paint and color and play with play dough.
They sang songs, did music time, and played with whistles and tambourines.
They took her on outings to the grocery store.
They decorated a room with balloons and streamers, bought her a cake, and celebrated her 2nd birthday in grand fashion!

And I know all of these things because they documented Elena’s adventures with pictures which they then gave to me when we met in China.


two pictures – just one year apart


It’s clear from looking at all the pictures that my girl was so loved by her nannies at the foster center. And you can see how her spirit was reignited through their devoted care and attention.

In the 10 months since she has become my daughter, I continue to see evidences of the love they poured into Elena. Her “gotcha day” and the rest of our time in China was nothing short of traumatic.



She was clearly very attached to her nannies at the foster center, and leaving them was yet another terrifying experience for her. She grieved the loss of her nannies terribly, and for several days, we saw that depressed, sad eyed baby return. It was heartbreaking.

Our guide in China spoke to the director of Elena’s foster home many times, and the director even spoke to Elena on the phone several times to try to help ease her transition. At one point, she told me, “Please don’t give up on her. She will come around, and she will love you. And when she learns to trust you and love you, she will love you fiercely! That’s the kind of girl Elena is.”

And how right she was! After our difficult start, Elena has blossomed into a very sweet, sensitive, compassionate, happy, loyal little girl. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s now very attached to her forever family.



Elena gives the best hugs and kisses, and she says “Lulou” (I love you) many times a day. She knows how to love and be loved because of the love and care she received from the nannies at the foster center.

I’m fairly sure that Elena’s physical life was saved by being moved to the foster center. And I’m 100% sure that the nannies at the foster center set her broken little heart on the path to being healed!



We are forever grateful for the opportunity Elena had to live at the foster center and for the way it changed her life!

– guest post by Wynne

Urgent Medical Need: Owen

April 24, 2017 1 Comments

Owen is a precious 9 year old boy who is currently living in an amazing foster home near Beijing.



Owen quickly adjusted to his new foster home and reports that he likes it there. He has become a kind big brother to many of the younger children living there. He wishes to have a family of his own and hopes that can be adopted by loving parents.

Owen has thalassemia and does best with regular transfusions. He has started attending school and loves studying and learning. He is described as very smart, gregarious, clever and polite. He can complete a lego set independently and very quickly. He has good language skill, likes to do crafts, read books and listen to music.

Read more about Owen in this post.



Owen’s file is designated to Hawaii International Child, please contact them directly for more information on reviewing his file or beginning the adoption process.

Find My Family: Francesca

April 23, 2017 0 Comments

Beautiful Francesca, born in November 2012, is a happy girl who warms up to people quickly. She enjoys playing with other children and dancing to music. Sometimes she pats her caregiver’s shoulder and gives her a kiss – usually because she wants to eat whatever food her caregiver has! Francesca is diagnosed with Down syndrome, …Read More

Severe Feeding Challenges: The Hardest Part

April 23, 2017 8 Comments

We started the adoption process in 2005, right before the big slowdown. We didn’t end up traveling until 2007, so I spent every free moment reading adoption stories and joining every adoption-related yahoo group out there. I felt as well-educated as one could possibly be. Unfortunately, there were only the “ladybugs and unicorns” stories out …Read More

Waiting for You: Shaw

April 22, 2017 1 Comments

Shaw is a precious three year old boy who waits for a family of his own. He is currently listed with WACAP with a $2,000 grant. He needs someone to help him put a smile on his sweet little face. Shaw’s primary special is transfusion dependent thalassemia. He also has some cardiac issues which may …Read More

Love Stories: Luo Mama

April 21, 2017 0 Comments

We are so quick to fill in the blanks, aren’t we? We get one part of a story, and we use our imagination to complete the rest. But it’s too simplistic to do that with the care of orphaned children halfway around the world… to see an image and create a tragic narrative, hear a …Read More

Waiting to be Chosen: Libby

April 20, 2017 0 Comments

Libby (born January 2015) is a cheerful little girl who loves to play outside in the sun, and go to the supermarket. She laughs out loud when amused, and loves listening to music; she has learned how to twist the volume on the radio. She is currently listed with WACAP. In March 2016 she was …Read More

Advocacy: The Profound Ripple Effect

April 20, 2017 1 Comments

“Why are we here?” It is a question many people ask themselves through their life journey. Answers come in many forms through prayer, hope, and helping others.   But now imagine yourself as a person who was abandoned by his or her biological parents. How can you, and that child, find solace? You are reading …Read More

Love Stories: My Happily Ever After

April 19, 2017 3 Comments

We are so quick to fill in the blanks, aren’t we? We get one part of a story, and we use our imagination to complete the rest. But it’s too simplistic to do that with the care of orphaned children halfway around the world… to see an image and create a tragic narrative, hear a …Read More

© 2017 No Hands But Ours

The content found on the No Hands But Ours website is not approved, endorsed, curated or edited by medical professionals. Consult a doctor with expertise in the special needs of interest to you.