Grace Gowen’s summer 2016 trip blog
Hi—My name is Grace and I was one of the discussion facilitators for this year’s first session to the care home located in Beijing. A little bit about myself: I am a rising junior at Occidental College in LA with a major in Sociology and a minor in Chinese. I started a club with one of my friends this past year that fundraises for OneSky, the nonprofit that CCI partners with in order to host these volunteer sessions at the care home. I also love playing rugby, lifeguarding, and playing with children. These next few blog posts are about my experiences in the care home from July 4-July 14, 2016.
The care home is a unique, special place full of love, smiles, and lots of diapers. Children arrive from all over in order to receive surgeries that are not funded by the orphanages where they live. Thus, the care home is not an orphanage, but a place where children stay pre- and post-surgery. During this volunteer session the care home was home to around 20 children; the youngest was just a few months old while the oldest was 10. The average age of the children was around 3 years old. It can be hard to tell exactly how old the child is by simply observing their behavior because many times the special need inhibits their development.
There were many children in the hospital as well who were receiving their surgeries. The care home partners with various hospitals in the Beijing area and sends a child to the hospital that will best suit their surgery needs. Because the children have no parents to go with them to the hospital, the child’s favorite nanny will accompany them in order to help them feel safer and more secure during their life-changing procedure.
The nanny to child ratio is 3:1 technically speaking, but there definitely were more than just seven nannies at the care home. Perhaps this was the ratio of nannies to children at nighttime because during the day there always seemed to be an abundance of nannies to care for the children.
In the first adoptee volunteer session, there were 13 young women ages 16-21, including myself. The purpose of this trip was twofold: for high school and college aged adoptees to volunteer with the children at the care home, and for adoptees to discuss questions of identity and adoption in their lives. These young women were adopted from various provinces around China and currently live all around the United States and Canada.
Wednesday morning when we walked into the care home for the first time, I spotted her. She was wearing a cute blue shirt with four or five pony tails that were sticking up at various angles all over her head. I knew then that I was going to be friends with her. However, this turned out to be more challenging than I thought.
Chun Xi is a very shy little girl. For the first four days, Chun Xi was terrified of any of the “jiejie’s.” (All the young women volunteering on the trip are called “jiejie,” jiejie means “older sister” in Chinese.) The nannies would try and coax her to play with us, “Go play with jiejie, go have fun” but every time she would get scared and start crying. She would sit in the nanny’s lap and look at us with a curious stare but would never approach us.
Day five was a breakthrough; after much clapping and smiling and persuasion, I was finally able to lure her over for a quick hug before she ran back to her nanny’s lap. In the following days, we became better friends. One day she fell asleep in my arms. Another day I fed her lunch.
Although shy, Chun Xi was very happy and curious. She was very ticklish, especially around her neck and tummy. She had the cutest little face as she laughed or smiled. Every time someone walked by her room, she would smile and wave at them. During meal time, she had a great appetite and usually ate a whole bowl of food at meal time and had cookies to snack on in between. I got to help feed her a couple times and noticed that she ate very quickly without much mess. I was very impressed. One of her favorite activities was to look out the window. Sometimes she would point at various objects outside and look at me as if to say, “look at this wonderful thing I have found outside! Isn’t it great?” On the last day, I took her outside with some other children and jiejie’s and we played with bubbles; she didn’t know how to blow bubbles but looked very confused but happy every time a bubble popped.
In romance stories, love at first sight is when a man spots a woman across the room and time stops as they walk towards each other into a passionate embrace. These characters are usually in their mid to late 20’s and the man is highly successful but lonely and the woman is a damsel in distress waiting for her prince charming to come along and sweep her off her feet.
For me, love at first sight was different. Love at first sight was with a 2 2/12 year old sitting in a crib.
Saturday morning I walked into the care home and since it was a weekend, there were not planned activities for the children so all the kids were in their rooms playing with their nannies or dozing in their beds. As I walked into one of the rooms, I saw her little face. Ya ya, I later found out. She was lightly dozing in her crib but as I approached, she held her arms up to me and smiled the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen. How could I resist? I swept her out of her crib and into my arms.
From then on, we were a pair, Ya ya and I. She was one of the cuddliest babies I had ever seen, and so content just to sit in my lap and play with a toy or two. There were three activities that she particularly enjoyed. The first was that she was like a crow and would grab hold of my sparkly necklace or earrings; she was so curious about what they were. None of the nannies wore jewelry (for good reason!) so mine were a novelty to her. Sometimes we would play with toys and gravity. She would place a toy under my chin and then watched as I moved my head and the toy tumbled back down into her lap. Over and over we played this little game. Every time the toy fell back down into her lap, I was rewarded with a smile. Another activity that Ya ya enjoyed was picking things up off the ground and handing them to me. It didn’t matter whether it was a toy or a piece of paper or even trash. She would try to hand me everything that she got a hold of.
Over the course of the week that I was with her, she became more and more vocal. The first day I sat with her, I was surprised by how quiet she was, barely making a noise even when she was laughing. The last day I was with her, she was squealing and giggling with glee and it warmed my heart to see how comfortable Ya ya had become with me.
Love comes in all shapes and sizes and ages, when you’re expecting it, but especially when you’re not. My love story happened to be with a 2 1/2 year old named Ya ya.
My greatest fear about this trip was getting my heart broken. I thought maybe I could protect myself, shield my heart, keep myself from falling in love with the children. But the first time I saw the children, I knew I would love them wholly and completely and that it would be hard to leave; ten days later with tears streaming down my face, I readied myself to fly back to America.
This is my third time going on this volunteer trip and each year I arrive with an open mind and leave with a broken heart. I suppose the more times I volunteer at the care home, the harder it is to leave because I know the heartbreak that is inevitable. The time seems to fly by while I’m there. All the children are so adorable, my heart just melts.
One thing that continually surprises me is how quickly friendships and love are created. Although I only spent about a week with the children in the care home, my love for them is everlasting. When I leave the care home, I leave a piece of my heart for each of the children. The friendships I made with the 12 amazing young women will also stay with me. It is unlikely that all 13 of us will end up in the same place again, but the memories we share from the care home will last forever. There’s magic about volunteering at the care home and being adopted that brings us together. Though it wasn’t always an easy journey (mostly due to the heat and mosquito bites), this experience has taught me a lot about myself and I have emerged more grateful and open-minded than ever before.
When people tell me I’m “lucky” for having been adopted, I don’t feel lucky for having been adopted, I feel lucky for the opportunities I have had in my life from being adopted. And for this experience, I truly am lucky.