Saturday, July 25, 2009

Impressions and Pictures

Greetings from Guangzhou,
Fei, Susan and I are feeling the natural letdown from so much activity and emotion in such a short time. And now we are able to pause and think about the experience, the children and absorb our impressions. As you heard, on Thursday morning Susan received an emergency call from the CCAA saying that the Guangdong province wanted to shut down Hope's Journey for fear that the H1N1 virus was increasing in the region. CCAA officials advocated for us, saying that we were already in China waiting to begin the program. The provincial officials agreed to let us continue provided we started the program on Friday instead of Sunday. Needless to say, we were all hustling around to move to the new hotel. Susan had to change her flight from Beijing and was on a plane within three hours!!! We had planned to have a whole day to prepare our gifts, games and arts projects. Well, we discovered how fast we can work.

This shift not only impacted our program, but that of another agency just ahead of us. Each of our programs were compressed into one long day, with us coming in the afternoon that the other program was concluding. It was chaotic and confusing for everyone. But the Guangzhou SWI staff and the CCAA staff were both so kind, apologetic and helpful. Despite the shaky start, it turned out to be a heartfelt and profound experience.

On Friday at 1:30 we met the children for the first time. We discovered that several children had been removed from the list and replaced with four children from Shenzhen SWI. We are sending the updated information to Marci and she will update our website as quickly as possible. All of the children have been living in foster homes. We have a total of 30 children, all of whom want to be adopted. What a great group of kids!!! The children had been preparing for this adventure and they must have been impacted by the sudden speeding up of the program. However, the children's home nannies and staff helped ease them into this strange new world very quickly. We had a very brief opening ceremony after which we showed the children our presentation about life in America and shared with them some of Honour Grace's story. The CCAA also showed a video that talked about America and shared one boy's adoption story.

Then it was the children's turn to introduce themselves and if they wished, show us some of their talents. Wow, we heard perfect flute playing, singing and recitation of poems. The other children listened intently, swaying in time or clapping in rhythm. Some of the older boys were into hip and cool - showing off their body building poses, robot moves and doing sports charades. A group of about eight kids had preparing a kind of hip hop dance, and some were naturals. They ended with all the children "signing" a beautiful song about having heart and hope and never giving up. It was stunning to watch - the children were really feeling the words and signing with emotion. One small boy in the front row was even singing aloud as he signed - it was impossible to keep my eyes off of him - he exuded such energy! My eyes filled with tears - it was a magical moment.

After a snack and brief break, we got to break out our Hawaiian luau theme. We donned our leis and hula skirts and twirly gizmos (highly technical jargon) That was a BIG hit for kids and grownups alike. The kids were so uninhibited and joyful - we formed a circle and danced the hula to our Hawaiian CD. That led to the limbo (or the new and improved version of the limbo!) We started high and moved low, but didn't try to make them bend backwards. We tried to catch them between two limbo sticks (soft and inflatable). It was hard to tell who had more fun, kids or grownups acting like kids for a few minutes.

Susan and Fei snuck off to another room to begin interviewing the children one by one. I think this is where our compressed schedule had the most significant negative impact. They only had about 5 minutes with each child and their caregiver, hardly enough time to get a real sense of them. Marci had prepared such great worksheets for each child, based on age, but getting through everything is five minutes just couldn't be accomplished. Even so, with all our observations and impressions, we hope to have a reasonably good "picture" of the children.

We also had a very nice art project - lots of creativity and enthusiasm. We will return home with their artwork and prepare it for each child to carry with them to their new home once they are adopted. They watched some kids videos and played some fun games. We had sun visors for them to decorate - lots to keep them busy, and engaged. Finding things to keep children from 4 to 13 all interested can be challenging, but I think we succeeded.

After dinner, Susan and Fei completed the interviews and we had a closing ceremony by about 8 pm. The children needed to be settled into their hotel sleep over by 9 pm. I think Fei, Susan and I were all tucked in by 10, totally worn out and overwhelmed by everything. As the day unfolded, we watched the children warm up and relax, saw their personalities emerge, saw how sweet, bright and kind they were. Each of us found ourselves drawn closer and closer to the children. By the end of our day together, we must have had our pictures taken a 100 times with the kids, hugged (sometimes awkwardly by the older boys) and smooched.

How is it that children can strip away the pretense and infuse us grownups with a sense of joy and vigor and just plain old fashioned fun? It's not often you see a bunch of grownups (including some pretty serious officials!) dancing around in hula skirts remembering what it was like to be young and innocent. Ultimately, I think the children gave us much more than we gave them.

Now it's up to you reading this blog. Become a family for one the children or help us find families - spread the word, be their advocates. These children need and deserve a family to call their own. Let us all help them never give up and reach their dream.

With our love and affection,
Sandra, Fei and Susan

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