Last month our team took the annual trips to deliver Christmas presents to children at each orphanage where our group goes throughout the year, and where some children have come from to be fostered into families. I was able to go to one orphanage, where the situation is particularly challenging.
It seems cynicism can easily permeate orphanage workers so they have hardened hearts, and that may be the case at this orphanage, where children of all ages eat a very meager diet of 1-2 bottles of milk per day, and are left to their own devices for comfort or entertainment. In addition to chronic malnutrition, many of the children have cerebral palsy or other neuro-developmental disorders, which really physical therapy and special feeding techniques to optimize their health.
Our organization has one staff worker who lives in this town about 4 hours away, and she goes in daily to help and feed the children out of her own meager income. She often gets an earful from the other people who work there when the children produce bowel movements, cry as they demand for more food, and otherwise show signs of life. This hero has been facing a difficult work environment daily for several years, yet continues to go in day after day, because her heart is burdened for these children.
There were two children in mind that were possibly candidate for being fostered in the weeks preceding our visit, but a few days before we came the orphanage director clamped down and said no children would be released because we already had “too many” and their numbers would drop. Not sure of all the implications, but possibly the census is related to their operational budget. So although our director called him several times, he said, No, No, No.
The next Tuesday dawned, we had a 6:30 am departure time for the 4 hour trip. We were bringing not only food and presents for children and staff, but also 6 or 7 foster children from that orphanage and their respective foster parents to let the orphanage see how well these children were doing. One family was out of town, and I volunteered to babysit QH, a 3 year old lively girl, for the day and be responsible for her.
We got lost (it seems to be a common occurrence on these trips, despite a seemingly functional GPS shouting out commands from the driver’s dashboard) and our trip took about 6 hours, so we arrived to a waiting lunch. But even the lateness had a purpose, as JT, eager to be a foster father, had arranged for his own transportation out to the orphanage in a private car, and had arrived early. He was sitting and just holding SZC, the 5 year old boy who weighs about 15 pounds and we were really hoping to get out. The director had roamed around the orphanage and spotted him sitting there, and apparently this had an impact on him. He looked out the window and said, “Oh, I see you came in a private car. This might be a good opportunity to take SZC back to be fostered.” The miracle happened, and SZC has been in foster care since just before Christmas.
I think there are a lot of cultural, social and political nuances in this scenario that I really don’t understand at all. We count so much on our director, a Chinese woman, to navigate this narrow and treacherous path of advocacy for vulnerable children.
And we are thankful for every day a child is in a home instead of in an institution.