Big catch-up (1)!

I won't attempt to share everything that has happened since I last posted. I neither have time to dedicate to that nor would anyone have time to read that much. Instead, I will try to give a brief overview of what I've been doing over the past few months. I've really settled in here in Hengyang and feel at home now. Though I said this too in my last post, it now feels more like home than I ever thought it would. It hurts me thinking of leaving in less than three months, even though I know it's what I have to do in the long-term, but more about that in the next post.

Hengyang River (taken at a warmer time...)

Since I've been here, and on every trip to China, there has been a mix of both ups and downs. Ups such as being able to see progress being made with the kids as they learn to be more independent or a child being matched for adoption, and lows such as feeling overwhelmed with all that needs to be done and trying to find a place to fit into that. In November I had a tough few weeks where I was feeling far away from home, and in some ways ready to leave. It wasn't that anything major happened to cause this or that anything particularly bad was even happening. It was a big mix of things like not feeling I had enough of a role here, feeling overwhelmed with certain things. The honeymoon period was long gone where everything was new and seemes amazing. I got through this and it resulted in feeling so much more comfortable here and secure. God used that time to grow me in many ways and since that I have been able to experience so many amazing things.
There are no shortcuts to any place worth going - Beverly Sills. 

Now to share some of the highlights. Time goes by very quickly, particularly December. We celebrated 10 years of ICC being in Hengyang with a big party and ceremony with lots of the kids performing. As volunteers we also had to do something and for some very strange reason we decided to dance in animal onsies to 'The Fox Song/What Does the Fox Say?'. Don't ask why! We had to practice lots and performe it in front of many people!

In our costumes at the 10 year celebration! (only in China!)

Christmas was approaching quickly and the weekend before we hosted the whole ICC in-China team here in Hengyang for a weekend celebration. On the Saturday Luke and I hosted 26 people for a traditional Christmas dinner (we cooked the turkey and others brought the other dishes!). It was a fun time seeing people I had met before and meeting and connecting with many new people. The week of Christmas was hectic with many different Christmas parties for the different kids. Each child (and young person) attended a Christmas party and received a gift - it was really special. I was really impressed with how the parties were run, being done over three days. The first day was for the children who have more severe disabilities. We did the nativity story and had them sitting in a circle and engaging as much as possible through song and different senses (visual, smell, touch, taste, sound...). The next day was for the babies and toddlers which was full of singing and games and circle time. The third and final day, on Christmas Eve was for all of the other children and young people. Some got to dress up as either wise men or angels and others got to perform. For the first and third days I was Joseph! That week we also were invited to two lunches with both local district leaders and city officials. We got to see a different side of Hengyang at one of the best restaurants.

Two of our meals with local officials!
On Christmas Eve, after the parties and carol singing, I went out to the community group homes, where I spend up to have of each week, and took one of the boys out to buy some pizza for both the boys and the girls. It was fun taking him out to do that and to then eat pizza with the kids on Christmas Eve to celebrate specifically with them.  Then on Christmas day it was just our team - 8 of us for Christmas lunch and we played games and had lots of fun. It was very strange being away from home at Christmas for the first time but it was a very special time too. We then had a relaxing weekend together watching movies, eating more food and playing games.

Pizza and Chinese dishes for Christmas Eve with community group home kids.

Christmas Day dinner!

In the next post I will share more about the day to day things I have been involved with.

Settled into ICC

I arrived in HY, Hunan Province over 5 weeks ago now. It really has gone by so quickly and I have settled in well and it feels like home already. In my first week I settled in, was shown around the ICC centre and introduced to lots of kids. At the end of my first day I was given a list of 45 children here who either are currently on the adoption list, or soon will be. Wow.

[warning: long post ahead!! and can't share photos of the kids online for privacy reasons so if you'd like to be added to my email newsletter get in touch]. 

What does ICC do here?
ICC has been working here for 10 years now and have seen a drastic change and improvement in the children's care. Last year the welfare centre (orphanage) built ICC a new big facility on the same grounds which allowed them to increase their overall capacity to 160 children. So many children given 'Love, Hope and Opportunity'  - ICC's slogan. There are 5 floors to the building here, in a U shape. On the left side are the childrens homes with 4 homes on each floor, seperated out into different ages and genders and there are 7-8 children in each home. Their model is for each child to live in a family style environment.

The incredible ICC facility built last year.
The other side of the building holds classroomes, therapy rooms, activity rooms, craft rooms, workshop rooms and offices. Each of the children here gets some sort of either education, therapy time, circle time, activities, life-skills classes etc. based on their ability, function and interest. There are very few organisations in China working to care for children with the level disabilities that ICC does. It's incredible to see the opportunities these children are given to live a more meaningful life. Of course the needs here are still endless and there is always more that needs to be done.

ICC also has two community group homes locally with 8 boys and 8 girls. These kids are able to be more independent and two even go to local public school, many of the others are educated by ICC teachers near their homes, and some of them who are older are employed by the ICC centre.

What am I doing here?
There are two main aspects to my role: direct work with the kids and more behind the scenes.

For working directly with the kids I am with the youth worker. I am splitting my time between the main centre and the community group homes.  There are so many boys here and almost all the caregivers are female, all the therapists are female, as are all the teachers. It's so important for boys to have male figures in their lives. I am helping with a woodwork type class at the centre for many of the older boys with intellectual disabilites that happens for 3 different groups on Wednesdays. I will be spending some time with some of the boys in the main welfare centre who don't get to go to classes and activities like the kids in ICC's care. At the community group homes (where I will be half of the work-week), some days we take a few of the kids to play badminton or do another activity, other days we bring a Wii to play with, sometimes we take them out to a local park by a river. We will soon be helping some of the kids who have finished education to set life goals and help them work towards that to give them an independent meaningful life into adulthood. I've been asked to teach geography classes by some of the kids who heart that's what I studied at university, so we will try and fit that in soon! 

The biggest thing I am doing behind the scenes is helping with adoption advocacy. What a privilidge it is to be able to help with this, we are hoping to see many more kids, especially the older boys matched with families. The way this works is I get to know the kids and gather info and photos and send them to our American based advocate who aims to connect families with the children who can use adoption agencies to pursue their adoptions. While most of the children and young people here, due to age or severity of disability will not have the chance to be adopted internationally, this is possible for many of the children and we will do all we can to make it possible for those who are able. I'm also helping with some other random projects for one of the directors and hope to soon be involved in social media and raising the profile of ICC's work through that platform.

Our ICC team at Walk the Wall Event.
I am so grateful for the support and prayers of so many people! Of course there are ups and downs here, amazing days and frustrating days, that is to be expected. The community here is beyond what I imagined and the friends I have made will last a lifetime. I still need some support so if you are interested in supporting me get in touch, I have a way for this to be done tax deductibly for my US friends too.

Visiting Eagles Wings Sept 2015 | Part 2

Saturday at Eagles Wings

Here are a few highlights from Saturday at Eagles Wings. I spent the day with the kids in the morning, and again in the afternoon until the evening.  It's always so fun and special, yet tiring being around these kids all day!

These kids love asking questions. Why this, why that. WenXuan was asking why I wear glasses. I just said I don't know and because I can't see well. He asked if I spent too much time on the computer! What a funny kid!! Later we were talking about surgery scars as one kid had a visible one by his neck, and the other kids were pointing out scars they have such as legs or back (spina bifida). The kids asked if I have a surgery scar, to which I said no.
'Why do we have them, Rob gege?'...
'I don't know...'.
WenXuan chimes in: 'I know, it's because we're special!'. Now that I knew for sure is true!!
[all in Chinese]

One the boys is very talkative (to say the least!), always asking questions, and yes he is a very sweet kid, I did have to challenge him to not talk for 5 minutes which he thought sounded like fun at first. He didn't quite last though ;)

I spent the morning and had lunch with the kids who live in an apartment locally. I was amazed at the progress one of the boys has made. He arrived at Eagles Wings around the time I first went in 2013, at which point he seemed very delayed and did not talk. However, this time he could communicate much better, saying 'Ayi' (aunty/nanny) and telling her different things. It gave me such hope that he can be adopted in the future and that he could do really well and possibly catch up more.

On Monday I spent the day at the school that Eagles Wings runs for all the orphanage kids. They have over 70 kids in various classes, some like traditional school, others lower functioning kids needing more stimulation. One boy I know from the school there, cared for by another foster home in the orphanage, asked me:
'Rob gege, do you have a dad?'....
Because for the these kids, having a dad or a mom is not a given. Often being with these kids it is easy to forget they are orphans, without their own families, and then little instances like this highlight their reality.

I also got to talk to one of the Eagles Wings managers to get an update on some of the kids adoption status. It's up to the orphanage officials, not the foster home to submit files for different children to be available for adoption. Unfortunately, this isn't always the easiest thing... We talked through the possibility of different kids paperwork being done in the next batch. I long to see a few of the older children have a chance at having their own forever family, for how different their life can be. Although it is a difficult transition for older children, in my experience from the children I have worked with who have been adopted, it is so worth it. Please join me in praying for the orphanage to be willing to do paperwork for more children, and for families to be found to adopt them.

CunLiang (left) will be adopted this month. WenBo (right) I hope can be adopted one day if his paperwork is done before it is too late.
I left this visit with such hope. WenXuan waved from his room in the 10th floor all the way as I walked down the driveway to the orphanage gate.

Visiting Eagles Wings Sept 2015 | Part 1

I had a wonderful week in Beijing, staying at New Day with my friends there. I had time to get my things together before the big move, catch up with friends and see the kids there too! I left Beijing very early Friday morning to spent a long weekend in Jiaozuo.

I had a wonderful afternoon with the kids at Eagles Wings. I got to the orphanage a bit after 2pm and spent until about 7.30pm there. I met the Chinese managers first to catch up and I was asked to get some photos of some specific kids in the school there. This is my 6th time to visit Eagles Wings, so I know most the kids well and I know most of the staff too. One of the first things that happened was being asked what I thought about EW asking for the orphanage to do adoption paperwork for one of the older boys. I said please please do, without hesitation. A boy who would do so well in a family. I was also told one of the boys is being adopted in just A WEEK!!

CunLiang from Eagles Wings, being adopted NEXT WEEK!
First I gave one girl her camp memory book that she left at camp, my sister Ciara sent it back with me. She was SO excited to get it back and proudly showed it around to everyone! Next I went with the younger kids class, they have a lovely new play area that was recently built that many of them go to during the day. They try and have as many kids from the orphanage as possible in some sort of class, though for these kids it is focused play. One of the EW babies with downs syndrome, who when I was here in the summer could not sit up or push himself up from his front (he would just cry!). I lifted him out of his chair and wanted to test his sitting again - and YES he could sit well, and YES he could do tummy time easily! Less than two months later. I took too many photos and went to see the bigger kids. I walked in the room and they were excited to see me! Immediately one boy shouted out: 'Kid A said you're his gege (older brother) but you're my gege and everyones gege'. How sweet!! Being around these kids really is good for your self-esteem! I explained I was his Bring Me Hope camp buddy one year, but that yes I am all of your gege's. I can be both his and everyones!!

LiZhu gets her camp memory book back!
The baby who can now sit up well. Kids with Downs Syndrome develop behind children without DS and often have low muscle tone which means they are very floppy and it takes longer for them to learn to sit (and crawl, and walk...).

Even later one of the boys jokingly said 'I don't like you' {laughing while saying it}, and another kid quickly said 'I like you Rob Gege'. After school I had dinner with the boys and talked to two of the boys being adopted in the next few months. One on the 14th September and one hopefully in November. This is one of my favourite things to do! WenXuan/Wesley had already chosen small gifts for his two younger brothers, and a hair clip to give his mom.

I decided the theme of my few days at Eagles Wings was going to be hope. Today I met so many kids at the orphanage, most of whom I already knew, but many of whom won't be adopted. Many will need a miracle for their adoption paperwork to be done soon, if at all. Many of whom have special needs too great to be considered for adoption... Yes despite this, which could leave you in despair, I feel hope. I have hope for a better future for these kids, for those who will be adopted, and for those who won't. A hope that is greater than me, that comes from an awesome God. When God sees these children He feels love, and He can see them as He intended them to be - full of life and opportunity. It is this hope that roots what we do, and it is powerful.
    'God gives hope to the needy' Psalm 9:18

Made it to Beijing!

I made it to Beijing, pretty much on time to beautiful blue skies! Pollution here can get bad at times but today was great, thanks to big efforts with the forthcoming Aviation Expo.

See the blue skies around my plane below! Even seeing clouds so clearly in Beijing doesn't always happen!
After getting off the plane it's a long queue of people to get through immigration, though it moved quite quickly. They check your passport and visa and give a big stamp. Thankfully I've never had any issues here. 
I will spend the next week at New Day and then a weekend at Eagles Wings before starting with ICC on the 7th September. They wanted me to start this day at the same time as another volunteer. So, as I already had flights booked it gave the opportunity to add those two extras in before. 

Thanks for your prayers and support! I'll share more in the coming days and weeks. I had an awesome time at home these past few weeks and have felt so supported and encouraged.