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. 


Info card from ICC

ICC made this awesome info card for me about who I am and where I'll be! I have some printed to give to people who have supported me and will be praying for me! If you would like one, shoot me an email or use the contact me page at the top. 

Big News!

I have some big news to share... It won't come as much of a surprise to most of you and many do know.

I'm moving to China!

I have been accepted to volunteer with ICC (International China Concern) for 8-9 months in Hunan Province. ICC is a 'Christian development organization that changes lives by bringing love, hope and opportunity to China's abandoned and disabled'. They have three different projects; two in Hunan and one in Henan. In 2012 I did one of their 'China teams' for two weeks at their Henan project. I love everything ICC does and am very excited at this opportunity. I have thought for a while that this is an organisation I would be very interested in working with long-term when I am ready for that. I especially love their increasing emphasis on preventing child abandonment. So focusing on the route of the problem and supporting families to enable them to keep their children. 

Many of you will realise that this was not the original plan I had talked about. I was originally supposed to move to Zhengzhou to teach English, but a few things didn't work out with that and as I started praying I felt that was not going to be a good fit. After discussing it with my parents and mentor type figures both in China and at home I realised if I am coming to China for a year I should do something along with my passion and calling, with special needs children and orphans. God gave me such peace that it would work out and be even better than I had originally thought and planned. ICC will give me this opportunity. I head back to China 25th August and start with ICC a week later.

What will I be doing?

ICC suggest volunteers spend their first month settling in and getting a feel for the different areas that need help. I do know they need some help with advocating and putting together advocacy profiles for each child that is available for adoption. This involves getting to know and spend time with the children available for adoption and putting together some photos and basic information. The children all have proper medical files so this is more to help potential families get to know the children's personalities. This is something I do have experience with from ICC's other location and from volunteering at Eagles Wings and of course Bring Me Hope (where I ran the advocacy program for a year!).

I also know they need some more help with the older boys, mentoring and running activities for them as a long-term volunteer who did that has just left. Either way I know I will be kept busy there as there are lots of needs.

Could you help?

My flights are paid for already, and I do have some (small) savings that can be used to help with some costs but I will need to raise some more money. If you would be interested in partnering with me on this and being apart of this please do get in touch. There is a paypal donate link on the 'Support Me' page. The cost of living in Hengyang is not very high. I am working out a rough budget of what I will need, I would be happy to share that with anyone who wishes to see. If you would prefer to donate by bank transfer or other way please get in touch through the contact me page at the top. For US tax-deductible donations please contact me. THANK YOU!!! It's not nice asking for money, not what I like doing at all but I trust as God closed one door to open this door, He will also provide a way.

Please pray for the money to all come in. Pray for good preparations at home having to get a new passport and new visa.

Visiting Eagles Wings 2015 (2/2)

On Tuesday I spent the morning in the school helping Yong and Qiang with their maths again. I noticed it was difficult for them to point at the answer sometimes as their arm movement is limited. I was trying to think of different ways for them to be able to communicate the answer...

After lunch I was with some of the kids during a break between classes and one of the boys asked me (for like the 5th time!) why I have hair on my legs. This kid constantly asks why this and why that, as kids often do! This time I laughed and said no more why! I asked him why he has a nose? Then a few of the kids started joking around saying; 'why do you have a big nose?', 'why do you have ears?'.... etc. Then all of a sudden, one girl asked... Why do you have a mom? We have no mom... How do you answer that...

Friends, I wonder what you were thinking about when you were 11... This girl has watched so many of her friends be adopted and is obviously wondering when her turn is...

Wednesday was my last day with the kids and I left after lunch. I did the what I had done the previous two days helping Yong and Qiang and spent some time with the younger kids too. Three of the much older boys gave me a ride to the train station on their scooters which was fun and I went and spent the evening and next day with my friend Kevin in Zhengzhou. It was a short trip but so great to get to see the kids again and see how much some of them had grown. It was extra special to spend time with two boys who will be adopted before the end of the year!

Visiting Eagles Wings 2015 (1/2)

On Monday I got up and went straight to the orphanage to where Eagles Wings is (they have a few floors there for the kids homes, offices and the school). I first got to see Linda, the Australian founder. I hadn't seen her since we first met two years ago in China, so I got to chat to her for a bit and then go spend the morning at the orphanage school with the kids. I spent my time with Yong and Qiang. I first met them in 2012 at camp and then spent a lot more time with them in 2013 at Eagles Wings, when I stayed in their apartment for the 5 weeks. They are hilarious, smart, funny, cheeky, playful... They both have cerebral palsy which greatly affects their muscle movements, meaning they cannot walk and get around on the floor scooting. It also means they cannot really speak, though they do understand and have been trying to find other ways to communicate. It was harder in Chinese reading class as while they do know lots of the characters, they can't read them out. The teacher did try test them a few times but it was more difficult. After that class in maths it was a bit easier. They were given sums and on their desk is a board with the numbers 1-20 written out big. They can point to the answer. I helped them with that class and tested their addition. They didn't get them all right but tried hard and knew a lot!
Qiang in maths class! He loves to learn!
Yong in class. Love that smile!
After lunch I was asked to help one of the boys learn some photography. He is an older boy, and they are trying to think through some possible job opportunities for the kids for when they finish school, one for BeiBei is to do some photography. A local photography studio has agreed to help out (which is awesome!) So I took him outside to practice taking some photos of the garden, and then of the kids playing outside and then we spent the rest of the afternoon in the school taking some photos. I think he enjoyed it! Beforehand he was somewhat hesitant as he is a bit unsteady standing and walking but we figured out that if he kneels down on one knee, he has much more stability! And he can always get a tripod in the future. So I hope that helped give him some more confidence, or at least the realisation that he can do it if he practices some more.
One photo BeiBei took with Guang. Good, right!!
I had dinner and then spent another hour or two with the kids before they went to bed. We played and messed around and some of the kids and nannies asked about the other kids who had been adopted. I had some photos ready to show them which they all loved seeing how much the kids had grown and changed since being adopted! One extra special thing was getting to talk to WenXuan/Wesley about his new family. He will be adopted before the end of the year and had waited so long for his chance, watching so many of his friends be adopted. He has photos of his family up beside his bed and proudly showed me the photo album they sent him! He had briefly met them before, but at that time didn't know they would adopt him. I was so happy for him!!! I took one photo of him and said I am sending to his mom, he smiled real big and said 'you said this to my mama?'
It was so awesome to see my favourite kids once again!! A very special day for sure!

Traveling to Eagles Wings

It was an early start, up about 4am to get ready. My train was at 7am in the city so I took a car in and was there about 6. I hadn't taken the train that early before and it was nice and quiet in the station. I went to KFC for breakfast and got to the waiting room with time to spare. The bullet train's are very long with up to 15 different carriages!

 The first train was 3 hours and I had just under an hour until the second train. However, this also involved taking the subway from Zhengzhou East Station to main Zhengzhou station. It was going to be tight! I rushed off and got the subway and ran from the subway to the second train making it just in time! 30 minute train ride to Jiaozuo and then I headed to the hotel across the road from the orphanage and after nap time I went to see the kids!
I made it to Jiaozuo and checked into the hotel which is so close to the orphanage (3 min walk!), I had a big room though it was very cheap (only about 22€/25$ per night). I grabbed some lunch at the market between the hotel and the orphanage and went to see the kids at 2 when they woke up from nap time. They were all excited to see me, and some of the kids told me that Wesley/WenXuan will be adopted! He then told me himself too and showed me the photos of his family stuck to his wall beside his bed. He seemed upbeat! We talked through the photo book his family sent and played some games with the kids. I saw the babies (though they have all grown so much since last year!!). Lots of the kids and even some of the nannies asked about certain kids who have been adopted so I happily showed them photos or told them I would get s photo for the next day! I ate dinner with some other volunteers and went back to the hotel. It was a long long day but so great to see my favourite kids once again!


A Special Day

Last weekend a friend from Bring Me Hope (the summer camp organisation), Effie the Chinese director, took a child from a private orphanage in Henan Province to Beijing for medical treatment. The girl was 14 and has butterfly disease or Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) which causes the skin to break and develop blisters from minimal contact. It's a vary rare disease and there isn't really a cure, so her skin had some big scabs and blisters. Effie took her to BJ to see a hospital to try get some treatment. They got some cream and learned how to wrap her skin to protect it some... but no cure. However, despite all of this, and what you might imagine would leave a girl feeling down, she was one of the most joyful people I have met. One of the first questions she asked me was if I love Jesus. Unfortunately she was stared at, a lot... And she is old enough to realise when people treat her differently...  

We took her to a few different places around Beijing. This was her first time to travel anywhere, especially to Beijing so everything was new! We started at Forbidden City, then walked over to WangFuJing street for lunch. We had pasta and pizza, her first taste of western food, Finally, we took her to a big lake area where we went on boat rides which she loved! It was truly an amazing day!! 

On Sunday she wanted to go to church before she left Beijing so Effie and I stayed with her in the youth section. It was Father's day and they were each given a postcard to write a message to God. Hers was this... 'Dear Father, please heal me'..... Friends, I wonder what our dreams were when we were 14. I'm sure it was likely to have this or that, or to go here or there... This girl has so much hope. I have so much hope. Could you join me in praying for her?

Hair Cut Adventure

Getting a hair cut in China is a fun adventure (and so cheap here in the village too!). Ciara (my sister) and I decided to go get our hair cut one lunch time this week - and had an interesting experience! I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted but I decided to go crazy as I'm away and it can always grow back. Let me first state they cost 15¥ (€2) each. 

Ciara went first. Hair washed in a very uncomfortable chair, then he got to work. See below:

Then it was my turn. I decided to go with a mohog and tried to explain this to the man. Unfortunately it didn't translate well through my broken Chinese and what he did first was not what I asked so he finally understood and I got a new hair style. Not exactly what I had in mind but i embraced it! 

Then, after a lot of gel and hair spray, I had my new hair cut. A bit different right! It was so fun seeing everyone's reactions that afternoon as they jumped back in surprise. This was definitely a China moment!