Part 2 of the journey took me 600 miles south on a 4 hour train trip into Hunan province where I would be spending two days visiting an AMAZING NGO* program. Have I said how much I love traveling by train in China? Much better than flying. The newer fast trains make travel really convenient, although ticket prices have increased along with speed. Watching the countryside fly by is fascinating: haphazard farm plots, crumbling villages, rows of vacant apartment buildings, pens of pigs and chickens, hillsides and valleys, men fishing on small ponds. Inside the train can be just as interesting, though the slower trains generally provide more colorful people watching.
I arrived in Hunan in the evening, met the driver (being the only waiguoren – foreigner – on the train made it pretty easy for him to find me) and in about half an hour I was ensconced in the NGO’s visitor apartment where I would be spending two nights. Alone. In a very large four bedroom apartment. It was well furnished and reasonably comfortable (if you don’t count the squatty potty) but I’ll admit a little bit creepy being in such a large apartment all by myself. I was wishing that Kristen was with me, but the busy itinerary would have not allowed her to keep up with her school work, so she was staying with Abby, New Day’s preschool teacher for the week. (Thanks, Abby!)
Wednesday was…cold and wet and … awe-inspiring. The program is a large one, probably the largest that I know of among foreign NGOs in China. There are over 150 children in their excellent care, from infants up to (amazingly!) one young lady in her 60s! While the latter is clearly an exception, the majority of those in care are school aged children and young adults. As is typical in the Chinese welfare system these days, virtually all the children have some type of special needs, with many children having developmental delays and cognitive challenges. The program managers would like to have additional help in developing the vocational and independent living program for the older teens and young adults. Which is, of course, exactly what I feel called to and why I was there to visit. I was treated to a thorough tour of the entire program, and I do mean treated because the staff guard the children’s privacy very carefully. It was a true privilege to see the variety of care models tailored to a wide range of physical, social and cognitive abilities.
In respect for the children's privacy, I took no photos inside the program's facilities. Due to the unceasing rain and inescapable mud, I took no photos outside either! The photo to the left is of some cards I purchased that were made by the young people in the vocational program. Pretty!
That evening I was able to meet the other foreign members of the staff for dinner and a time of worship and fellowship. Although brief it was helpful to see their out-of-the-office relationships and get a sense of the type of community there would be for Kristen and me.
The next morning started bright, well actually rainy, and early with “dancing,” basically aerobics to music, in the courtyard of the main building. While trying to follow along with the leader as best I could, one young man took my hand and tried to help me keep up with the moves. I wasn’t very good at it, but it did get the heart pumping and kept the chill weather at bay, and I felt my first connection. Next was a return visit to the vocational crafts room. The previous day I had just had time to look around, but now I could sit and join in. A young man patiently showed me how to make flowers on stems using wire and beads. He helped me count the correct number of beads, handed me the petals and leaves in the proper order to put on the stem, and corrected my mistakes. I watched a young lady next to me very capably thread teeny, tiny beads on thin string to make a very lovely necklace. That was way out of my league! Besides the jewelry and bead crafts, the other main project in the vocational area is card making using artwork done by the young people (see photo above). Some of the girls have also started to learn to sew, and there is an interest in further developing that area for training and for vocational projects. Soon it was time to move to the art room where those with a bit less dexterity do a variety of art activities throughout the week. These activities are primarily therapeutic and entertaining, though some of their work is used for making the cards in the vocational program. That particular day they were taking the leftover paper scraps from other projects and cutting them into smaller pieces to be used in – get this – making paper! They recycle the unused bits and make their own paper for the cards. I spent an enjoyable half hour or so helping cut bits of paper and sharing some smiles with the young people working alongside me. If the first day felt like a marathon seeing all the homes and services that the program provides, a blur of rooms and kids and needs, the second day felt like, I can’t even find the word…peace, hope, joy, connection…home? This. This is what grabs my heart and squeezes it.
*NGO: a not-for-profit organization that is independent from states and international governmental organizations. They are usually funded by donations and are run primarily by volunteers. In this case, a foreign funded and foreign run organization which operates in cooperation with the local children's welfare institute.
About This Blog
Part documentary, part family chronicle and part personal reflection as I try to sort through the ups and downs, the joys, heartaches and surprises of our life and work as we follow the path that God has set for us here in China!
Kristen to continue to adjust to college life and find good friends.
Donna to have wisdom in planning and implementing new programs for the youth and for financial provision to cover our expenses.