Yesterday was one of the proudest days of my life thus far.
When I was a teacher at the university, I always tried to have a good mix of social awareness lessons with my plain ol' English lesson junk.
Because of the social mentality of my country of residence, I felt/feel a responsibility to share different/radical ideas like justice/fairness/women's equality/adoption as an option/respecting intellectual copyrights/fidelity, etc.
It is a safe generalization to make about this country that most citizens (especially the educated) think that technology and money can solve their problems. And that the government will take care of everything so they don't need to do anything if something is wrong.
This mentality takes a toll on social welfare efforts.
I'm not here to compare, BUT, for perspective's sake...
Each year in America, approximately 70% of households donate to a charity, for a total of $180 billion dollars. There is a clear link between charity, religion, and politics.
Only 11% of Chi.nese households donate to a charity each year. Again, there is a clear link between charity (very little), religion (no religious freedom), and politics (the mess of economic materialism and wacked out socialistic ideals that is Ch.ina today).
My students are a product of this system.
So, last month when a student I am very close with, Yangxue, called me to tell me she wanted to organize a volunteer event, I was pleasantly surprised. And stoked.
She told me that my stories in class of the orphans has resonated with her and that she wanted to help. Because she is the class monitor, she has the power to choose what the class does for their activities. She asked me if I could help them volunteer.
I told her to raise money or collect milk powder and to wait. I had some phone calls to make.
I have never taken a group of Chi.nese to an orphan facility before. It is one thing for the workers to open up the facilities and allow foreigners into the place because we give lots of money and we are not Chi.nese. It is a totally different story for a group of Chi.nese students wanting to see something that the government is not proud of. A lot of the social strife of this country is hidden, exposed only to those who have full pocket books and foreign passports.
And technically, foreigners are not allowed in the main orphanages. I have been snuck into the Hangzhou Orphanage one time (shhh), but most of my work is at village orphanages and the orphan rehabilitation center (what I call the "hospital").
So, I made some calls. Gave away a lot of chocolate. Promised English classes to a lot of people's kids. (ugh). and eventually, I got a Chinese text telling me, ok, come over Jessica, we trust you. Score.
I called Yangxue and she told me that my former employer was donating the money for the class to rent a van to drive from where they live (an hour away) and was helping with the cost of the milk powder. The students pulled their money together and got 12 cans. (about 200$ worth - awesomeness).
These students do not have a lot of money, but they wanted to give. They gave cheerfully, and they were sincerely interested in listening to me as I explained to them about Chi.na's orphan situation, international adoptions, and opportunities to do good in their community.
They arrived Saturday morning and I met them at the hospital. They split into groups and I went room to room visiting them and telling them about the orphan work. They played with the children for about 2 hours.
During this time, we were introduced to a little girl who will be flying to America on Monday (tomorrow). She has been adopted and will become a US citizen. This really affected my students. As such nationalistic people, this was hard to hear. I held the girl and thought of her life. It is so strange to see adoptions from this side.
When you are in Walmart and see a family with an asian baby, think of where that baby came from. I am there. In the orphanage. Someone cared for that child in an orphanage for months, maybe years, and felt sadness when the baby left. Volunteers gave money and time to keep that baby alive. We're here in the beginning, before the baby's name changes and identity changes and native language changes.
It's awesome. It's weird. It's sad. It's meaningful.
My students were exposed to all of these thoughts and more as they wandered around the halls, clutching baby hands and tickling baby feet. There were a few awkward moments of the mostly male crowd just staring at the kids not knowing what to do. "Don't just stand there and stare at them, touch them!" I said. Touch is so good for babies who do not get regularly held! So they did.
And I was proud.
I feel like so many things added up to yesterday. Two years of relationships with the women in the orphan care hospital, my masters thesis on orphan care, talking to my students about my thesis and work at the hospital and hoping that they internalize one kernel of what I was trying to inspire them with. Trying to be an inspiring teacher, but feeling utterly incompetant.
And prayer. Lots and lots of prayer.
It all came together. My worlds collided. My students held orphans and provided for them.
My students were touched. They felt validated and meaningful. And their donations were appreciated.
I was reminded of the importance of being a bridge. My student Yangxue often calls me a "bridge." I've always loved her for that because it makes me feel special. I may be a cracked, doubting, bitter bridge, but I'm still a bridge.
I am so glad my students walked over that bridge and used their Saturday to make a lasting difference. Milk powder is a necessity that they provided to the babies, and touch, love, and laughter is an intangible gift they also brought with them.
I'm a proud teacher.
Enough chatter, let's look at some faces:
this baby was dropped off at the hospital (abandoned) a week ago by her parents. She doesn't sleep at night and bites herself. She is the saddest baby I have ever seen.
This is Maggie. She is going to be my fellow American. Cheers, Maggie, to a life with a front yard, apple pie, fourth of July fireworks, and after school ballet.
This girl's parents have chosen to keep her despite her handicap (heroes). She comes to the hospital on the weekends to give her parents a break since she can't attend normal school and there are no places for ESE children to learn.
KingC, my student from 2 years ago, was entranced by this little woogie baby. I'm very proud of him, he's gotten a job with the Chin.ese internet engine, Taobao.
all of us, Lin, my Chinese big sis, to my left. The sign says that they are HDU's 2009 entry computer science majors.
I rode the bus with them back to Xiasha and hung out for the day. We had some good conversations. Seeing the babies made them think about the seriousness of having a child (um...DUH).
Another topic of conversation was what they would do or feel if they had a handicapped child. This was interesting to hear. Some students voiced fears and concerns that their one allowed child (Chi.na's one-child policy) would end up handicapped like the orphans. They discussed how they would feel if they had no child to care for them in old age and how their lives would be different with a handicapped child.
It was interesting to have this kind of dialogue. I'm proud of them for digging deep, something they are not encouraged to do often.
I'm proud of my baby boogers, they did a great thing yesterday and I was honored to be there. I am thankful for the experience because it reaffirmed my call of being here, encouraged me in my work, and gave all of us a chance to be together doing something good.
I left feeling very satisfied with my life in Ch.ina. PTL.
And here's something I've been thinking about lately....
"charity sees the need, not the cause."
Go hug a baby. 10 points extra if it's asian.
walk slow. xoxo.