Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Father's Day Wishes

Pingliang CWI

Henry joined us on Father’s Day in June 2008 in western China’s Gansu Province. It was a remarkable gift with some accompanying duties that were a first-hand reminder of how children can be vulnerable in ways that might otherwise be very hard to imagine, especially children with birth anomalies or special medical needs in developing parts of the world. In truth, sometimes it takes a lot more than just a village to raise a child.

That is why our thoughts so often return to Gansu Province and the orphanage in Pingliang where Henry spent his first 22 months. Today the orphanage, now called the Pingliang Children's Welfare Institute (CWI) in its brand new quarters, is a large, modern health care facility that is a stunning contrast to its former buildings where Henry lived. With a large number of children and comparatively low number of adoptions because nearly all of its children have special needs, the new facility seems to represent an earnest investment in child welfare by Chinese authorities, especially local civil affairs officials. Mrs. Yang, the orphanage's director, has obviously done a very good job in lobbying locally and promoting the important services which the orphanage provides.

Return to Clara-Li's orphanage (2005)
China’s is an extremely complex society, and our daughter Clara-Li’s orphanage in Hunan Province was distant from Henry's in many ways. A former barracks for retired solders of the Chinese army, its staff was primarily focused on processing a lot of children into foreign adoptions while living conditions for children in the orphanage were miserable. Our focus there was to press local officials to use the adoption revenue they had received (and that was restricted to use for capital improvements under Chinese law) to improve conditions for the children. We did this by organizing outside help with the some renovation projects. A large new facility was eventually built, although today less than a dozen children are housed there, which might still be a small victory of sorts, drawing a close to a bureaucratic operation through which the ends too often justified questionable means.  It may be that the only thing we can describe with certainty as good from our experience there was that at its start we worked extra hard to bring our Clara-Li home as quickly as we possibly could.

The orphanage where Henry’s oldest sister Dorothy was from in Jiangxi Province was altogether distant still. Some staff members and their families actually lived in the orphanage building while others would bring some of the infants from the orphanage (including Dorothy) home with them in the evenings, in small baskets they would place by their own beds overnight. Today, an organization called Amity Altrusa has for more than decade built on this type of nurturing interest to help orphanages in Jiangxi maintain foster care programs as a better means of housing abandoned children. In many Jiangxi counties most children assigned to orphanages today live with foster families, leaving orphanage facilities to serve children with the most severe special needs. We have long supported one of these children in foster care. She has Hepatitis B and has been an unlikely candidate for domestic adoption since she was an infant; now that she is older her prospects for foreign adoption are also very dim. Year after year, the reports we receive on her progress say she is a quiet, sometimes melancholy child who struggles with her studies at school, sometimes because of her health. Henry's dad sometimes wonders if she might be happier here in our family and wishes he could make it so; the same wish he had for a lot of children remembered this Father’s Day.

Another of our Father’s Day memories comes in the form of a gift that Clara-Li brought home from nursery school in the early summer of 2005; a plaster cast of her tiny foot with a little card that still hangs from a door in our home, a simple reminder that it sure is good both to be and to have a dad, forever. The card reads:
When daddy walks along the street
And hurries home to me
He takes the quickest longest steps
That ever I did see
But when I go to walk with him
He acts quite differently
And takes the slowest, shortest ones
To keep in step with me
Further reading: an article titled The Realities of Foster Family Adoption in China in the June 2011 issue of LWB’s newsletter speaks well on changing patterns in Chinese foster care, orphanage care, and domestic adoption. See it here.

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