Most people think about babies when they think of Chinese orphans, and particularly baby girls. While hugging babies is always a good job to have, that isn't the group that has broken my heart and not just called, but truly driven me to do what I do. The kids that keep me up at night are teens and even a bit older (and I don't mean MY teens and twenty-somethings though they all have their moments!!). If you are curious, even a little bit, about the who, what, why, where and how of these young people who are a sometimes invisible part of the orphan crisis, watch this video.
If you want to dig a little deeper, take a look at the Older Orphan page for more information about the questions below. The answers may surprise you.
Yes, we are headed 1000 miles south to Hengyang in Hunan Province! I will be volunteering with International China Concern (ICC). Learn who I will be working with here and check back often for more information about the why, the what and how you can be a part of it all.
Just putting the final touches on the big "reveal"! Thanks for being patient. I am super super excited about what's ahead, but as with all the work we do over here, I need to be careful to follow the appropriate guidelines for sharing information and especially photos. I don't always get it exactly right, but I really do try and want to especially get off on the right foot with my new organization. So...get ready...lots more to come very shortly!!!
So it's been two weeks since I updated about our trip to the Frozen Tundra and my visit to Shanghai. Immediately after my trips I contacted the two organizations that I felt were good program fits to let them both know I am seriously interested. I can't say nothing has been happening, because it has, just not quite what I thought. That should not be a surprise by now, but still...
I'll confess that when I look at the countdown calendar (37 days) I can feel the tension rise a bit and the questions start to swirl, but when I keep my eyes on Jesus, I am confident in the work he has brought us here to do.
So we wait...and pack...and count the days until we need to move...somewhere.
Ryan and Maggie on Easter: THIS is the happy side of that countdown calendar -- 37 days!!!!
Although I tend to focus on the professional/job aspects of our move, there is also the personal side of where we will live, the foreign community (if there is one; there wasn't at all in Jiaozuo!) and what kind of lifestyle to expect. After seven years in China I know a lot more what makes life easy (and hard) and how much hard we can tolerate without falling apart. I brought Kristen with me on this trip so she could also get an impression of the city/life there and because she already has friends living there.
Where to begin? Overwhelming. Amazing. Dream come true? That is still to be determined, but let me tell you this visit really blew me away. We spent the weekend visiting with some contacts from our Thailand conference and quickly found that we had many overlapping friends. Kristen even saw some teens she had met at a camp two summers ago. To say we both felt right at home would be an understatement. There are multiple fellowships that meet on the weekends, and we visited two of them. This may not sound like a big deal but in this city we would be able to go to church every weekend. That has not been feasible for us in seven years. I hope this doesn't sound wrong, but to be able to take church for granted again would be an incredible blessing.
This city is at a high elevation, so it is pretty cold there (oh, yeah, I love the cold... not!) but I don't see that as a deal breaker thanks to my handy-dandy Land's End parka (lol). Shortly before we landed we flew over the most amazing, and highest, mountains I had ever seen. It was spectacular. I didn't get photos of the tallest peaks, which really looked like they were right outside the window of the plane, but this photo will give you an idea. I was conscious of the high elevation, looking for signs that either of us was not tolerating the thinner air, but we both did fine although I was huffing and puffing a bit more on the stairs.
It is a small city (by China standards -- 2 million people!) but has a higher than average western influence and expat population for its size. That is a great combination for us...not too big, but a foreign community and some comforts. We did our part to improve the sales at Starbucks and some local burger and ice cream places. (Interestingly there is no McDonald's there -- not a big deal to us but a little odd since McDonald's seems to be everywhere in China.) Even though our address is Beijing, we have no access to foreign food day to day so we take advantage when we can. The only drawback I see is that eating at those places may be a little too tempting, but then we would probably take them for granted after awhile as well.
We were also able to visit a couple of apartments to get an idea of what is available and at what cost. Another box with a big checkmark: apartments are slightly more expensive than where we currently live but probably about 50% larger. While we don't really need a lot of space for the two of us, a little more space would be appreciated. We also quickly noted the very comfortable inside temperature despite the date. We found out that the central heating stays on for six months, a definite plus. Interestingly one of the apartments had a cooking porch -- we'd feel right at home there!
Transportation would mostly be by bus though taxis are pretty inexpensive when needed. The city is not very large and getting around is fairly easy, and most places are pretty centrally located. It seemed pretty clean and, as in most Chinese cities, we felt quite safe. During our visit we stayed at a youth hostel that was centrally located and very reasonably priced. It was, however, in the midst of some major remodeling, and I don't think they realized we had a reservation. So it was a bit dusty and we were the only guests, but the staff could not have been nicer or more helpful so it was pleasant if a bit strange. Strange doesn't really phase us anymore anyway.
I don't know whether this city will be our next home. I know we would both be quite content if it were, and even if it isn't we really enjoyed our visit to the Frozen Tundra.
So here is the lowdown on our first trip of last week, right before the trip to Shanghai. Sorry for being out of sequence, but sometimes that's how my mind works.
The quick background story is that this particular city and program were not even on my radar. I knew of the organization very vaguely but had no idea of an older kid program until meeting a nurse in Thailand at our conference who volunteers with this organization. When I talked about my plans to work with older teens, she filled me in on the program at an orphanage in her city. It sounded like an option worth checking out so I contacted them when I got home. So fast forward several weeks and emails and phone calls back and forth, and we arranged for me to come and visit last week.
We spent four days in this city so we could explore a little bit -- see Part 1B for more on that. But, of course, the main focus of the trip was to visit the orphanage program and find out what the local NGO was doing for older teens and young adults. While I met with them for the day, Kristen visited the local (very small) international school. I can honestly say that of all the programs I have explored this one has a vision which most clearly matches the one I have carried with me for several years now: to actively move youth who have spent their lives in an institution toward independence in the local community. It was really quite inspiring to hear my own vision come from the mouth of the local director, including an acute understanding of the barriers, both within the youth themselves and from the community.
In summary, this program is housed within a state-run care facility and the staff are managed by that entity. However, the idea for the program as well as the structure and the components were created by an NGO that works closely with the facility. The purpose is to give young adults, most with physical disabilities and some with emotional or cognitive impairments, a safe and separate living accommodation from the rest of the institutionalized adult population. The goal is to provide PT, life skills training, vocational opportunities and special education that will lead to most of the participants being able to hold down a job and live independently in the community. Those who are not able to function fully independently would be encouraged to do as much self-care as possible and provided some productive work opportunities inside the facility.
We talked for several hours about the program, their goals, the current situation, the young people in the program, their staff needs and what role I might fill. Then I had the opportunity to very briefly tour the facility where the program is housed. For various reasons I was not able to interact with the teens. I think this was unfortunate because it did leave me with a bit of a disconnect with who they are as people, a connection that I have felt at other places that I visited and which I think is very helpful in making such a big decision. However, seeing the facility and asking more questions gave me an even better perspective on the current situation and some of the needs and challenges. I’ll admit that, on the one hand, these are pretty daunting, but, on the other, I felt that my experience and abilities are an even better match than I may have first thought.
So where do we go from here? At this point there are two programs under serious consideration, and it is really up to the organizations to make the next move and ask us to become a part of their team, or not. I am in discussions with both and hope that either one or both will invite us onboard in the next couple of weeks. Kristen and I would really appreciate your prayers as this process hopefully comes to an exciting conclusion very soon.
It has been a really, really busy week: eight days, two trips, 2500 miles.
Sorry, no photos because I am a loser like that.
Starting with the second trip of the week...I'll get back to the previous trip in my next post.
So, on Thursday, after being home about 36 hours, I was off again. In case you are wondering, that is just enough time to do a load of laundry, hang it on our laundry porch, hope the clothes dry and pack them again. (Yes, that's a thing. Yes, we have a cooking porch on one end of the apartment and a laundry porch on the other. Maybe I will take a photo as long as there are no unmentionables hanging up.) The second trip of the week was to Shanghai. It was very short so Kristen stayed home with friends. I was literally traveling more than I was visiting, so this was a good decision on her part.
What is traveling to Shanghai like? If travel is easy for you it is an easy trip. If you don't travel well or if you get motion sick, it is not so fun. I don't get sick (PTL!) for which I am very thankful. It's about a 45 minute drive from our place to the South train station (Beijing Nanzhan) and then if you book early enough and are lucky you get the 5 hour train to Shanghai. I think there are only one or two stops the whole way; if you get the train with more stops, as I did on my return, it takes 6 hours. Top speed is about 305 kph (180mph). The trains are clean, bathrooms have toilets AND toilet paper, no smoking: not a bad ride. I don't like the food offered on the train, and it tends to be more expensive so I always pack my own -- peanut butter muffins, a banana, bottle of water. The bonus is you can buy western fast food in the train station. I opted for a Whopper Jr. with cheese. The double bonus was that a Dunkin Donuts has opened since the last time I was at that station. Woohoo! So I also bought a couple donuts. (Okay, three! But I ate two the next day.)
The train trip itself was uneventful, as they usually are. We arrived on time in Shanghai and quickly boarded the subway (fabulous subway system in Shanghai and totally cheap, especially compared to taxis which are very expensive) to the center of town. Armed with my handy dandy printouts of directions and maps I quickly discovered that there is a Starbucks at the subway station near where I was staying. Well, my maps didn't tell me that but it was happy information, though I never did go there. It's always good to know where wifi and hot chocolate can be found. I also discovered that it was a rainy night in Shanghai. No umbrella but my handy-dandy Land's End parka kept me warm and dry. Well, the parts it covered. The hem of my pants was soaked half way to my knee by the time I walked 15 minutes to my hotel and then spent another 20 minutes trying to find the DOOR to said hotel which was well concealed without a sign on the opposite side of the building from the street address. On a warm, dry evening this would have been a mildly annoying adventure; in the rain I was less amused. However, the presence of a Starbucks in the same building as the hotel kept my spirits up until I found the hotel itself. (I did visit that Starbucks later on for a venti hot chocolate, but having left my cellphone in the room I couldn't connect to the wifi so only a half successful visit.)
Okay, enough of the travelog. Suffice it to say the room was nice, shower was hot, bed was comfy, TV had three English channels (BBC, HBO and sports) but the wifi never worked so I won't ever be going back there.
The PURPOSE of my trip -- and yes, there was one -- was to visit a program that provides life skills training, vocational training, a job and a home for young adults with no safety net. Most of them have some type of disability, primarily physical but some emotional or intellectual. Most are from their homeless outreach, though they do accept aged out orphans from orphanages. Most of the young people from orphanages are girls; most of the homeless are boys. The program is set up as a three month life skills program and then a two year internship where the young people work for the company run by the program, receive a legal wage and then pay for their room and board as part of learning how to budget and handle money. During that time they continue to receive classes in reading, math and English as well as experience in running a home and social skills. After two years they are expected to find a job and a place to live. This is very much the type of program I hope to provide for young adults in the orphanage system, so I wanted to see first hand what they do and how they do it. In the time tested model of "search and reapply," there is no reason to reinvent the wheel if you can learn from others who have done it already. Fyi, the purpose of my trip was not to interview for a role with this organization, just to learn from it.
So what did I learn? Some things I already knew:
Oooh…and I was doing so well at keeping in touch. So let’s try again.
One of the oddities of living in China is the state controlled heating. Yes, that’s a thing. And if you are a chronically cold person like me, it’s a big thing. When I first heard about it back in 2008, I laughed. I thought it was a joke. Uh…no joke. Central heating is provided via those old fashioned radiant heat radiators like my grandparents had in their house. They do work surprisingly well, although the bigger the room the more difficult it is to get it warm: our bedrooms are usually comfortable, but our living/dining room gets a bit chilly on cold nights.
None of that is too strange, although radiators are a bit old fashioned in much of the US. What is strange is that the government controls when the heat gets turned on -- November 15-- and off – March 15. The end of October and beginning of November can be quite cold in much of China so those last few weeks before the heat comes on are not so comfortable. Then, before spring has really arrived (as those who just got hit by a March blizzard know!) it can be pretty cold as well. So last week I was counting down – and not in a good way – the days until our heat went off. We did notice that the radiators were not very warm during the day for several days before the 15th, but they warmed up nicely in the evening and kept us toasty while we slept – right up until midnight on the 15th. Yup, I woke up around 2:30 or 3 in the morning and ,just out of curiosity, reached my hand out and touched the radiator – the icy cold radiator. When China says March 15th, it means March 15 and not a minute longer! So we have been bundling up in the evenings, adding another blanket to the beds and doubling down on the hot tea. (Sadly both our hot chocolate and hot apple cider stocks are now depleted, so tea is our only option.)
As sad as it is to have our radiators go cold, we do have some supplemental heat in the form of portable and wall mounted electric heaters. We rarely use the wall ones because they are 1) expensive to run and 2) incredibly inefficient since they are up near the ceiling and as we all learned in 5th grade, hot air rises, so they don’t help very much. (They also accumulate a lot of dust and dirt and smell terrible when turned on if the filters are not cleaned first. That’s a dirty job and getting to the filters isn’t easy so definitely a last resort.) Our portable heater works great and can fairly quickly warm up a small bedroom. It takes two to get our living room comfortable, and since our second heater self-immolated on Christmas morning, well, we are making do with one. (We will likely buy another one sometime after we move.) This week has been particularly cold and damp (sleeting when I left home this morning) so the portable is in my room, and we eat, study, watch TV, etc in that one room. Right now it is warming the kitchen so I can go do the dishes, and a bit later I will move it into the bathroom so I can take a shower without turning into a popsicle.
So some of you are saying, why not move somewhere in southern China where the climate is milder. Well, yes, I would be in favor of that. So far I have not found any programs in the south with a strong focus on independence and enrichment programs for older kids, so I don’t see that happening. But let me also mention that the government mandate on heating is not limited to when it goes on and off. It also restricts where in the country central heating is allowed. Yes, that’s right, where you live determines whether you can have heating at all (other than the electric units, of course). The really “interesting” thing is that the line for heating is drawn at the Yellow River. South of the river heating, at least central heating, is not a thing. In the US that would be basically anyone south of Kansas City. I would not want to be in a Georgia ice storm with no central heat!
As for packing, it is coming along though a bit slower this week due to a heavier teaching schedule and an appalling lack of motivation due to being so cold -indoors- in the evenings. This weekend Kristen and I are heading off to visit another city and explore another program. We appreciate your prayers for our trip and discernment about this opportunity. More soon!
Oh, and 62 days until we leave for the US.
Moving really is the best, isn't it? New places, new people, a fresh start with everything neat and organized in a new home.
Ah, but somehow we seem to forget about what it takes to get out of the old place. And the way that the amount of stuff you have multiplies exponentially as you take it out of closets (as if we have any of those over here -- we don't), wardrobes (those we have) and drawers. But starting early is always a good idea, and to that end...I have begun!
Now, I can already hear you saying...but where??? So here is the next installment in that story (but a bit maddeningly for me even more than for you, not quite the final chapter).
When I last wrote I told you about my visits to "Big NGO" and "The Farm." Both were wonderful options and very different....very, very different. Sadly, and I do mean sadly, by the time I left The Farm, I was pretty sure that that option was not going to be the one. So many great things there and just overflowing with potential, but it was pretty clear that the previous program managers were going to choose to stay heavily involved --from a distance. Under the best of circumstances that is a challenging situation, and as much as I admired and respected all the work they had done, I also felt that our different perspectives on orphan care could make collaborating just too difficult. (Btdt as a good - and honest- friend pointed out.) Instead, they have asked the terrific young couple I met there to manage the program under their direction. I wish them all the best as they forge forward with this great work, as I still think a bit longingly of the beauty and opportunities of that lovely place. Awww...I can hear the sighs as I know several of you were really cheering for this option. Me, too.
So where are we in the decision process? Well, the Big NGO from the previous trip continues to be a strong option, but. During our time in Thailand I met a woman who serves under an NGO program in an orphanage in another province. When I mentioned my desire to work with older orphans she shared what they are doing in that place and the great need for more help to meet the needs of the kids. I have been in touch with that program and hope to be traveling there for a visit/interview in the next few weeks. So stay tuned!
In the meantime you can find me sorting, tossing, giving away and packing with a growing sense of anticipation and excitement. Oh, and 76 days until we leave for Chicago, but who's counting?
About This Blog
Welcome to my very full life! I can't really predict what will show up here on a daily basis, but I can tell you it will be 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 very interesting life as we follow the path that God has set for us here in China!
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