Acknowledging Change

Monday, March 10, 2014

If I knew a friend’s child when he was 8 years old, but haven’t seen him for 10 years, I am surprised when he looks and acts 18, because the image in my mind still has him as an 8 year old.

In similar fashion, if I visited orphanages in China several years ago when they were under-resourced, the images of the quality of care that the kids were receiving back then sticks in my mind as reflective of the present.

But this is not the case. Sure, there are orphanages in China where the quality of care suffers, just as there are everywhere. However, on this trip, every orphanage facility we visited in China was either new or refurbished. More importantly, the child to caregiver ratio was low at each one. Generally speaking, these children were receiving holistic, nurturing care.

Of course, this still pales in comparison to the permanent love of a family, whether Chinese, American or European.

Building Bridges

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I love the cross-cultural challenge of my job – eating strange foods, drinking “local liquor”, making what I hope are culturally sensitive comments and asking culturally sensitive questions. Finding the right mix of deference and candor. Not coming across as the American with all the answers, but instead recognizing that we have a lot to learn from each other and that each country, each province, each agency and each orphanage takes pride in what they've accomplished.

Friday night at dinner with 8 Chinese provincial officials, I inquired about the increasing number of young people seeking to join the Communist Party, based on an article I had read on the flight over. They confirmed this and that led into a brief discussion of communism. Then the senior official offered a toast (one of several with the local liquor) to me in Chinese of course. So I asked if I just toasted to communism. After my question was interpreted, everyone laughed. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if I triggered an international incident.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Orphanage – The word conjures up a variety of images depending on one’s experience. The quality of care varies greatly by country and even within country. The variable is not the compassion and dedication of the caregivers. (Just about all are compassionate and dedicated.) The variable is resources.
We saw both ends of the spectrum in the Philippines. At the positive end is Samaritan’s Place, which provides nurturing love, holistic care, spiritual foundation and a family-like environment (husbands and wives as house-parents) for the kids in their care.

At the other end was the government-run orphanage, where in one room a single caregiver was watching over 24 boys, some with special needs. She was doing her best, but her task seemed nearly impossible. And yet she had been there for 20 years!
Somewhere in the middle was a private orphanage for mentally-handicapped kids. Certainly under-resourced, but creative with what they had. As an example, we witnessed a very moving scene which takes place at meal-time where the mildly-retarded feed those who are more severe. The “feeders” are very intense about their task. It was apparent that they felt a sense of dignity from handling this important function and it was touching to watch.

There is an ongoing debate in our field – build more orphanages vs empty the orphanages. It’s not hard to understand the legitimacy of both positions when you’ve had the opportunity to see the extremes.