After hearing about the situation in Huazhou from our COO Rachel Xing,
OneSky’s senior trainers couldn’t wait to get on the ground. In fact, our whole China team was so eager to help that about half the Beijing office staff gave up their New Year holiday and headed to Huazhou.
They spent the first day surveying the situation, visiting with the orphanage director and staff, and then, when the formalities were over, they climbed six flights of stairs to see the children.
It was the very first time for Lindsay Li, one of the young support staffers from our Beijing office, to accompany a field team (something everyone at OneSky does at least once). She’d never been inside an orphanage. “I was shocked. There were bars everywhere. The whole place seemed like a prison and made me feel cold. The doors, tables, and even the beds are made of steel! The children were like prisoners locked inside.
“There was no interaction with the children. I feel horrible for them. What kind of life were they living ever since they arrived? I dared not to imagine.…”
Even veteran Infant Nurture Program Director Li Daoxin, who began her caregiving career in 1973 at a big city orphanage, was heartbroken by what she saw, “Children lie on beds made barely of a piece of wood. Some over three years old have never touched the floor. The children stared at us through rails, begging for attention.
“And the caregivers—they’re indifferent to us; they don’t seem to care that we want to help them. The only thing I sense from them is discontent, non-cooperation, and even a wish for conflict.”
But Huazhou was certainly not Li Daoxin’s first challenge and in all her many years of service, she has never given up her belief in the resilience of small children and in the humanity of those who care for them.
“Tomorrow we start our work, first recruiting new nannies and preschool teachers from the local community. Then the change begins. In time we will even win the hearts of those unfriendly caregivers.”
Two days later, the new nanny recruits entered the rooms and viewed their future charges for the first time. They were quiet.
Li Daoxin passed among the cribs, and as she explained the special care needed for each child, she comforted the babies, held them, and made small improvements before moving on.
Baby Wenting, born with congenital syphilis, much of her body covered with painful looking sores, was the untouchable child. None of the orphanage staff wanted to lift her, even to bathe and change her clothes. And yet, whenever anyone would glance her way, Wenting smiled as if she were the luckiest little girl in the world.
A tiny child sat slumped alone in a walker, her head on her tray. “This is Juanjuan,” Li said as she crouched down beside the little girl. “Two years ago, she was to be adopted by a family from Spain but they brought her back. They said she was autistic because she never made eye contact or responded to her name or to toys.
‘We never use terms like ‘autistic’ or ‘retarded’. We know that every child has some potential and we learn special techniques to work with those who have great challenges. But those names just hold them back.”
Li Daoxin touched the toddler’s hair. Juanjuan pushed her face deeper into the walker tray, “Juanjuan will find her way,” she said.
Our training teams arrived early the next morning to prepare their classrooms, one for each of the three programs (infant, preschool, and youth – a Family Village would follow) that would begin immediately. Most of the teacher and nanny candidates showed up promptly at nine. None of the invited orphanage staff showed up at all.
“When I first came here,” said OneSky Program Officer Zhou Dan, “I felt the place was fine. The building is relatively new and there is a yard where children can play and a vegetable garden. The director was very warm and eager for our programs. But when I saw the actual condition of the children, how they were cared for, I had some worries. I had no doubt we could help, but how much we can really do depends on the staff we leave behind – how open they are to change. Today, when we began our training and not a single orphanage staff joined us, I knew we were not welcome.”
Undeterred, after introducing OneSky, Zhou Dan asked the trainees to select a partner. Once paired, she instructed them to share with those total strangers, something they like about each other. The women were embarrassed but Zhou Dan encouraged them, and within minutes, the trainees were hysterical with laughter. Soon they were playing team and trust-building games like veterans of Outward Bound.
As laughter and yelps escaped from the infant nurture classroom, it was hard for some of Huazhou’s unfriendly orphanage staff to resist. By lunch break, three workers had slipped into the back of the room. After lunch, seven more joined in. By the end of the week, women coming off night shift, instead of going home, were staying for class.