This summer has been an eventful one for my family. My brother and sister-in-law welcomed a beautiful baby girl into their family and my younger sister got married to a wonderful man. My husband and I traveled back to the states this summer to be a part of all of these amazing life events for my siblings. While enjoying cuddles and kisses with my new niece and her 2-year-old big brother, I have had a startling realization. One that I knew before, but did not fully understand till this summer.
My niece is now 3 months, and from the minute of her birth she has been surrounded by non-stop love from her family. My parents flew in for the birth and my sister-in-law’s twin was able to be with her sister for a little more than a month of our niece’s life. My other family members have been visiting and helping out as well. This little girl constantly has had someone holding her, playing with her, cuddling her, and talking directly to her every waking moment of her life. She is a happy vibrant little girl. At 3 months, she can hold her head up, enjoys belly time, cooing, and can make direct eye contact with anyone willing to interact with her.
The startling realization that I faced came when I was holding my little niece. I began thinking about the little ones that I interact with in the orphanage we serve. Last month, I shared Norah’s story. At 6 months old, she still struggled to hold up her head, did not enjoy belly time, few noises came from her lips, and eye contact was minimal. During the first 2 months of her life, Norah was barely held. We attempted to hold her as soon as possible, but without a caregiver there to give her the constant love and attention she needed, she has had many delays in development.
There’s also Lincoln, who just this past May was adopted by a wonderful local family. My husband has been able to stay in communication with this family and we have been able to see amazing progress in his development. At just over a year, while in the orphanage, Lincoln had just begun to crawl and was at an early stage of babbling. Within a month of being adopted, Lincoln was already walking and had made it to a more age appropriate stage of babbling. His parents sent us a video of him dancing and trying to sing just a few weeks ago. When he was at the orphanage he was a very serious little man. In this video, we saw him giggling and smiling as he danced and sang. The transformation is astounding!
Reflecting on all three children’s experiences and development, I am even more heart broken for the children that spend their entire lives in an orphanage. It is amazing the power a loving family can have on a child. Every child deserves a champion of their very own. I pray that each of the children we serve will find forever families, and that while they are waiting their caregivers can give them the love they need to thrive not just survive. Hope Station works hard to provide the support needed for nannies to be these champions for the children in their care. If you would like to partner with me you can go to https://www.mightycause.com/story/Stephanieli-Hopestation
Back in January, a new little one came to the orphanage. Norah was just 5 days old when we met her. She came to the orphanage straight from the hospital. Her mother had been living on the streets when she was pregnant. Her mother’s diet consisted of whatever she could find. Norah was born at a local hospital where her mother was hospitalized for mental illness. When Norah arrived at the orphanage, the staff worried that she would develop problems from her mother’s lack of nutrition. In addition to these early struggles, due to the high number of children in the baby and toddler room, the nannies do not pick up babies for the first 2 months at the orphanage. They do this so that the babies can self soothe right away. There is only one nanny in this room at a time and she is responsible for taking care of every child’s needs. This method, for the nannies, seems to be the best way to take care of all of the children. The nannies at this orphanage truly care for the children in their care, but due to lack of training in child development, nannies are unaware of the long-term effects that this method and several others have on children.
Today, on trips to the orphanage, we often find Norah left alone in a bed or infant bounce seat. She has learned to bounce herself in this seat to give herself comfort. She is interactive with adults when she is held and is slowly hitting important developmental markers. She is behind in her development, but as far as we can see this is only due to living in an orphanage from such a young age. She is otherwise a healthy, beautiful little girl.
The nannies really are trying their best to do what they can to help the children in their care to grow up in a good environment; however, the task that they have been given is huge! They also do not receive a lot of training that would help them in their daily tasks of caring for these children. Hope Station has been developing relationships with these nannies and have been modeling child development friendly techniques. Rebekah Kepha has spent the last three years establishing good relationships with the nannies at the orphanage we serve. Many now are open to her suggestions, and are implementing the techniques they feel they can do. One of our goals at Hope Station, is to give these women the tools they need to be champions for the children they serve.
Please keep Norah in your thoughts and prayers. Her mother is still in the hospital and is still struggling with mental illness. Her mother has not fully given up custody of her daughter and is not showing signs of getting better anytime soon. There is a process for custody to be taken from her, but it is a long and confusing road. We are just now beginning to understand how that process could work in China. If Norah’s custody stays in the hands of her mother, she may end up spending her life in the orphanage. She will never be able to have a mentally and emotionally healthy family. Every child deserves a healthy family, a forever family, and this is something we desperately want for her.
This is Charlotte. She is 21 years old and is about 4 feet tall. Most days are the same for Charlotte. She wakes up and goes to spend her day in the room across the hall. In this room, she’ll eat her meals, go to the bathroom, and just sit. She spends long parts of the day sitting on a bucket or children’s portable potty, because her bladder has never learned how to hold in her pee. She cannot speak, but she can make sounds and she can also hear what is being said around her. Sometimes she seems to comprehend what is being said, but at other times she seems not to. Walking is also a daily struggle for her. She is unable to fully use her knees, so she needs support while walking. When we come to visit she greatly enjoys someone helping her to take a walk outside of the room.
When taking a look into Charlotte’s eyes, you can tell there is a world going on in there. It makes one wonder at what her thoughts might be. She sometimes laughs at her reflection in the mirror and has a look of dismay when the children in the room make a mess. If she could speak, what would she say? How much is she aware of? How much does she understand? She is often overlooked. Being 21 in a room filled with children much younger than herself, she tends to be one of the last people noticed in the room.
She loves any opportunity to get a breath of fresh air. When I first started coming to the orphanage, one of the members of our team (sometimes me, sometimes others), would help her walk around the facilities and a little outside. She would get the biggest smile on her face to just be out of that room! Over the past couple of months, we have begun helping her use a walker. There was a walker already available for her, but the nannies hadn’t taken it out because they said she had not shown much interest in it before. We discovered this was due to her lack of training on how to use the walker. Within the first attempt of teaching her how to use it, she was able to go down the halls! She had difficulty going straight and turning where she wanted, but after only a few more tries she had it! She has begun being able to lower herself down to the toilet and is working on getting up on her own. There is a small ramp to go outside. At the moment, this ramp is a bit scary for her, but her motivation to enjoy the outdoors has pushed her to try. We are helping her work on ways to get up and down in a way that is comfortable for her. Her smile is now even bigger, when we come to visit! We are hoping the nannies will continue to help her use the walker when we are not there. The ability to just go where she wants, is such a big gift for her.
The part of her story that is the hardest for me is to think, how could her life have been different if she had had intervention at a younger age? Would she be able to speak? Would she be able to walk unassisted? Would she be able to feed herself and not spend hours upon hours on the toilet? These are questions that we will never know the answer to. Unfortunately, we cannot go back in time. Our hope is to continue to help her grow in independence. All we can do at this point is help her quality of life to greatly increase.
There are many children we serve in this orphanage who need intervention. People to come in to spend time helping them grow in communication skills, play, fine motor skills, and many other areas. The earlier a child can receive intervention the better their lives will be. They will have more opportunities for a life of their choosing. They will be better understood by those around them, especially the nannies that work with them every day. With such high ratios of children to nanny, the nannies are not able to provide this high level of care. They are doing what they can to take care of each child’s physical needs. These children are surviving not thriving. Charlotte has been left in a state of survival. Hope Station’s heart is to see these precious ones receive the care they need to thrive. Our goal is to help these nannies find ways to provide for these children’s needs in all areas. They are the ones that can be daily champions for each child in the orphanage.
Upon meeting Lincoln, we had an immediate connection. My husband and I fell in love with him from the first meeting. Every visit would begin with a 10-minute cuddle session with me, and a followed playtime with my husband. We have both loved building a relationship with this little guy. Whenever we would walk into the room, Lincoln knew who we were. He would reach for me right away and look jealous if I picked up another baby before picking him up.
A big part of me wanted to bring him home as our son, but we did not have peace about bringing him home. We then began praying God would provide a family for him soon! We could see every time we came his little spirit grew sadder. It broke my heart every time we had to leave. He would look up at me and give me a cry as I left the room. His crying became more and more frantic. He had a harder time laughing and smiling. Whenever we did get a sweet laugh from his lips we cherished the sound. With all this going on, we hoped a family would soon come.
Lincoln came to the orphanage carrying a sickness he had been given by his mother. He had syphilis. We aren’t sure what happened to his parents, but we know his syphilis was a big part of him coming to the orphanage. There is a cure for babies born with syphilis, but the treatment is expensive and many families are not able to afford this type of treatment. Lincoln would be bound to the orphanage until his treatment was finished.
Thankfully, that treatment came to an end in these past months. He is now a healthy boy and has no signs of further damage from the syphilis. With the completion of his treatment, a wonderful surprise came this month! A local Chinese family will be welcoming Lincoln into their home!
The day we found out, we entered the baby room as we normally do and began interacting with the babies in the room. Then a group of people with the orphanage director came to the doorway. A woman came in and headed straight to Lincoln. She reached out to pick him up and he lifted his arms to allow her to do so. We soon found out that this woman and her husband were adopting Lincoln. They both spent a lot of time with him that day, and I could see Lincoln was very happy! He is only 1, so I don’t know how aware he is about the world around him. Since, meeting this couple though, Lincoln has been a happier child. It’s as if, he knows he is about to finally go home!
Lincoln will go to his new home very soon. His parents are still going through the final steps, but they have been officially matched to him. Please be praying for Lincoln and this family. Pray that he enters into his new routine with ease. Pray that he can quickly bond to both his new mom and dad. Please lift up this entire family, that they can come to know Him and know His love for them.
Children that grow up in orphanages go through enormous challenges. They often suffer from language delays, attachments disorders, and a host of many other struggles. There are children who fold under the struggle and there are others who come out victorious. Just over a year old, Noah has already gone through heart surgery and abandonment, a little soul who has already experienced so much hardship. His tiny chest bears a large scar. How do you expect his personality to be at this point? Guarded? Closed off to the world? Will he be able to rise to the challenges around him or fold under the pressure?
When I met Noah, I was surprised by his joy and determination for life. I met Noah last November, when he still couldn’t crawl. That didn’t seem to slow him down any. He could move around the floor quicker than the older boys running across the floor. When he began to crawl, man was he everywhere! He was in all of the drawers and any space he could fit into. He also has a contagious giggle. A belly tickle can fill the room with his sweet laughter. He is always ready to play and interact with any of the adults in our team.
Stephanie (Rommen) Li
"Every child needs to be loved in gigantic quantities and with unbelievable quality."