Who do you see?

Holt Senior Writer Robin Munro is traveling with Waiting Child Manager Jessica Palmer to learn more about a new group of children in Holt’s Journey of Hope program.

Robin Munro, Senior Writer—Today, we visited a beautiful orphanage in Northern China – a place full of color and life.  Each room opened onto another group of faces – curious, apprehensive, wide-eyed faces.  Most of these children have special needs, conditions beyond which most birth families have the capacity to provide medical care – conditions like cleft lip and palate, CP, Down’s Syndrome, Spina bifida, feet and hand deformities, as well as a few cases of pneumonia.

In the first room we enter, metal barred cribs line the wall.  In each, a child sits or lays, staring at the ceiling, the wall, or nothing in particular – into middle space.   These children have some of the most severe conditions.  Most don’t seem to notice our presence in the room – don’t jump up, or cry, or reach out to us.  I walk over to one boy, who lifts his head when I touch his back.  His head is swollen from Hydrocephalus, a condition in which water gets onto the brain.  In some cases, this condition is minor and won’t interfere with the child’s life.  But this boy’s condition is serious, says Sue Liu, the Beijing office manager.  As I rub his back, he begins to smile.  When I stop, he stares at me blankly.  I gently touch him again, and his smile returns.   I ask about his chances for adoption, and Sue shakes her head with regret.  He is too sick.

We move to another room, where a big, chubby boy immediately sits up in his crib to greet us.  His expression is neutral, content.  As the caregiver reaches out to pick him up, he climbs up the bars with amazing acrobatic skill – and then I see his feet. One bends inward, the other is almost nonexistent, both red and swollen at the ankles from surgery scars.  But they don’t slow him down a bit, as he demonstrates by first standing, then walking, then practically running across the room.  When he loses his balance, he wobbles a bit, but regains it quickly and resumes the task at hand – lifting a water bottle from my camera bag, or making kissy noises in response to mine.  His right hand is also deformed – a trait I didn’t notice during our time together, but found out afterward – and he is Hepatitis B positive, a potentially life-threatening liver infection. On a list of names, his is highlighted in yellow to indicate he has special needs.  But I just see a fat, healthy baby, curious and cuddly and completely loveable.

With every child I meet, all I see is a child, and not a condition.  A little body and mind that will thrive when nurtured and loved, in the care of a devoted family. I think of Harry Holt’s inspired statement – that “every child deserves a home.”  And I’m so hopeful that these children will soon find the loving homes they deserve.

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