After a month travelling around China I decided to spend my last three weeks volunteering. It felt like a nice way to end my trip and a chance to get to spend some more time with locals and to experience ‘real’ life a bit more. The first place I went to was Starfish Foster Home in Xian, which cares for children with disabilities. It was set up by an amazing lady called Amanda (you can read more of her story at www.thestarfishfosterhome.org) and funds life-changing operations for the children before they are adopted.
|Welcome to Creative Corner.|
|“Now this requires a great deal of concentration.”|
My other project was to reorganise the laundry room which, with clothes for more than 30 children, could become a bit chaotic at times. Now anyone who knows me will know that tidying and organising are not necessarily my strongest points, as those of you who have lived with me will testify. However I managed to get the place in pretty good shape and also became an expert at loading and unloading the washers and dryers with the never ending stream of dirty clothes and bedding, so if nothing else turns up a job in a laundrette is always a possibility now. (If EastEnders is anything to go by at least I’ll always be first with the gossip.)
|It seems that I have found my calling in life.|
Over the years I’ve done a fair bit of work with children: I’ve changed stinky nappies and experienced temper tantrums in Costa Rica; attempted to teach English to students (and their pet monkeys) in Peru and dealt with teenage angst at summer camp in America. What I have never been asked to do though is potty train a child. In a different language. Never one to turn down a challenge I decided to give it a go. After all, how hard can it be? I know all of my mum friends are laughing their heads off now because it turns out it’s pretty hard. Luckily I was paired up with an adorable little boy called Isaac who put up with my constant questioning about whether he needed a pee pee. We had a few triumphs along the way, as well as one or two accidents, but hopefully with the help of new volunteers he is now well on his way to being potty trained.
|“Stop asking me if I need the toilet while I’m trying to impress the girls.”|
It’s the second time I have volunteered in an orphanage and the range of emotions you go through are always strange. On one hand you have so much fun with the children and I laughed so much every day as their little personalities shone through. It always amazed me that despite the language difference they were able to make themselves understood very well (although there were obviously times when some of the older ones would pretend not to understand what we were telling them!) But, of course, there are also lots of heartbreaking moments like when someone else’s child calls you “mama” and you wonder how anyone could possibly give up such smart, funny, beautiful children. The injustices of a country like China also come to light when you discover that while some babies are given up because of their disabilities which are not as acceptable in a society where everyone strives to be “perfect”, you learn that others are given away simply because their parents cannot afford to pay their medical bills.
|#25 with baby Noah, who almost came home with me.|
Kaifeng, which is kind of off the tourist track so sees less international visitors passing through. I was one of the first volunteers to visit the school and at first I’m not sure they really knew what to do with me. It took me a while to get them to stop buying things for me, as Chinese hospitality is second to none and every day someone would turn up with a present for me or try to take me out for lunch (my favourite was a fully cooked chicken – complete with head). Nobody spoke English except the headteacher’s son Tim so I was lucky that he came to the school with me every day and acted as my translator. He picked me up every morning on his little electric bike and then we flew through the rush hour traffic while I kept my eyes down and tried to pretend the beeping horns and screeching brakes weren’t anything to do with us.
|The lovely Zhang Hong.|
|The day begins with morning exercises.|
|Before heading to the classroom for creative time.|
The funniest part of my week at the school was when the local press came to do a story about some computers which were being donated to the school by a company. Everyone was so excited and the children had been practising their songs all morning to sing to their special guests. After the presentation I was surprised when the journalist asked whether he could write a story about me. He seemed very surprised that I was at the school and couldn’t seem to understand why someone would come from another country to volunteer in China. He also insisted on taking lots and lots of photos of me, which was pretty embarrassing seeing as I’d turned up to school that day with no make up on and my hair a mess and, of course, wearing the much favoured poo pants.
|The new tables and chairs are ready to go.|