Families Thru International Adoption -- Newsletter -- International Footsteps -- September 2005
Written by Nikki Bilderback, Charlene Drake and Maury Reising
This summer three FTIA coordinators were given the opportunity to travel to China with three different groups of adopting families. Typically a trip to China includes the following:
Charlene Drake traveled in May with a group adopting from Hunan province, Nikki Bilderback traveled in June and also traveled with a group adopting from Hunan and Maury Reising traveled in July with a total of six families adopting waiting children. Three families adopted from Fujian province and Maury traveled with these families and then met up with the other three families in Guangzhou. Here are some of our favorite highlights from our trips:
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to China this summer to experience the beautiful country, its culture and the finalization of the adoption process first-hand! After an overnight in Beijing (and a tour of the Great Wall), I then traveled to Fujian Province with three families on July 3rd. It was an incredible experience to witness these families receiving their special needs children on July 4th!! It was definitely the highlight of the trip!! It is also wonderful to actually see the children and families whom you have worked with for many months finally united for the first time!! We spent 5 1/2 days in Fujian Province, where we toured Forest Park and walked along several blocks of shops in the city of Fuzhou, getting a good picture of daily life in this Southern province. I had the opportunity of visiting Fuzhou City CWI and was impressed with it’s cleanliness and the dedication of the caretakers. There are approximately 200 children at this orphanage, although many are in foster care. Many of the children have special needs.
We also took an 8-hour trip (round trip) to Xiamen orphanage one day from Fuzhou. This orphanage is also very clean and the caretakers are very affectionate to the children and very caring. There are approximately 200 children in this orphanage, as well; the vast majority of the children have special needs. We also toured several blocks of shops in Xiamen and saw the shop owners with their fruits, vegetables and fish for sale on the same block as a McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken! Xiamen is a modern city in many ways and has a beautiful waterfront area.
In Guangzhou, three other families joined us, who also adopted special needs children and a fourth family arrived a few days after us. The special needs children in this group were all real troopers!! They ranged in age from two years to seven years and have a variety of special needs, some more challenging than others. All the children bonded well and handled all the changes---losing caretakers and their familiar environment, their peers, new faces, new smells, new language, the introduction of some Western food, lots of walking, etc.---with very little complaint!!! I was amazed by their adaptability.
I was impressed with the beautiful mountain views and the friendliness of the people throughout my travels! I did experience some culture shock, as I tried to adjust to the change in food, the inability to drink the water and some language barriers. Our guides and coordinator (Shirley) were very helpful and made the process go smoothly! Families completed the adoption process on July 12 when they received their children’s visas and took the oath at the Civil Affairs Office. This was a very happy moment for all!
My trip to China was an incredible experience and one I will not soon forget!! While on vacation in Oregon earlier this year, we toured a Chinese garden and discovered a plaque there with a saying that struck me, as it so describes the experience of China and the adoption process itself. It says so much about the incredible joy and the combining of cultures that is involved in adopting one of these precious children. It states “We dedicate this garden to the courage, sacrifice and love of mothers on both sides of the ocean---forever linked by the precious children who are their gift to the world”.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see the adoption process from beginning to completion. It gives one a deep appreciation of the differences in our two cultures, the similarities and the value of each. You as parents have the opportunity to combine these two worlds with your children adopted from China (as parents adopting from other countries also do) and instill in them a love and appreciation of both!
My trip started out with our group of ten families arriving in Beijing. Genie, our group coordinator from the FTIA China staff met us at the airport and took us to the hotel. Throughout the trip Genie would travel with us and the entire group became very attached to her! She was such a great person, she took into account the families’ needs (sometimes before they even knew they had the need), told us many things about the places we visited and even sang for us!
We enjoyed three days in Beijing and took tours of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Summer Palace, Heavenly Temple and Lama Temple. It was all so amazing to see such ancient places when everything here in the states is so new when compared! There was a lot of construction being completed in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, but even that could not detract from the beauty of Beijing. We also enjoyed two shows: an acrobatic show and a Kung Fu show. Because the shows were in the evenings everyone was pretty wore out, but our entire group made it to both shows. (Some may have dozed off a bit during the shows though!)
Once we departed from Beijing we flew to the capital of Hunan province, Changsha. We met our local guide, Linda at the airport and then were off to the hotel. After getting freshened up a bit Linda and Genie took everyone to a grocery store to buy supplies: diapers, baby food, formula, snacks, etc. for the next day was Gotcha Day! With all the anticipation in the air, I don’t know how well anyone slept that night!
In the morning we went to the Civil Affairs Bureau of Changsha where one by one the families were united with their daughters. I have heard about many Gotcha Days over the past year and it has always been wonderful to hear how the day went. To actually be there for one was beyond amazing! This was of course the highlight of the trip for everyone!
While in Changsha we visited the Embroidery Institute, a pearl market, Yuelu Academy and, yes, Wal-Mart. Wal-mart is pretty much the same, even in China. I didn’t spend too much time there. I decided to wait for the families on the main floor of the high rise Wal-Mart was located in. (Wal-Mart occupies the 2nd and 3rd floors.) I was writing in my journal when I noticed a young girl and her mother were watching me. The young girl knew enough English to let me know that they were watching me because I am left-handed! They told me that meant I was special.
We ended the trip in Guangzhou where families completed the paperwork necessary to get their daughters’ visa to enter the United States. We stayed at the White Swan on Shamian Island. It was easiest to get out and about on our own here. The Island is the last stop for hundreds of adopting families and many of the shop owners know a fair amount of English. During our stay in Guangzhou we also had the opportunity to visit Green Kindergarten. This is a school parents elect to send their children to, and we were told it is very expensive. Children ages 3-5 attend Monday through Friday and stay at the school all week, even overnight. We visited several of the classrooms where many of the teachers were from Canada and were teaching the children English. In each class the children greeted us with a “Hello, how are you this afternoon?”
I enjoyed my trip so much! It has been difficult to condense it for this article. The experience was amazing and words will never do it justice. I am very grateful that I had this opportunity!
I can’t express how beneficial it was to experience the entire adoption process! I consider myself very fortunate, as I know we all do, to work for an agency that was willing to send us to China to enable us to better assist our families.
There were so many wonderful moments on the trip, but by far my most memorable moment was Gotcha Day! It was especially wonderful because this particular Gotcha Day fell on Mothers’ Day in the US. The children and families met each other for the first time at the Civil Affairs Bureau in Changsha. On that day, I was amazed and honored to be able to witness such touching moments in so many lives -- it was the beginning of lifelong journeys for everyone present. It was so magical to be there in the midst of those memories. I cried like a baby.
As the days rolled by, I was able to witness each little personality unfold and watch them bond with their families. I was in awe of their strong souls, where they had been, and the journey they were undertaking. I can remember one moment in particular, close to the end of the trip, where I looked around on the bus and thought to myself, I can not imagine any of these children placed with a different family -- each seemed so perfectly matched.
Having experienced these unforgettable moments with these families, I also now have a better understanding of the bonding process that traveling groups, as a whole, experience. I look forward to and am honored to be invited to the May ’05 Hunan Group’s reunion next July or August. I also look forward to following the lives of these “spicy girls” and watching them grow.
On a different note, I was so proud to meet the amazing team that we have in Beijing. I now know first hand the wonderful guidance and support that our families receive in China. Our in-country coordinators certainly go above and beyond. I formed a dear friendship with the coordinator I traveled with and now truly understand why so many families say that they wanted to bring their in-country coordinator back with them, because I did as well.
This trip was life altering and I’m a better person for having experienced, not only the beauty of adoption, but the beauty of the Chinese culture and people as well. Thank you to FTIA for the opportunity and to the families who shared their moments, thoughts, tears, and beautiful children with me. I can’t wait to see all of you at the May ’05 Hunan Group’s reunion!