Today we set out at 9am to drive 2 1/2 hrs to visit Jeremy's orphanage in Yueyang, Hunan. It is in the northeast corner of Hunan and is a very large city, prominent port for the Yangtze River and home to Dongting Lake - the 2nd largest fresh water lake in all of China. Our guide told us that Yueyang is one of 3 prominent cities in southern China and well known all over China. Enough trivia.
We arrived at the SWI (orphanage) just as the older children were arriving home for lunch from school. Many hellos were raised, but we were to meet the director first. We proceeded inside the main building and were ushered to an executive meeting room. The director, a man, greeted us as well as the two women assistant directors that escorted Jeremy to the civil affairs. We were served apples and bananas and very hot green tea. The building was cold - no apparent heat. We shared with the director about the hard winter and if they had any needs - they apparently have more generators than we thought and maintained power - they were ever so thankful for Half the Sky's help as well as many parents who forwarded funds in their time of need. They gifted Jeremy with a golden plate from Yueyang city for a memory.
We then met Jeremy's preschool teacher who is employed by Half the Sky (HTS) and were given only part of his portfolio from his time with her. It seems that Jeremy was an exemplary student and the remainder of his portfolio was taken by another teacher with HTS as an example of the work HTS can and is doing for the orphans in China. We will be seeking this teacher out who works for HTS to obtain the rest of his portfolio of work. Of course, in true Mary style, tears were flowing as we saw pictures of the progress Jeremy made over the years. This teacher and Jeremy's ayis greatly encouraged and taught him to work hard, do his best and work around his limitations. Words of thanks were hardly enough for me to express my gratitude.
We were then taken to Jeremy's living area - the building just behind the large main building. It seems that in December the older children were moved from the prior living quarters where he was since he was six. We found out that he was in the main building up to his 6th year when he started primary school - then he was moved over to the older orphans' living quarters. So his move from the main building was just within the last year, as he is now only in the first grade. We saw his newest bedroom - with two other beds. Each child had a bed, a desk and a large plastic container for personal items/clothes, etc. The room was stark and cold with just 2 fluorescent lights and a couple fans on the nearly 12 foot ceiling. The entire buildings are masonry, with plaster/cinder block walls and tile floors. Hard to imagine how cold it must get in there in the winter. This area is noted for its exceptionally hot summers tho, not very cold winters.
The other children were there in a "classroom" where they could do homework, watch tv, read. Jeremy gifted each one with a bag of treats and we gave the shared gifts to the ayi. Kelly, we gave Ying Hong his gift, and his only main concern was "when will they come???" We explained the red tape of all the paperwork and said it could be as early as May, but can't be sure due to unforeseen delays. There was one girl there that captured John and my hearts - her smile was so sweet and tender. She uses a walker or wheelchair and must have spina bifada. What a smile, tho!! She was also in Jeremy's class at school.
We then went out to lunch with the directors - to a very fancy, schmancy place. Most of the dishes were VERY (Hunan spicy) hot - Steve you would have loved them! I stuck to just a few of the milder ones. We were introduced to the office director who also had taken Jeremy to his OWN home for Chinese New Year just two weeks ago. This is a man that Jeremy refers to as "uncle baba" - as he does the director of the SWI.
After our meal we returned to the SWI and then walked the normal path to Jeremy's school .... oh, my. The shortcut is via narrow broken walkways thru tenement housing strewn with garbage. I only assume these children walk here alone as the only ayi pushes the young girl's wheelchair via another longer, well established route. Jeremy happily skipped on ahead of us, knowing the route all too well.
We reached the school and it was loud with hundreds of children playing on the concrete schoolyard - running, playing dodgeball with a tennis sized ball. Some girls had the job/privilege of sweeping up trash .... as I remember being a safety/guard in elementary school. Jeremy's classroom was wall to wall desks - double desks, side by side in neat rows totaling 50 students with only 1 teacher ..... and no assistants; bars on the windows, broken panes, kids with coats, hats, scarves that all remain on for the duration of the classtime. Stark walls with only a few posters - like alphabet with pictures. Jeremy proudly personally handed each child a chocolate bar and the teacher a chinese bag of cracker treats for later. Mary sang two children's American songs and the children in turn shared a few of their own songs with us. The teacher seemed a bit put out by our presence and we left just as the bell rang for class to resume. We were also able to meet the principal outside the classroom door.
Back at the SWI we waited for the elder 16 yr old big brother in the older orphan area to return so as to gift us with one of his calligraphy works. It is an essay on the famous Yueyang Tower. This young man is not only very handsome, but exceptionally personable. We graciously accepted his gift - totally unexpected. We have his email and hope to keep in contact with him. He plans to study hard and go to the university and further study calligraphy. We told him he was welcome to visit us in America anytime ... he said all of the adoptive parents have said the same thing. What a gift he was for Jeremy - we were told that when Jeremy heard of our intent to adopt him, that he was very scared and slept with this older brother for awhile.
After the long ride home, we took Jeremy out for his first ever Pizza! He, of course, loved it. We all slept very well last night and are ready for a new day. Today, Thursday Feb 21, we will visit some cultural sites here in Changsha. Tonight is the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. We are going to walk to a park where Jacky says there will be many people celebrating, and most likely a large fireworks display.
Thanks for following our journey and thanks for your continued prayers,
Mary and John