Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Guiping SWI

We arrived at Guiping Social Welfare Institute mid-morning on Tuesday. They have two large modern buildings facing each other across a parking lot. One houses the elderly, and the other houses children. The one below is the orphanage.
When we arrived, we were greeted by Director Wei and taken to the reception room. We were delighted to see Mr. Gan, the retired director, who handed Zoe to me in Nanning on October 8, 2001. He was equally happy to see Zoe and Maya, and he really seemed to remember them both.

Zoe warmed up to him very quickly, which is unusual for her. She happily showed him the pictures she had drawn for the baby room – she wanted to hang them in the baby room, and told Mr. Gan all about them. The drawing they are looking at is a boat, and since it's a big boat, Zoe wrote the Chinese character for "big" on the sail. Mr. Gan was very impressed that she could write Chinese characters. But I couldn't get her or Maya to say anything other than xie-xie (thank you) in Chinese the whole time we were there. Naturally, in the van on the way back to Nanning, they immediately started to sing every Chinese song they know!

The reception room had flowers and fruit, and we were served tea, lychees and bananas – Mr. Gan actually peeled the lychees and hand-fed Maya!
There was a large board in the reception room with tons of pictures of Guiping babies who had been adopted and whose parents had sent pictures back to the SWI. There was even 3 pictures of Zoe – I was so glad to see that they had gotten the pictures I had sent via another Guiping family.

I gave them an album of photos of Zoe and Maya, and also the photos of babies from Maya’s travel group – they were all Guiping babies transferred to Mother’s Love. They were really happy to have them, and I’m sure they will soon be added to the board!

Two families who recently received Guiping referrals asked me if I could take pictures of their babies while at Guiping, so I asked the director. She said I couldn’t take pictures, but they would give me pictures to give to the parents – wow, how exciting to get those photos for those anxiously waiting parents! (I’m still working on getting them scanned, so I can email them to their families).

We had a chance to see Zoe’s file and were able to have photocopies of parts of it. That will be such a treasure for Zoe as she grows up.

But I was so disappointed that we could not see Maya’s file for the two months she was at Guiping before being transferred to Mother’s Love. That was a HUGE part of why I wanted us to go to Guiping. But we were told that they had not known Maya was coming as a Guiping baby because she was only listed on Zoe’s request-to-visit form as “accompanying.” So they hadn’t pulled Maya’s file. And the only person with a key to the file room was in Nanning. I admit I don’t really buy that story – that no one else has the key. I think it’s true they didn’t expect to show anyone Maya’s file, and I think it’s possible they wanted to sanitize the file before showing it to me. But they were intractable on that point. They would not show us the file for whatever reason.

I was so bitterly disappointed I cried. I so wanted to know more about those 2 months because I don’t know WHY she was transferred to Mother’s Love except that she was very small – less than 7 pounds at 2 months old. But is it because she was a preemie and really tiny when she got to Guiping SWI? Or was she a failure-to-thrive baby who lost weight after getting to Guiping SWI? I KNOW that information is in her file, and to be so close and not be able to see it was horrible. Our guide has promised to call them and try to get them to fax the information to us. But without someone there to make sure they do it, I’m not sure I’ll ever see what’s in the file. So that piece of the puzzle is still missing, despite all of our efforts.

After the reception room, we were given a tour of the facility. We were requested not to take pictures. The first room we entered was a play room for the babies. The room is really large, with one entire wall of mirrors with two low bars. The bars are for the babies to hold onto when they are learning to stand and to pull themselves up. And the floor was covered with a bright rubberized mat. When we got there, there were 3 nannies in the room and probably about 9 babies. All the nannies were on the floor playing with some of the babies – a few were sleeping on the floor. There were some small toys around the babies.

One of the nannies was at Guiping when Zoe was there, and motioned her down to the floor to play with the babies. Zoe was in her element! I got to hold one of the babies, too – the baby whose family asked me to get photos! We only played with the babies for a few minutes before Director Wei said it was time for the babies to have their bottles, and we were shooed off to another room. This room had younger babies in cribs, some that looked less than 3 months old. I’d say there were only 10 babies here as well. Later Director Wei was telling me about the old orphanage, and the fact that they had less space and more children then. Now they are in this big new building with very few babies. Part of the reason is that so many more Guiping children are in foster care.

Though we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the orphanage, we were able to take a picture outside of Zoe and Maya with the nanny. The purses the girls are holding were gifts from Guiping SWI – the inscription on the bottom says “Guiping Social Welfare Institute” and the inscription going up and down on the right side says “Jin Tian Cum,” the name of the town the Guiping girls are named after. Even I could recognize the character for “Jin” at the top (it looks like a little house, which is how I always remember it). BTW, our guide tells us that CCAA regulations now require the orphanages to give children basic Chinese surnames. Some orphanages would give all the children surnames that too clearly identified them as orphans named by the state, and CCAA was concerned about how that would affect them as they grew up and got jobs when everyone would know their orphan status. “Jin,” however, is a typical Chinese surname, so it’s likely that Guiping will continue to name its babies Jin.
Guiping SWI was bright and clean and cheery. There were colorful decorations in the hallways and stairways, but none on the walls of the baby room. They promised, faithfully, to hang up Zoe’s drawings there – I hope they do. In the lobby was this cheery declaration:
The babies we saw certainly looked healthy and well cared for.
After the tour, we took the director, assistant director, former director, and two nannies (including the one who cared for Zoe as a baby) to lunch. As we were leaving, the director went back to the reception room and filled a bag with the uneaten lychees and bananas! So on top of the ones Maya’s foster family gave us, we have enough lychees for 15 kids!

Lunch was in a private banquet room in a nearby restaurant. Mr. Gan sat the girls next to him on a settee and started shelling peanuts and feeding them!
The lunch was really good – much better than the dinner we’d had in Guiping the night before. Proves it takes a local to find the really good restaurants – out-of-towners driving around looking for a fancy restaurant just can’t compete!

During lunch, everyone was so impressed with the way Zoe took care of Maya. She made sure she had food before Zoe served herself, took her to the bathroom, wiped the table when Maya spilled her tea. They all complimented me on teaching the children responsibility and good manners. (Little do they know that Zoe does all these things because she loves to play with the lazy susan in the middle of the table and pick things up with chopsticks!).

The director said that the orphanage’s biggest need was donations to its fund to build a retaining wall. Their new building sits lower than the surrounding land and they are having flooding problems. So we donated to that fund rather than taking them shopping for something the orphanage didn’t need as badly.

Before we left, the assistant director disappeared for a while and returned with two plastic bags stuffed with peanuts for the girls. And then, the director and the nannies started scooping up some of the uneaten food – dumplings, fried shrimp (fried with the famous local tea!), pumpkin cakes – into plastic bags. I thought that it was great, they were taking food back for the other nannies or something. Then they handed all that food to us for the trip back to Nanning! (We ended up having it for dinner when we got back to the Majestic – we didn’t feel like going out anyway, and I didn’t want to see all that food go to waste!).

Our last stop on the way out of Guiping was the old orphanage. Zoe and Maya were at Guiping before the new building was built, so I was really eager to see the actual place they stayed. The neighborhood was really interesting, lots of tiny streets and alleyways. The road leading up to the orphanage was mostly shops, one selling fruit, one with swimsuits on display, another with umbrellas. The one nearest the orphanage was selling mostly cigarettes and soft drinks. Directly across the street from the orphanage were two older people working with strips of wood. It turns out they were making sticks of incense from bamboo.
Director Wei was with us, and she said I could take pictures of the outside of the building but we could not go in.
And as I was standing there taking pictures, who should drive up but Mr. Gan on his motorcycle!
It turns out he still lives at the old orphanage even though he is retired and even though it is no longer an orphanage! Director Wei suddenly leaped out of the van, and was speaking rapidly to Mr. Gan in Chinese, and our guide told us she said we could go into the building after all – just no pictures! I was thrilled! I immediately recognized the place from the photos I’d gotten from the SWI from the disposable camera I had sent with Zoe’s care package so many years ago. Mr. Gan showed us the interior courtyard, and pointed out the room where Zoe stayed. I was so happy to be able to put into perspective what I had seen in those earlier photos. I can now show Zoe exactly where she lived for her first 11 months.

We then headed out of Guiping on the same road Zoe took almost six years ago on her way to Nanning to meet me, and the same road Maya took to Mother’s Love as a tiny baby. It was a whirlwind trip we took to Guiping; there was so much meaning packed into less than 24 hours. I am so glad we were able to visit Guiping SWI and thank those who cared for my babies at such critical stages in their lives. And we were able to uncover many, many puzzle pieces that make up the stories of their lives.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this was so nice to read - I am printing it out so I can show Dan Dan someday - what a gift you have given our family!

mimifrancoise said...

It is good that Zoe saw Mr Gan since you both talk about him. Now she can put a face to a name. I am so sorry you did not get the information about Maya that you wanted. You do not cry easily... so I know how disappointed you are. Maybe you will eventually be able to see her file.

Anonymous said...

It's great to hear how well received your children were by their former caregivers. How wonderful for them! I think you will eventually get to see that file! If they don't fax it, then you'll just have to visit Guiping again when Maya is older and can remember it better! Sue

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gan really does not look old enough to be retired. He doesn't have a lot of wrinkles or gray hair!

5nicholsons said...

Hi- I too am printing this "article" out for my daughter...whom we adopted from this exact orphanage in 2002. She was born in 2001. So it seems that Zoe and my Lily were orphange "sisters" as their time overlapped. It is nice to see where the surname Jin came from...Jin Yuan Ling was her name. We too will go back to China and perhaps visit the orphanage and our son's orphanage in Hepu. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us!

Barry and Jennifer Rodman said...

My daughter came from this orphanage in 2006 - this is a terrific post, thank you for this. I'm guessing that her picture was on the display that you saw in the foyer when you visited Guiping SWI!