I was lucky to do my placement at the same time as an amazing bunch of volunteers from all over the world and there was a real feeling of energy in the home as we each tried to use our individual skills to help out where we could. During my time there I was keen to try and increase the amount of activities the older children (aged three to five) do during their play time. One of my earliest memories is my library corner at nursery and if you’ve met my dad you’ve probably heard the story about him coming to pick me up and finding me sat in my little red shoes (even then it was all about the shoes) with my legs dangling off the end of a big chair and my head in a book. So setting up a library corner was one of my first missions and I loved reading to the children who pointed things out to me and babbled away, even though we didn't speak the same language. I also spent time doing arts and crafts with the children and I'm not sure who had more fun making animal masks, me or them.
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
|Welcome to Creative Corner.|
|"Now this requires a great deal of concentration."|
|It seems that I have found my calling in life.|
|"Stop asking me if I need the toilet while I'm trying to impress the girls."|
Nevertheless, despite the fact that being given up for adoption may not be the best start in life I have absolutely no doubt that Starfish is an incredible place which is above and beyond many other orphanages in the country. I know that the children there are cared for in a happy and safe environment and go on to be adopted by loving families. And I know that during their time at Starfish they are loved: by the staff, by the other children and by us, the volunteers. I know in the future that they will have many difficult questions to ask their families about why and how they were given away. But I hope that they will be told about how special they have always been and how much they were loved by everyone who met them, even those of us who met them for such a short time will never forget them.
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.
|#25 with baby Noah, who almost came home with me.|
My main aim at the school was to try to help them with their PR and advertising, especially internationally. Most of the 70 children at the school come from poor families. More than half of them board there as they live too far away to travel every day. The monthly fees per child should be 138 pounds, most families can't even afford to pay half. And yet headteacher Zhang Hong and her staff carry on tirelessly. The teachers are all young and enthusiastic, even though they struggle with the frighteningly low wages.
|The lovely Zhang Hong.|
The school is run entirely from donations and I worked with Zhang Hong and Tim to try to think of ways of raising money for things they desperately need - items as simple as tables for the dining room and wood to burn in winter to keep the children warm. I saw that every day was a struggle for the staff and it broke my heart to meet some of the families of the children who live in just one or two rooms and earn tiny amounts of money by selling fruit or collecting rubbish from the streets.
|The day begins with morning exercises.|
|Before heading to the classroom for creative time.|
http://em30b430.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/a-birthday-wish.html) and thanks to a donation from my family I was able to buy 12 desks and chairs for the computers which had been donated by a local company the week before. Seeing how happy it made them was honestly the best way to end my trip. Being poor in a country like China which is striving to move ahead so quickly is difficult. While the new rich are embracing their wealth and the changes it has brought to them the poor are being left further and further behind. But it gives me hope when I meet people like Zhang Hong, who keep going no matter how many things there are against them and I've made a commitment to help the school in the future.
|The new tables and chairs are ready to go.|