Edited to add: Comments on orphanage situation

So you may have seen from my Facebook page that I recently went to China. It's been 10 years in the making but I finally decided to go with a group called Go.Be.Love International, formerly known as Visiting Orphans.

It was a 10 day trip originally scheduled to be in an orphanage but the government has closed the doors of all orphanages to foreign visitors. So plans changed. Instead we visited three cities and three separate organizations dedicated to helping special needs children. I'm not involved in special needs advocacy so this was all new to me.

FWIW, as a result of this trip I'm totally on board with advocating for parents and care-takers of special needs children.

Here's a quick recap:

Beijing --> Fuxin --> Shenyang --> Beijing. We went from Beijing to Fuxin via a 5hr bullet train ride and 3 hour bus ride. Then to Shenyang via 3 hour bus ride and then back to Beijing on the bullet train. What? You are not familiar with a map of China? Essentially, at our northernmost point we were a 5+ hour drive from North Korea.

I kept singing "Bullet the Blue Sky" - it's pretty apt

Our group was rather large (14) and with dividing us up into about three smaller groups, we were able "help" out in different capacities throughout the trip. Some groups interacted directly with the children, others cleaned (my group), or met with parents (my group). When my group met with the parents we hosted a panel-style session where parents could ask questions. We had a pediatrician, a therapist, two nurses, and me. My qualifications? Great question. I'm divorced (a situation many will find themselves in if they parent a special needs child), I have family with special needs, and I've been in therapy for a bazillion years. That's enough, right?

The takeaway from those parent sessions? They are so in need of support and education regarding special needs. They asked us how we in the US cure our children of autism.

Yeah, let that one sit with you awhile.

Try sitting there across from parents and informing them that there is no cure. That this is endless and thankless work and their lives are forever, unalterably, changed. You feel real good about yourself.

We did explain that we love our children, that our children have value regardless of their special needs, that their children have value, that we all have innate value. Yeah, mostly blank and hopeless stares back.

So here's a brief summary of my take-away from China.

China was incredible – very hard and extremely taxing but I’m glad I had the opportunity to go.

Parents of special needs children here, while they need all the support and much more than they get, are unfathomably better off than a parent that tries to raise a special needs child there. Imagine deciding to keep a child, your child, and then losing your job, your spouse, your parents, your friends, your home, and any plans for your future, whether realistic or dreamt. Imagine being ridiculed unceasingly by family, friends, and strangers for keeping your child – imagine your child being ridiculed by the same people, right in front of you.

I wouldn’t have believe it but we witnessed it first-hand and heard accounts by parents who kept their children.

There are good people who are trying to build support networks and are working their knuckles down to provide safe spaces for not just for these parents and their children but for orphaned children as well. It’s a beautiful sight but devastatingly rare.

It’s not a place to go to feel good about yourself or to imagine that any help you can bring is enough. Sure, everyone involved in helping special needs children over there is grateful, so grateful for the smallest gesture of support, but it’s evident immediately that more should be done.

Note: I need to add in here that foster-families and families who choose to keep their special needs children are providing a hope and future for these children. Children who might NEVER see anything beyond the four sides of their crib until they age out and it doesn't get better. Yes, until they reach 16, many special needs children are restrained to their cribs and subsist on milliliters of (hopefully) milk per meal

Let me break that down even more. In some areas, if you are suspected of having a disability (and diagnosis is spotty at best) you will be treated equal to or WORSE than livestock. Cattle, pigs, and chickens will likely have it better for they will at least be fed. I do not mean to make benign horrible livestock conditions - the cruel living quarters, force-feeding practices, and slaughter processes are unforgivable but imagine where that industry has a one-up on an orphanage. 

Now, not all orphanages are run like this, some do provide healthy environments for their wards but that is NOT the case for all - and this isn't exclusive to China... I'm looking at you Russia. With the lack of accountability (policy and compliance review (hey, my job!!)), people can and will engage in bribery to land jobs for which they are grievously unqualified and incapable of discharging their duties correctly. Explain that one to me....

One thing impressed upon us before and during the trip is to NOT judge. I did get all hot-headed and self-righteous for those three paragraphs above but anger at the plight is different (to me) than judging why families give up their children or anger at the nannies for the orphanage practices. While there it's about loving on the nannies and the children. It's about change and you can't change people by judging them - you can change people by loving them. I don't know how I would have kept it together had we visited one of the orphanages such as I mentioned above. I pray I would have loved and I know it would have tested me to the limits. 

Not quite a  feel-good recap but it’s honest. 

We did visit the Great Wall (contrary to the 17yo on the trip, it is 5,500 miles long, not 36) and FUN FACT: at this particular section you take a chair-lift up to the top and a toboggan down. Also visited  Temple of Heaven and the Nanluoguxiang hutong (old alley with tons of shops). We ate (ok, I ate) my way through China thanks to our wonderful guide Hi Tao. He orchestrated every meal and I had pig kidney (did NOT know it was that but hey, what you don't know...), whole-fried fish, whole fried shrimp, squid, beef dish after pork dish after chicken dish ad infinitum, amazing green beans (like, whoa-baby good), eggplant, candied veggies, Peking Duck, hot pot, dim sum, veggies galore, all served family-style on a lazy-Susan for every lunch and dinner.

Pictures in no particular order!

I do not have pictures of the children or care-takers or the facilities we visited. I have no reason to be concerned but I don't like publishing (and we were asked not to publish pictures of the children) pictures of those who might be at risk.
The group! We had just finished visiting the Pearl Market
When you've landed in Dallas and you're ready to die from exhaustion but you still have 8 hours to go!
The group on the bullet train. Woot!
Our attempts at paper cutting. #noskillz
Square in Shenyang
Bullet Train
Toboggan down from the Great Wall
More toboggan!

Part of my group at the Great Wall

Me at Great Wall

Heck yes I found a cat! With a foster-mother whom I'm trying to convince to adopt the cat..

Temple of Heaven

Parking outside Temple of Heaven

Cool building in Beijing

Typical balcony.

My gaze is looking straight across to the next hill. Yes, those steps are straight down (and back up).


More mountains

Inside of a Great Wall tower

Typical dinner

Yes, it really is that smoggy some days

Check out the fish-head!

Hot Pot!

Part of our group prepping for the next session

Just one of a million apartment complexes. This was taken from the train and these are NOT tiny buildings. 

More apartments

Even more

MORE complexes (or "communities" as they call them)

I don't know if I'll go back. I need some more time to process.


  1. What an amazing trip and experience!

    1. I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance!

  2. What an interesting trip! I watched a very sad documentary about some of the orphanages in China not too long ago on youtube (but the doc was very old, like 20 years old) and it broke my heart.

    1. Fortunately some things have changed in the past 20 years (like the One Child Policy is now relaxed) but so much is still the same (unqualified orphanage directors, nepotism, paying someone to get a job rather than being actually qualified for it, special needs children receiving less than humane care).


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