In May, 2014, I traveled to China as China Program Director for an adoption agency that I previously worked for. Accompanying me was my 19 year old Nanjing born daughter, Lianna, who often travels to China with me to assist. Although we were there to sign orphanage partnership agreements elsewhere in the province, we were invited to meet a group of older children in the Nanjing SWI with medical needs, those who had been waiting the longest without being chosen by families.
As the parent of a young adult who was adopted as an infant from the Nanjing SWI, it always makes me terribly sad when I see the older kids in the orphanage. You can imagine my painful thoughts. I think of my own child, what it would have been like for her to have grown up in the orphanage. I tear up at the thought. Unimaginable.
As the boys and girls filed in, we composed ourselves, ready for the task of gathering information, photos and films for families back home. When Lianna is with me on these trips, the children gravitate to her, and really open up, allowing me to see their personalities and abilities, and get great photos! One sweet 9 year old girl, shy at first, quickly attached herself to my daughter. What little girl doesn’t like to hang out with a fun loving teenager? It was easy to forget that this girl, Ling Shan, had complex medical needs (epilepsy, scoliosis, and a form of spina bifida were mentioned) when she was giggling with Li, who showed her the art of the “selfie”! All of a sudden, Ling Shan turned to me, looked me in the eyes, and said: “I had a best friend. She was adopted by a family in America and I really miss her. Can you find her?” She was so earnest, and asked as if she thought America was just a big town and she was sure I knew everyone! I got that lump in my throat again, thinking of all the times this child must have watched as other children she knew, including her best friend, left the orphanage holding the hand of a parent, while she waited and waited. She wasn’t asking me to find her a family, but it was implicit, and her eyes were begging. All I could say was, “I will try. Give me her name.”
Weeks later, back in the U.S., I could not get Ling Shan off my mind. It is like that often. As an adoption worker who spends a lot of time in country, I meet many children, and there are some whose faces and needs I cannot shake from consciousness. The most difficult part of my job is to describe the qualities of an individual child to a family, beyond the list of medical symptoms outlined on an official file. Each child is so much more than the sum of what is contained in the paperwork and flat photos. Every child has a story, a personality, unique abilities, and a spirit. As someone who has been doing this work in China for more than twenty years, I can say that I have met countless children whose spirits shone beyond their conditions. Some have been adopted, but not all. Ling Shan appeared to be one whose destiny might be to remain an orphan. Her needs, on paper, would probably frighten many prospective parents away. And, she was older. Still there was such a beautiful, gentle light shining from her eyes. Unforgettable.
I went on a couple of internet groups, asking if anyone had adopted a specific child from Nanjing. A best friend still in the orphanage was missing her and hoping to reconnect. I did not expect a reply. America is, after all, a great, great, great big town. To my complete astonishment, less than ten minutes passed before I received a reply from a woman named Terrie Bayles: “That is MY daughter, Yana, you are looking for!” Ling Shan was her friend in the orphanage! I remember her!”
Plans were soon underway for Terrie’s daughter to write a letter and send some small gifts to Ling Shan. Somehow, from somewhere, another idea started entering our conversations…adopting Ling Shan. It took time to process all this, and there were obstacles to overcome, but those melted away, and the Bayles decided to include Ling Shan in their family! Across the World Adoptions was able to help with a grant for Ling Shan’s adoption, and adoption plans went into full swing.
But the story does not end there. Another little girl in the Nanjing group was waiting too. This sweet 10 year old was absolutely darling, with a dazzling, impish smile and funny sense of humor. She was so kind with the younger children. We had brought candy for all the children. She took the candy from each younger child, opened it carefully and handed it back to them. She had waited a long time because her file stated that she had cerebral palsy. What? We saw no evidence of that. What we did see was that she was hard of hearing. That was not in her file! She signed to us, and pretended to dance and sing to music, laughing all the while. She was such a fun loving child, who had waited so long for a family to come for her.
When the Bayles family heard about Meng Meng, they responded yet again with incredible good faith and kindness, and soon plans were underway for the two girls to come home.
I was able to return to Nanjing in May, 2015, with Lianna, and found to my astonishment, that the very wonderful Children of China Pediatrics Foundation team had been there recently, and had provided surgery for Ling Shan! She had been sent to a special care facility elsewhere for special post surgical care, but I was told that she was progressing nicely. I was able to visit with Meng Meng, Ling Shan’s sister to be, who remembered me and would not stop hugging, to my delight. We were able to share the news with her that her new family would be coming soon to bring her and Ling Shan home. The Bayles family was so happy to learn that CCPF had cared enough to provide surgery for their already beloved daughter to be.
On September 6, 2015, Terrie Bayles, accompanied by her two daughters, one of whom was Ling Shan’s former best friend, met Ling Shan and Meng Meng in Nanjing, and welcomed them into the family. All three girls were reunited, this time as sisters! Finally, it was their turn to leave their orphan status behind, and walk out of the orphanage holding hands with Yana, who had gone before them on the journey to joining a family. Now they are known as Yana, Kathryn(Ling Shan), and Emily(Meng Meng).
All of this might not have happened if the usually shy Ling Shan had not summoned up the courage to speak to me, and ask me to find her dear friend in the U.S. Because she spoke up, the three, former residents of the Nanjing SWI, are now sisters. Now she must really believe that America is just a large town!
Hand In Hand began in 1974 when our Founder and Executive Director, MaryLee (Fahrenbrink) Lane was living in the Philippines and recognized the plight of children living in orphanages. She proceeded to found Hand In Hand and we have worked in many countries over the years. Most all our staff are adoptive parents. We feel strongly for children in all countries who wait for families, especially children with special needs, older children, and sibling groups. We provide extensive pre-adoption education, schedule homeland tours for teens and adults and also offer summer hosting programs with older children who still yearn for their own permanent families.