Today I had the pleasure of going on my first Service Club adventure. Jessica and I took two Phoenixes (Alisa and Linda), two Unicorns (Shining and Coco), and two Dragons (Joy and Julia) with us to an orphanage that is about 25 minutes away by taxi. I had heard a little about the orphanage from Jessica and Miryam, who had both gone last Thursday, but still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. For today’s trip, Jessica and I wanted to bring some crayons for coloring, but we didn’t have time to go to the store. (We’ll be ready next week!) Despite that, I think we had an extremely successful visit overall.
We met the students outside our apartment (in the rain) at 3:30 so we would have time to catch taxis, get to the orphanage, and spend about an hour there, from four to five. After we took a stomach churning taxi ride to the building with the orphanage, we climbed into a slightly unreliable looking elevator and headed up to the sixth floor. What we discovered there was a floor full of elderly people, so we then walked up one flight of stairs and ended up in the correct location. We were greeted by one very enthusiastic boy who kept repeating “hello, hello!” to us. I was surprised — most of the children at the orphanage are mentally disabled, so I definitely wasn’t expecting anyone to know even the most simple English. The boy that welcomed us to the orphanage was cheerful, and the other kids were also very excited to see us. Based on what I saw, I can’t imagine that the kids there get many visitors, which is sad, even if it is understandable.
Anyway, things were a little bit awkward when we first arrived. We didn’t have any toys for the kids, and I don’t think any of the students I was with had any experience with mentally disabled children, so we weren’t quite sure what to do. One of my students admitted to me in a small voice, “I’m a little frightened.” However, we all quickly got over our initial reservations once we began to realize how excited the kids were to see us. Everyone started to pair off with the kids and play with them in very simple ways. The boy that had first greeted us loved to walk up to people, say “hello,” and get a high five. Another girl who didn’t speak was just content to sit and listen to us speak.
I was the only person from Service Club there today that can’t speak Chinese, but I connected with one of the little girls there anyway. At first, I just sat next to her, said hi, and waved to her for a while. She gave me a big smile in return, and tried to speak with me. She would only say one sound, and I don’t think she understood any of the English I said to her, but I could tell she was thrilled that I was giving her so much attention. Together we looked at a bulletin board covered in pictures of the kids from the orphanage, admired all of the pictures in the hallway leading to the different rooms, took turns clapping different patterns to each other, and took a tour of the floor. I enjoyed the tour with her the most. She took me into almost every room on the floor. In each place, we would wave at whoever was in the room together and she would point to different things for me to look at. Most things were simple, such as a pair of shoes, or even the wall, but they were interesting to her. At one point, when we were outside, she was pointing at the raindrops that had collected on the balcony, and some flower petals that had fallen down. When I picked up one of the petals and let it fall back onto the balcony, the little girl looked at me like I had done the most amazing magic trick in the world. At first, she wouldn’t touch the petal herself, but she eventually gave it a try after I did it a few more times. When she finally picked it up, she gave me one of the biggest smiles I have ever seen. It was a really special moment.
Everyone that went to Service Club today found at least one kid to hang out with for nearly an hour. At the end of that hour, I could definitely see a difference in the people I had walked in the doors with at four today. At first, everyone had been a little apprehensive, but at the end, all of that was gone, and I think a lot of barriers had been broken. When we were walking back to the apartments later today and I was listening to what the students had to say, I was struck by what Shining said, and so happy that he seemed to get so much out of the visit.
What he said, to the best of my memory, was this: “Even if they can’t speak, they can still hear us. I think it’s important that we talk to them. We shouldn’t look down on them — we should pay attention to them.” I couldn’t agree with him more, and I’m so glad I’ll be able to go back next week. Even if we didn’t have a lot prepared for the kids today, I think even the fact that we took the time to give them our undivided attention for one hour made a huge difference in their lives, as well as ours.