By: Shelby Marcus, `14
Everyone knows, “When life gives you lemons you make lemonade”. I believe that sometimes these metaphorical lemons are handed to us, other times we pull them off the lemon tree, and sometimes they just magically fall into our hands when we least expect it.
When I entered seventh grade, I had the option to choose what language I wanted to learn. Although my whole family speaks Spanish, I, being the middle child I am, had to try something different. Four years later, I still have no idea why I chose Mandarin. Maybe it was because I knew nothing about it, which gave it an air of mystery. Whatever the reason, I’m so happy that I did pick it, because out of that seemingly inconsequential decision, a life-long passion was sparked.
The second fateful event happened one day two summers ago. It was the summer before I came to GFA, and like most American teenagers, I was scrolling through my news feed on facebook, constantly comparing my dull summer with the seemingly wonderful summers of everyone else. Out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention. Someone I barely knew had posted photos of herself playing with Chinese babies. Every subsequent picture I saw increased my interest. I googled the name on her t-shirt, and within minutes I was reading everything I could find about the China Care Home.
Within those few first crucial minutes, I knew exactly what I would do next summer. However, what I definitely did not know was how monumentally this seemingly insignificant moment would shape the rest of my life.
Of course, like all things in life, nothing ever works out as we plan or hope. Unfortunately, by the time I realized that in order to volunteer at the Home, I had to be part of a China Care Club, it was too late in the year to start a new club. However this did not stop me from dreaming, and thinking about the China Care Home often. My wish to experience China with or without the prospect of working at the China Care Home led me to go on an academically rigorous summer program in Beijing led by Choate.
In late May, I was all set to spend five weeks of my summer in Beijing with the Choate summer program. As the days drew closer to my departure, my excitement increased. However, the pictures I had seen almost a year earlier still filled my head. I was desperate to have contact with the China Care Home, and something clicked in my brain that I would be just miles from the Home within a few weeks. I emailed the director, wondering if I could just have a tour of the Home while I would be so near. Not only did she say yes, but she also said I could visit as much as I would like. It was the perfect set up.
I remember many things about my first time at the China Care Home. I remember the journey that had seemed to be so easy on Google maps, but in reality, was complicated and stressful. Trust me, traveling even a mile in a foreign country can be hazardous. I remember the sound of the elevator clicking as the doors opened, and with it my eyes, my ears, and most significantly my heart opening as well. My eyes took in the visual appearance of the special needs orphans- from cleft lips and palates to severe deformities. My ears simultaneously took in the sounds of babies playing and the fast paced Chinese that at times overwhelmed me. But what was most affected by my first impression of the China Care Home was my heart, which within a few seconds, fell in love with these children.
The first baby I was able to interact with was a little boy named Zhen Nan. With my intermediate Chinese I was able to discern that the literal meaning of his name was “very ugly”. However, to me he was the cutest baby I had ever seen. When I first walked into his room, he was crying and screaming, noises that aren’t usually inviting or welcoming. However, his cries did not push me away, but instead reeled me in. As I held him in my arms, he quieted down, and smiled at me. Because he was known to be a crier, the nurses and other volunteers were pleased with the break from the constant crying. Zhen Nan and I then spent the next three hours playing together. Zhen Nan was at the China Care Home recovering after his successful cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries. Since returning from China, it has become part of my daily habit to check the Home’s website for any updates about the children. I’m happy to report that after successfully recovering from his cleft lip and palate surgeries, Zhen Nan has returned to his orphanage. The China Care Home has provided Zhen Nan with the opportunity to live a normal, healthy life. Although Zhen Nan is now not a medically fragile orphan, he is still an orphan; he still lives without the love of parents.
Zhen Nan is one of dozens of children at the China Care Home that left a profound impact upon me. However, he is just one of hundreds of thousands of Chinese orphans that suffer from special needs. Furthermore, he is just one of a million orphans in China. One million orphans.
There are an estimated 200,000 additional orphans in China who live below the radar, undocumented and anonymous. Although these orphans come from all across the country, they are unified by their lack of identity, the lack that will hinder their ability to live normal lives. Orphans in China are abandoned because of grinding poverty, unaffordable medical needs, gender preference, and broken families. No matter why they are abandoned or where they were found, they share a terrible fate. Younger orphans in good health are usually adopted, but the older and less healthy the orphans are, the less likely they are to find loving homes.
The decision to take Mandarin in 7th grade and a random picture on Facebook have truly shaped my life. I’ve started a China Care Club at GFA, and who knows what lies ahead? What I have learned though is that it does not matter if you pull the lemons from the tree yourself, they are handed to you, or magically fall into your hands, just make lemonade. Or simply just make the best out of every opportunity.