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About the author: Katie Blankenberg lives in Portola Valley and is a sophomore at Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton.
By Katie Blankenberg
In 2005, I wrote an article entitled "Katie's friend has a new sister — from China."
The year before, my friend Tess Miller traveled with her family to China to adopt a little girl named Kaidi. At the time, Kaidi spoke no English and the Miller family (mom Lisa, dad Mike and children Liam and Tess) spoke only a few words of Mandarin.
When I interviewed Tess in 2005, she told me the family planned to take Kaidi back to visit her orphanage in China some time in the future.
In August of this year that plan was fulfilled. Tess (now a sophomore at St. Francis High School), Kaidi (now 10 and in the fifth grade), and their mother, Lisa Miller, flew to Beijing, China, and to the nearby Langfang Children's Village, the orphanage where 4-year-old Kaidi lived when the Millers adopted her.
The orphanage is operated by the Philip Hayden Foundation, created by an American family in 1995. It depends on donations and volunteer medical staff. Most of the orphans are high-risk children with disabilities.
Even though Kaidi was not high-risk or had any disabilities, she was able to stay at the orphanage because the nannies there did not want to separate her from the other three girls who came with her.
During their stay at the orphanage this year, Tess, Kaidi and Ms. Miller became involved in the lives of the children, including helping with stimulation exercises for children with cerebral palsy.
Especially heart-breaking to Tess, Kaidi and Ms. Miller were the children without legs, arms, eyes and ears.
"There was a point when it hit me that these kids just come to Philip Hayden and that is how they spend their whole lives," Tess says.
"I was with the clinic kids (children who are severely ill) and I heard a girl gasping. I turned around and saw a girl who was blue from head to toe," Tess says. "She couldn't even walk to me because her heart couldn't handle it. She was only 6 years old.
"I realized that nobody wants to adopt these kids because they can't do things that normal kids do."
Ms. Miller, a nurse practitioner and an author on women's health, had a hard time seeing children with deformities, such as a cleft lip, that could easily be fixed in the United States.
Tess told me something that really disturbed me: many of the babies dropped off at the orphanage still have their umbilical cords attached.
Many in China do not have the money to support a child. In addition, many parents are forced to give up their children because of China's "one child policy."
I asked Kaidi what it felt like to return to her village in China. "I am so thankful for my family (in the United States)," she says. "I was sad to see kids my age still there."
The nannies that took care of Kaidi from infancy to 4 years old were still working at the orphanage. Kaidi's former name in her village was "Xiaomei." Once Ms. Miller told the nannies that this was "Xiaomei," the nannies' eyes were filled with glee. The nannies felt so happy knowing the girl whom they had raised was now speaking English, was going to school, and has long hair, which Chinese government views as counter-cultural.
This was an emotional experience for everyone. It gave the children of the village so much hope that someone from their orphanage had become so successful.
Kaidi is the first child adopted from the orphanage to come back and visit, they said. The nannies showed Kaidi a picture they still had of her, and the three girls — Boubou, Jiejie, and Shoushou — who came to the orphanage with her. These three childhood friends have been adopted. Two are living in the United States and one in Canada. Being a devoted friend, Kaidi still keeps in contact with the two girls living in the United States via e-mail.
Sponsoring a child
Tess is also sponsoring a 5-year-old boy at the orphanage named Jerak Robbins. Jerak had a cleft lip, and recently underwent surgery to repair it. Tess found Jerak through www.chinaorphans.com and chose to sponsor him because he "had the biggest smile on his face."
She started sponsoring Jerak in 2007 and held fundraisers for him at St. Raymond School in Menlo Park. Every month she sends him $35 and every birthday she sends him a gift.
"I think it is important for us to help out," Tess says. "Those kids have such a sad face, but when you play with them or hold them and give them the attention they don't normally have, it gives them so much hope to know people are looking out for them. Seeing Kaidi gives them hope, too."
The Millers departure from the orphanage was sad for everyone. "A lot of kids were asking me why I couldn't take them home," Tess says.
This has been a life-changing experience for Tess. She is currently working with her Mandarin teacher at St. Francis High School to set up a trip for students to volunteer at the Philip Hayden orphanage.
After college, Tess plans to go back to Philip Hayden as an English teacher since so many children are adopted by English-speaking families. She notes that she could definitely see herself living there for a little while.
"Going there and seeing how happy I make them just by being there is really incredible," Tess says.
Kaidi is also planning her own charity work. She hopes to have a fundraiser, such as a bake sale at St. Raymond School, to send money to Philip Hayden. "I want other kids to live the same way I do," says Kaidi.
Writing this article has made me aware of a reality that is so very present in our world but yet we are so oblivious to. There are many children out there without a mother or father to support them.
Those children just don't simply need shelter and food, but emotional support as well. It is hard for many of us to face this problem when we are caught up in our own issues.
It does not take much to make a difference in an orphan's life.
The Millers have given such a wonderful gift to Kaidi. They have given her a life where she can become anything she wants to be and a life where she is truly loved by so many people.
China's orphans are in desperate need of help. There are many ways to help, including donating money or items, or maybe even sponsoring or adopting a child.
To learn more about this charity, please visit www.chinaorphans.com.