Surely some of the most moving and joyful moments of Half the Sky’s early days occurred on our orphanage volunteer builds.
The first was in summer of 2000 and, like all things in China, final official approvals came just a few weeks before we’d need to start work on the proposed children’s centers. After two years of negotiations and pleas, the Chinese government agreed to give us a chance. But we’d better not blow it! We’d already found our trainers and planned the curriculum; now we needed help keeping our promise to transform gloomy orphanage “playrooms” into happy “learning environments”. Right away.
Not knowing what sort of response to expect, we sent out a call for volunteers:
“Now here’s an invitation to adoptive families out there who may wish to make a hands-on contribution to benefit the children who wait. Half the Sky invites a small number of families to join us in setting up preschool and grandma rooms and play spaces in each of two welfare institutions. The work will consist of light carpentry, painting, toy assembly, room and outdoor play space decoration. Children are, of course, welcome. It will be HOT, but it should be fun. We can’t offer any subsidy for your expenses but we can promise a full heart. If this adventure appeals to you, please let us know ASAP. It’s only a month away and this will, of necessity, be a very small work group.”
Thankfully, even though it was last minute, the volunteer crew applications came in a flood. And for the 50+ orphanage builds that followed, we never had a shortage of eager volunteers. Each build was different in its own way, but, for those of you who didn’t manage to join us, the experience usually went something like this:
Our volunteer crews (often adoptive families with their children) would arrive at the international airport (Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou) closest to our destination. They’d be laden with big boxes stuffed with all the developmental toys and supplies we couldn’t find (at least not the non-toxic version) in China. We’d then head by train or bus, to our new project site.
We weren’t usually greeted by a brass band!
After a brief orientation, the crew would pay a first visit to the children. As soon as they met, there was no doubt why the volunteers had come from so far away.
All too soon it would be time to leave the children and settle down to a week or so of hard work and new friendships.
Everybody pitched in. Even orphanage staff!
As the renovated rooms began to take shape, toys and trikes were assembled.
And finally, when this…
…was turned into this…
…Our newly trained teachers put finishing touches on the preschool and then it was time to celebrate!
We always hosted a big “wrap” party. Everyone was invited.
And everyone signed the wall. “Built with Love and Hope”.
Today, China’s child welfare institutions are adding OneSky programs on their own. That is, of course, what we always dreamed. But we sure do miss those builds!