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Location: Beijing

It’s hard to believe how quickly the past three weeks have flown by. It seems like it was just a few days ago that we staff members were greeting anxious students in the Beijing airport arrivals and spending dinnertime playing ice breaker games to encourage everyone to get to know each other. Fast forward to the most recent meals we shared before finally parting way as when we were all cheerfully yelling jokes and memories we’ve acquired together across the table, and sharing piles of our Chinese favorites on the spinning Lazy Susan. I love contrasting the two photos of our group- one taken when we first met each other and shyly stood straight and linked arms, against the last photo of our full group taken at New Hope baby home where the love shared among the team was obvious in the tangled limbs, genuine laughing smiles and goofy poses. As each of us has learned and grown on this trip, we’ve simultaneously grown together and learned about each other and ourselves. We’ve learned about patience, teamwork and the ups and downs that come with sharing close quarters with a group of strangers. We’ve had early mornings, long hours volunteering at baby homes, and sleepy bus rides. Through all of the moments of growth, the singing, and the hugs, this team has supported each other in amazing ways. I’ve been blown away by the community that’s developed among this group of once-strangers. The students have shown such an incredible ability to connect with both each other, and with the orphaned kids who we’ve been spending time with.

Before we went into our first baby home, I admit that I was a bit nervous about how comfortable a group of high school students would be engaging with babies and children with mental and physical disabilities. I didn’t know our group well enough yet to know how they would react to being thrown into a room full of dozens of cute but slightly wary toddlers and babies. I wasn’t sure if we would ever get to a place where our Lifeworks students would feel totally comfortable engaging with kids whose lives were so drastically different from their own. I have to admit that even as a staff member, I was worried about whether I would do the “right” thing when holding a baby with Downs Syndrome or a colostomy bag. The first time we went to Dew Drops I think I probably stood cautiously at the periphery of our group, waiting to see how our team would do in this drastically new and challenging environment. Of course, my concern about our team and baby care were completely unfounded. The students jumped in to the opportunity to share love with the babies of Dew Drops, and displayed remarkable maturity, love, and attention to the babies who we were entrusted with caring for. I watched our team tap into parts of themselves that they’d likely never known existed as they cradled premature babies whose tiny limbs were shriveled into club feet, or whose tiny hearts beat unnaturally fast through thin jaundiced skin. I leaned against a doorway and pretended to take photos so that no one would notice me tearing up watching these interactions. Our students spoke softly and smiled at babies with cleft pallets while figuring out how these fragile little bodies fit into their arms. I can’t put into words how proud I am of our students rising to the challenge of this situation and to demonstrate how to share care with these little ones. Each and every student on our team amazed me with their gentleness, their ability to lie in the ground and entertain bored kids with toys, and to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over and over again. I know that the babies and toddlers who we worked with benefited from the genuine love that our students showed. I know that our students grew from the challenge of caring for these little ones, and I know that I personally grew from playing a small role in facilitating this trip. I’m grateful to have been part of this group and to have had the opportunity to learn from the students who choose to push their comfort zone by signing up for a trip as adventurous as this one to China.