Edie is from New Zealand and before starting University in her home country she volunteered at New Hope in Beijing and was asked to spend time in HK as well…..
I spent the last two months of 2017 volunteering at the New Hope Foster Home in Beijing, and it was undoubtedly one of the best, most challenging and life changing experiences of my life so far. My time there was divided in two – I spent the first month at the orphanage helping out and running the preschool with other volunteers, and I spent most of the second month in Hong Kong with a sick baby, accompanying him while he had surgery there. These two months were amazing in very different ways, and despite the tough bits I don’t think I would change a thing.
November was a lovely month of getting to know the incredible kids and babies at New Hope. They’re all such happy and open souls that you forget the challenges they’ve been through in the short time they’ve been alive. Preschool ran from Monday to Friday and we would take around five classes a day, singing songs and doing crafts and just giving the kids something a bit different to do during the days. They absolutely loved coming to “class”; one of the wee boys there couldn’t really say a lot of words and would generally just say “abababa”, but one of the few things he could say was “SHANG KE” – “GO TO CLASS.” I felt so lucky to be able to spend time with all these fantastic kids and make a little difference in their lives. They won’t remember me but I’m so fortunate that I have all these lovely memories of them, and I so hope I’ll be able to connect with some of them in the future. New Hope is a really special place, all the staff are just as amazing as the kids and I loved being part of the crew there, even if it ended up being just for a few weeks.
At the end of November, I volunteered to take Nigel to Hong Kong for an important surgery. At the time he was only nine months old and very, very weak and unwell. I felt pretty unprepared for this task; I hadn’t ever changed a nappy before, let alone been entirely responsible for a little person’s safety and health. We made it to the hospital in HK after an extremely challenging flight and were then to learn that Nigel had a whole lot of other medical issues plaguing him. He would need weeks to recover and get back to full health before the planned surgery could go ahead. In this time, he and I bonded a lot and I fell in love with the little dude. I was amazed to see how fast he learned and developed and grew, and it didn’t take long at all until I was extremely attached. His resilience and strong spirit are incredible, and we had so many happy moments together.
On the other hand though, living 24/7 in a hospital room was really tough. The culture with volunteers and workers in Hong Kong is not like in New Zealand at all, and I was quite shocked at the expectations that were had of me by local staff (not New Hope but the group that they work with in HK). I was expected to stay in the room with him all day every day, without even popping out for just a ten-minute-long breather, and I was given just one day off a week. I was all about making sure Nigel was well looked after, but part of keeping him happy is keeping yourself happy too, and I felt completely drained, not being able to get a change of scene at least once a day. Perhaps if he had slept through the nights, things would have been better, but my sleep was extremely broken and I was so exhausted all the time.
I was lucky though that Just Volunteers had someone in HK who came to relieve me once a day for the first week or so, but when she could not come and tried to send replacements someone at the HK organization put the foot down on that and I was completely confined to this room until the high-up people said I could go out. (It seemed that neither Just Volunteers nor New Hope could control this situation.) I found this extremely difficult and for lack of a better word, inhumane. As I voiced my concerns I accidentally offended the high-ups in HK more than intended, and I was sent back to Beijing early, before Nigel had even had his surgery. Part of me jumped for joy at this, that I would finally get my freedom back, but the other part felt like it was being broken into a million pieces and I felt so sad and guilty that I would have to leave Nigel without any familiar faces. I’m appreciative though that there was a nurse there who sent me updates on how he was getting on, videos and photos and info on his surgeries, because I missed him intensely and still do even now. It was such a shame about the situation there; had things been easier on me, it would have been a lot different and easier to cope with the pressure of looking after a baby. I learnt a lot there though and he made it worth all the bad bits.
Working with the kids at New Hope is an experience I don’t think you could match anywhere else. I loved my short time there and it opened up my mind to so much, and the relationships and bonds made with these small people are so, so special. Leaving both HK and Beijing was really hard for me, but it really does change your life and I just feel so lucky to have been given the chance to be there. A massive thank you to Josephine at Just Volunteers for the ongoing support and advice.