I'm Starting With the Man in the Mirror

No message could have been any clearer, if you want to make the world a better place….

You should teach kids in an orphanage the dance steps to Michael Jackson’s Thriller (and others)!!

More fantastic visitors have come and gone. Two OTs from Philadelphia, Maura and Nicole, were here with me all last week.  They are two awesome therapists who I met when I slept on their couch last fall when I observed in the CHOP international adoption clinic. Love them!!  And well, Maura is perhaps the biggest Michael Jackson fan I have met in a while (rivaled by a few of the boys at Arther Gough–the home we are working with here in Costa Rica).  Thus, amongst doing over 15 evaluations… we managed to squeeze in a few song/dance sessions.

It was really cool to have the expertise of occupational therapists this week.  We worked together to evaluate the 15+ kids that I am going to be working with during my time here.  We were able to really look at the whole child and come up with some great treatment ideas that I am very excited about.  And the kids absolutely adored them.  I mean totally infatuated and enamored.   I am pretty sure this is the first of many many trips like this for these girls– they are definitely lifers.   They left with some great pictures and even better stories/memories. Here’s a few:

Nicole, Maura and the crew

The awesome toys they brought... pure therapy of course

I think that we may actually see one or the both of them back very soon to adopt this sibling set (that is if they did not already sneak them in their suitcases)

Yay therapy

Evaluation time... hard at work.

 Thank you guys so much for coming! Thanks for everything you did in this VERY short week and all your help in the future.

More soon

Shanghai Children's Home

Now that we are back from China, I thought everyone might like to know a little more about what it is like to be in the Shanghai Children's Home.

The Shanghai Children’s Home (SCH) is in the Hong Qiao area of Shanghai. There is a large gate and a reception area when you arrive at the orphanage. The first area you enter is the administration building. You walk into a glass lobby with a large conference room to the left. We have had many meetings in this conference room with the directors of the orphanage.  Many of the families adopting children from SCH start in this room and see a short film about the orphanage. We saw this film on our first trip to Shanghai. This building houses mostly offices and administrative space.

The next building is the rehabilitation center. The first floor has a gym, with mats on the floor for treatment, offices and private treatment rooms. On the second and third floors are a small sensory gym, a school for children with autism and more treatment rooms and areas for a program for the deaf. There are also classrooms for training and offices for the staff.

The orphanage itself is housed in a separate building. There are actually 4 areas separated into “gardens”. There is the rose garden, jasmine garden and I think 2 more gardens. Each “garden” contains more than 10 rooms of children. Each room will have about 20 children. They sleep in safe cribs with nice linens and cute teddy bears. Days are spent in walkers, chairs, wooden fenced areas with mats for tummy time or in the activity rooms. Outside there are landscaped paths, a fountain, a stream and many bridges and statues.

The orphanage itself is clean and the children are well cared for. We saw kids in clean clothes, well fed and happy. Bed laundry and clothes were clean. All the care is good. There is a medical staff there with nurses and doctors who see to the needs of the sick children. Some children are sent to the rehab center for treatment. They may go daily or 2 – 3 times per week.

The grounds at The Shanghai Children’s home are beautiful. I will attach some pictures for everyone to see the buildings. The staff is happy and always pleasant. They enjoy working with the children. I am always amazed that the administrative staff know the children well enough to tell you their stories. There was a young man, Stephan, who helped us with translation at SCH. When we were in the orphanage, he picked up a little boy and carried him around with us. Stephan told us that he just loved this little boy unfortunately, has blood cancer and will be receiving chemotherapy.

While families are waiting for their children that are in the Shanghai Childrens Home they can know that the caregivers and everyone at the orphanage is looking out for their welfare.


It takes a village…

16 05 2011
Week one in Costa Rica: done and done.  What a big change it has been to be here…. I mean pretty much in. Such a big change in fact, that the only way to fully and truly explain it to you all is the tried and true list form.
1. In Colombia we had 3 locks on the door. (that was in addition to the guards with guns outside the apartment complex). In Costa Rica we still have a guard (no gun, but he does have a machete that I think he uses in place of a weed-wacker), but we leave the doors wide open most of the time (I don’t even have a key to the place).
2. In Colombia the exchange rate for money was 1,850 pesos per dollar. In Costa Rica it is 510 colones per dollar. Therefore 5,000 Colombian pesos was like $3 and 5,000 colones is like $6. And that is totally throwing me for a loop.  The small coins that were worth less than a quarter in Colombia (that accumulated in my backpack like pennies at home) are now worth $1 (and my bad habits of misplacing/hording/disregarding this change could become a real money drain.)
3. In Colombia I was one of 3 people who was outside jogging (and wearing running shorts).  In Costa Rica you see Ticos and Americans alike– running, walking, jogging, etc. at all times of the day… in running shorts shorter than mine (men and women).
4. In Colombia I had to travel over an hour to the orphanage but the grocery store/malls/metro/etc. was just across the street. In Costa Rica I can walk to the orphanage but the grocery store is a car ride ot bus ride away.
5. In Colombia the only fastfood restaurants and chains that I remember seeing were: dominos, mcdonalds and an occassional subway.  In Costa Rica I even saw a Walmart today (enough said).
6.  The orphanage that I am working at is unlike any that I have been to before.  It takes a village to raise a child…. and this place has really brought that philosophy home.  It is actually called an Aldea (which means village), it consists of 8 casitas (little houses for those of you not so spanishly inclined) in which 5-12 kids live.  The caregivers, called tias (that means aunts) live there too. Thats right, they live there.  There are always at least 2 in each house. They live there 24/7 and work 11 days then get 3 days off. They are responsible for all the typical mom stuff– they take kids to drs appointments, cook, (don’t have to clean though because there are other auxiliary staff to do that– brilliant idea in my opinion in that it frees them up to actually spend time the with kids), help with homework, deal with behavioral issues and so on and so on. Each of the casitas are totally self-sufficient with a kitchen, living room, bedrooms, bathrooms- a real deal family home.
And this layout really makes the whole vibe totally different. It feels like a neighborhood. You see all the kids play outside together in the playground, basketball courts, swimming pool, open space between the houses. Then at meal-times they all “run home” to their respective houses and eat.  They just seem more adjusted, comfortable, protected.  And this is a challenging population. Over 50% of the kids here have moderate to severe delays (cognitive, physical, speech etc.) and other medical conditions requiring extra care.  But because of the structure, the involvement and commitment of the staff and tias, this place really seems to be working.
It has already been a great learning experience for me to see this alternative organizational framework.  I am sure there will be LOTS of stories and updates.  Sadly, this blog post will not be accompanied by photos because I seem to have accidentally lost my camera (I believe it is sitting in one of the over 6000 red taxis of San Jose).  Dang, almost made it the whole trip without a really-dumb-absent-minded-keely-moment. But it appears it has arrived.  So until I make it to the mall (see #4) or Walmart (see#5) I will give you all some well deserved visuals of this beautiful country.
That is definitely the one thing the two places have in common: beautiful, green, sunny, tree-y, mountain-y, flower filled, gorgeous countries.  I am excited for lots of exploring.

Asia Webinar - Boys from China Available Too

Xiang Xiang is a little boy with a spinal deformity.
Dong Dong is a little boy with albinism.
Ya Ya is a little boy with post operative CHD.
Most (but not all!) children adopted through the “standard” China program are little girls – but did you know that there are many little boys with mild to moderate special needs available for adoption from China?  On the shared database there are currently 1110 profiles of boys (as compared to 416 girl profiles).
Gladney’s upcoming Asia Waiting Child Webinar will be focusing on adopting boys!   The Webinar is on Wednesday, May 11th at 1pm EST, be sure to register today!
Boys available for adoption are all ages!  1-3 years old; 4-7 years old; and 8+.  If you can imagine these little guys growing up through these stages and want to be a home and family for a waiting child who happens to be a boy – please let us know!  http://asiawaitingchild.wordpress.com/

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Medellin… a picture is worth a thousand words

There is one thing that I know for sure… kids living in orphanages LOVE cameras: having their picture taken, taking pictures, and looking at themselves in pictures. I mean absolutely love. I mean you could entertain a handful of kids an entire day with nothing more than a digital camera. The battery would die before they would tire.  What I am not as sure about, is why they love it so much. Is it the novelty? The power of creating an image? The coolness factor? The ability to see themselves? (there aren’t a lot of mirrors in many of these places) Do they just like to touch, see, play, do? Maybe all these… maybe none.  In every country, in every orphanage I have worked in the crowds are the same when you take out the camera.  So, I have several ideas about projects I would like to someday conquer with the kids and cameras, but for the time and resource requirements, we started small: picture frames.

It’s a little thing really.  Something we middle class Americans take for granted.  The luxury of being surrounded in your home by your family’s smiling faces. We plaster our homes with picture frames. I know for me, in all my moves, on of the things that really makes me feel at home is when I hang up all my pictures of my friends and family. In the majority of institutions I have visited, the walls are a sad desolate extension of the rest of the building.  Sometimes they are painted a fun color, but more often than not they are the usual off-white, brick, blank, emotionless wall.  This place needed some pictures!!!

So I worked with the kids in small groups and they each made their picture frame.  This was fun… but the best part was to follow. After they finished painting, they each had 2 pictures with my camera. They could do whatever they wanted with these pictures: take it of someone/something, take a “selfy”, I would take pictures of them alone, with whoever they wanted, in whatever pose the wanted.  These were THEIR pictures and THEIR frames and they were able to make a choice of whatever they wanted to do (a rare opportunity when living amongst a group of kids this large) We had some serious creativity amongst the crowd!! And then of their two pictures, they chose one that I printed to put in the picture frame they made. Here are some pictures of the journey:

Frame painting

Hard at work

we glued tissue paper on the frames with the littlest ones

the finished products

Proud owner of a picture frame #1

Proud owner #2
And there are over 40 other proud owners who now have a little something to look at on their beds and walls. Just a little piece of home.

Kelly Reflects

Kebeb Tsehay is the orphanage I spend the majority of my time in when I'm in Ethiopia. I consider Kebeb Tsehay almost like a second home. I have SO many memories here. There have been some BIG changes here in the last few years, as evident by the completely changed landscape of buildings. When I was there the first time, the open space began as a "playground," with broken swings and lone slides. When I left after two months, the playground had been torn out, there were a few decent sized holes and eucalyptus logs sticking up from the ground. I had no idea the magnitude of the building these sticks would become. This new building is large. Like, larger than life large. I did a double take just to recognize the orphanage when I walked up. 

It was so eerie walking through the old buildings. The rooms that used to be filled with laughter (and tears) are quiet and still now. There is dust from renovations everywhere and broken ceramic tile pieces scattered on the ground. It felt like if you went back to visit an old house and it had been completely changed.  I'm not really sure who is more affected by the loss of the old buildings; me or the children.   The buildings will be remodeled and filled again with the sounds of too many children, and I know I will see it all again, but it won't be the same. I'm learning that with every trip, things will change. Children will come and go through orphanages, workers will turnover and there will always, always be more things to work on. Just because each trip is different doesn't mean each trip isn't just as worth it.

More playground

And here it is now...!

Crazy this came from sticks in the mud.