One has no arms. Another has no ears. Others have spina bifida, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.
None have parents.
These are some of the children I saw during my visit to Swallow’s Nest, a group of four foster homes for special-needs children in Zhengzhou. It’s the kind of place that gives even a cynic like me hope for humanity.
All 22 of the children currently at Swallow’s Nest were abandoned by parents unwilling or unable to take care of them. They come from a state-sponsored orphanage, which provides some financial support to help Swallow’s Nest care for the kids while they await adoption, usually by Western families.
Swallow’s Nest was founded in 2007 by Clay and Pam Williams, an American couple who saw the need for such a facility while spending years trying to adopt a special-needs Chinese girl. They were helped by another American, Lee Tanzillo, who is now president of Swallow’s Nest. She has adopted eight Chinese children, including three from Swallow’s Nest.
I was given a tour of the foster homes by Rebekah, an energetic 29-year-old woman who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina (Michael Jordan’s hometown). She has spent the past 10 years in Taiwan and China, first as an English teacher and then as an orphanage worker.
Rebekah is serving a six-month internship at Swallow’s Nest and hopes to open her own orphanage in China one day. Another young American, Heather, is the acting director of Swallow’s Nest. I didn’t get to meet her because she was away doing her other job, teaching English at a local university.
The children get lots of love and attention from a group of student volunteers, part-time workers and young Chinese women training to become au pairs in the U.S. Some older women, known as aunties, also work at the foster homes.
Rebekah, the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister, speaks fluent Mandarin and recently married a Chinese man. (Though the marriage is official in China, they’re going to have a wedding ceremony this summer in Alabama.)
“I always wanted to live in China and I always wanted to work with orphans, so I am living my dream,’’ she said.
I visited two of the Swallow’s Nest homes and met 11 children, ranging in age from 1 to 5 years old. There were seven boys and four girls, all very rambunctious except for a 3-year-old with Down syndrome who was suffering from the flu and had to drink water dispensed from an eyedropper because he has difficulty swallowing.
The children were very playful and affectionate. Several climbed into my lap and clung to me. They also played with a bunch of donated toys, including stuffed animals, building blocks and an orange rubber horse. We nicknamed one little boy Spider-Man because he kept climbing from one crib to another, scaling the rails with ease.
The kids I met all had healthy appetites. They each polished off a bowl of noodles for lunch before taking their afternoon naps.
Rebekah said five of the 11 children I met already have adoptive parents and will be leaving later this year. She said most children who come to Swallow’s Nest are adopted before they turn 4.
Swallow’s Nest depends mostly on private donations to feed, clothe and house the children, in addition to paying their costly medical expenses. It’s a great cause, and I urge you to contribute.
For more information, visit www.swallowsnestzz.org. If you decide to donate, please mention that you read about Swallow’s Nest on my blog. That way, they’ll be able to tell where you heard about the place.