Now that our team is back on US soil and we have recovered from our jet-lag, I wanted to take this opportunity to give a quick but thorough report of what happened in Kunming this past June.
The day after a few of our team members and I touched down in Kunming, we met with the orphanage director and his assistants. Director Qiao was extremely warm, welcoming, and put us at ease immediately. Before our sit-down meeting, we were given a thorough tour of the new orphanage. We were thoroughly impressed with what we saw; we were especially pleased to see that the children who lived in the orphanage full time had a clean and loving space to grow up in. Along the way, we spotted a play area that looked very much like the architect of the play area was trying for a more natural look, which was pleasantly surprising to us. After the tour, we delivered our donation of $8,000 for the sunshade as promised. We then proceeded to show and explain to the Director the designs for our Play Garden. The director along with other staff members who were present at the meeting were all very impressed with what they saw. The Director took a careful look at each element of the elements of the design. At the end of our presentation, which was fairly informal compared to other meetings I have had with the directors of the Kunming SWI, Director Qiao announced, “If this is a successful project, I would like to see Play Gardens in all seven foster villages.” Needless to say, Iris and I were both taken aback. We knew he liked our design, but we hadn’t anticipated such an overwhelmingly positive response. Before our meeting ended, Director Qiao said that in order for our project to move forward, the next step would be for us to deliver the design to the foster families in Jiu Du. We would need to get their approval and suggestions before having finally confirmation. He said, “Since you are building on their land, in their home, you have to get their approval. They are the ones who will be using this, so they have to be happy with what you make for them. Be sure to make any adjustments they want!” I was both surprised and moved to see how much thought and empathy he had for the foster village. Traditionally, many orphanage directors or any sort of heads of institutions in China are known to be… Less democratic. He instructed several orphanage workers to arrange a meeting with the foster village for the next day.
So, the next day, along with some gifts and Ms. Song in tow, the overseer of the foster family program, we traveled for about an hour and a half by car to Jiu Du to meet with the foster families. Before our meeting, we were treated to a locally lavish lunch by the head foster mother. The food was simply amazing. After lunch, we proceeded to the community center that my mother had helped build many years ago. When we walked in, we saw about 25-30 foster parents sitting in the room, eager to see why we had come all this way. The audience was comprised of mostly mothers with a fathers clustered in the back corner, which is not surprising for a Southern Chinese community. As a feminist, it was refreshing to see that the decision-makers in these families were not predominantly men. After giving an introduction, Song had pass around the individual sheets of paper that our designs were printed onto. The foster parents smiled and chatted among themselves as the design circulated around the large crowd. Iris and I were really pleased to see the reaction on everyone’s face. After going through and explaining the purpose and usage of each individual element of the design, we fielded questions and suggestions from the foster parents. They all had great suggestions that the US team would not have been able to come up with. For example, the foster parents said that they liked to sit closer to the ground, therefore, they requested the sitting areas to contain lower benches and tables. This is a cultural thing that US designers would not have taken into account. The foster parents also requested there be a swing for special needs children and a swing that both children and mothers could use at the same time. At the end of the hour long meeting, we had hashed out all of the details including which trees to remove and which ones to keep. The foster parents even agreed to help out in the building of the structure in order to minimize costs. Many of them said, “Though we may not know how to build certain things, we’re willing to learn!” They were all so grateful that they were finally getting an outdoor space where more children and adults could come together and have fun. After the meeting, we proceeded to do a thorough look at the space and at the trees. The foster families pointed out the trees they wanted to keep and the ones they were happy to dig up and move elsewhere. Before we left, we organized a small art activity where we had a few of the older foster kids draw up what they imagined as “the best place to play”. We can’t wait to reveal their amazing creations!
The trip to Kunming could not have gone better. With the approval from the SWI and the foster families, we are ready to start fundraising and building. We have about $100,000 to raise for this project. This will not be an easy feat. However, I believe that with the help of our community in the US, we can make this dream a reality for families on both sides of the world. If you can help out in any way – your contributions do not have to be financial – please contact us.
With great thanks,