China Ties Program: A Homeland Tour
By Heather Ames, Director of Post Adoption Services
Do younger children benefit from a homeland tour? Can they tolerate two weeks of travel? How will they feel about visiting their orphanages?
I had so many questions when Becca Piper, Director of The Ties Program, asked me if I would be interested in joining her to lead the China Ties Program.
I traveled for two thrilling weeks with nine families. Any doubts I had about the benefits of this trip have vanished. I believe that every child came away from this trip with a greater understanding of her birth heritage and a reality to her birth history that is difficult to get in any other way.
So often international adult adoptees have told me they feel as if their lives began when they met their adoptive families. The stories of where they were born and the circumstances do not seem real because there is no connection to the people and places of their first months or years.
The Ties program understands the importance of helping adoptees connect with their individual stories. They also know it needs to be a positive experience. Some of our families were anxious about visiting their child's orphanage since ten years ago the conditions in some of these orphanages were dismal. On our trip every family visited their child's orphanage. Each experience was different. Some met the caretaker, or "nanny', who had cared for their child. Some toured their orphanages and saw children in greatly improved conditions. Some were welcomed by the director of the orphanage and others were welcomed with performances by the children living at the orphanage. The message to all was that there were people who cared and who were thrilled to see them again.
We visited an extraordinary young artist who had been taught Chinese brush painting by his foster father.
We had many opportunities to meet and talk to Chinese people, adults and children. Our in country guide, Rose, was a young woman who was adored by all the children. They followed her around like the Pied Piper. We visited a foster care village where we were invited to the foster home of a very talented deaf mute boy. He was an extraordinary artist having been taught Chinese brush painting by his foster father. He painted for us and each child was able to bring a painting home. We spent a half day at a boarding school where we had lunch and conversations with the students. We performed for each other, exchanged gifts and many went away with addresses to stay in touch. We rode in rickshaws through the ancient part of Beijing and visited in two homes, one of which entertained us with their pet crickets! Meeting people in China and experiencing their warmth and interest in our adopted children was a message to every child that being Chinese is wonderful. I believe every child on our trip came away with a new sense of pride in being Chinese.
The tour includes seeing some of the beautiful sights of China. We had a day boat trip down the Li River in Guilin. This is where the magnificent craggy mountains are that seem to be in many Chinese brush paintings. We climbed the Great Wall, visited the Forbidden City, Terra Cotta soldiers in Xian and a cloisonné factory. The children may not remember all the history lessons but they will leave having seen some of the great sights of China and they will remember having fun. Balancing our outings was "down time" when we returned to the hotel where there was always the option to swim or for many an opportunity to "shop until you drop".
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the value that comes with traveling with a group of adoptive families. Adopted children often feel different because their families are different. When they travel with families like theirs, it is comforting and supportive. The children adopted from China on our trip were between the ages of six and thirteen. The younger ones looked up to the older ones and the older ones loved having "little sisters". Strong friendships were formed and shared experiences will have lasting memories.
Do I think younger children benefit from a homeland tour? Absolutely! One mother told me her 10 year old daughter did not want to come on the trip and had told none of her friends at school that she was going to China. At the end of the trip she was thanking her mother for bringing her and wanting to buy gifts from China to take to all her friends. Their suitcases were heavy but more importantly she was taking back a pride in her roots that will grow and nurture her sense of self.
For more information on traveling to your child's birth country, contact:
The Ties Program