There are moments on this trip that hit me so hard that weeks after they’ve happened tears still well when I think about them.

This was one of them.

ish shanghai orphanage

This picture was taken in the  Hui Xin Children’s Hospice.

The man holding that baby is my husband.  In his arms, a child who still – the manager tells me – “has hope.”

And behind them are more cribs than I have ever seen in a room and each and every one of them belongs to a child in need.

cribs orphanage shanghai

We’ve been in China for almost a month now. We’ve seen the good and the bad. We’ve laughed and we’ve been frustrated and we’ve been intoxicated by its beauty, but nothing we’ve seen prepares us for the afternoon we spend looking into an initiative being carried out by the Four Seasons Shanghai.In some ways the two places are completely at odds. The luxury of the hotel is a far cry from the cheerfully painted but clearly old walls of this building, and yet they are intimately connected.

orphanage boys

I see it in the way that Marketing manager Angela Cai is holding the baby in her arms. He called for her when we entered the room and now he won’t let her put him down. They know her here.

angela orphanageThis is about more than a corporate commitment.

Our reason for visiting is two-fold.

I wanted this trip to occasionally make a difference in the lives of the people  in the countries we touch. I want my children to see that as little as we have to offer we can still offer something. They can make a difference. Today it will be by helping two staff feed about  20 mentally and physically disabled children – none of whom can feed themselves.

As always, I’m expecting questions that don’t come.

I had told the kids that the kids were affected by cerebral palsy but once we arrive I see that something was lost in translation. There are some children here who have CP but many who have Down’s as well. Only a few can speak. Several have no control over their limbs lying in their cribs until one of the regular four hands in the room are free to lift them up.

Not once do my boys do anything that indicates that these children are anything other than children. They see it but it just doesn’t seem to matter to them.

ish servingBoth boys laugh at the way they hold on to their dad’s legs as he tries unsuccessfully to put one down to pick up another. They thrill at the opportunity to sit and feed the kids under our careful instructions– “not too much,” “slow down a bit” –and each time they do exactly as they’re told. Understanding despite their young age how important it is to do this the right way.

There are plenty of less stressful moments as well. We find a tickle spot on one little boy and laugh along with his giggles.

giggling orphanageThey play the age old game of you drop it, I pick it up, you drop it again and the squeals of laughter from the little boy in the crib and my two sons on the other side fills my heart.

And then tears at the thought that simply because these children were born in a certain country and with certain ailments, they  may be forever dependent on an institution breaking at the seams in their efforts  to help.

Upstairs the heart break is greater. “These ones have no hope,” she says.

cam servingI have to believe she doesn’t mean it as she says it but that the English equivalent for the fact that people are less willing to adopt children who need so much help is simply too hard to find. It’s clear after a few moments that these children are much more severely affected. That brains and limbs aren’t working as they should. That they need so much more.

And yet there are small mercies in their inability to recognize their fate.

They see us not as strangers but as vessels to a a happy moment and we tickle and play and feed and hold and bounce and peek a boo to their content.

upstairs orphans

Angela admits she and other members of the staff visit often. It’s not part of their job but years ago the staff came up with the idea to collect items for the kids as part of a Christmas initiative and to share the opportunity with their guests.

And so each Christmas a tree goes up in the gorgeous Four Seasons lobby and it’s covered in stars, each bearing the name of a child in the home and some of the things that could help make their lives a little easier. Guests always rise to the occasion filling bins with the clothing, supplies and cash that helps to improve their surroundings and bring joy to the children here.

DSC_0133But for the staff it goes further. They have found themselves bound to these children and it’s not uncommon to find them on days off helping out, painting a room, lending an extra pair of arms.

At the end of our visit we return to our room emotionally drained. Our respect for the caregivers who do this day in and day out and for little pay is even bigger now that we’ve seen all there is to do.

I go to bed thinking of two sets of children.

The kids who need so much and get so little but smile none the less.

And my two who are learning that empathy and caregiving can be as rewarding as a day at the beach.