CELEBRATING NEW HOMES AND FAMILIES
Posted by Sam Kirk September 10, 2015
On a grey, overcast day in early May, a spectacle of colour is on a stage and can’t be ignored. The red-covered platform and its matching backdrop are dramatic enough, but that’s not what has the attention of the eyes and hearts of the people gathered from China, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, the UK and the USA.
What is captivating is the dozens of dancing children and young people, clad in costumes with splashes of red and yellow. Some of the dancers are in wheelchairs or using some sort of walking aid, but it doesn’t diminish their enthusiasm or the smiles on their faces. They are welcoming visitors to their new homes.
On 11 May 2015, David Gotts, ICC’s founder and Chief Executive Officer, Kyla Alexander, ICC’s China Operations Director, local and international ICC staff and supporters, joined with local Chinese government officials to officially open the brand new Hengyang Children’s Care Centre.
A joint initiative between ICC and the Hengyang government, the completion of construction was both the end and the beginning of big changes at ICC’s Hengyang Project. It saw the end of 10 years living and working in tired, run down and cramped buildings that had been provided to ICC by the welfare centre, and the beginning of living in bright, new family-style homes, as well as new life for 26 new children.
“It was such a feeling of joy to be able to celebrate the opening,” David recalls. “It brought back great memories...of the opening of ICC’s first home, Oasis House, back in 1997. Now, as then, it was the sounds of the children’s laughter and life that puts the biggest smile on my face.”
For several years, ICC had begun implementing a philosophy of care in many of its facilities, called “family-style care.” This is most readily seen in the community group homes in Changsha and Hengyang, where groups of six-to-eight young people live together in an apartment, or flat. Each apartment has its own kitchen and eating area, shared living and bedroom spaces, and accessible bathrooms and toilets. And each house has a consistent set of caregivers that become like house parents so the young people and caregivers become very much like family.
For the new facility in Hengyang, the vision was to implement that method of care for over 140 children, including 26 children still living in the government welfare centre who were waiting to become part of the ICC family. It would transform the children’s lives.
“Know that no matter how sick or disabled you are, that you are not alone in this world, but that you are part of a big family”
ICC long-term volunteers, Alison Kennedy and Anna Jien, poured months of work into the building’s completion. They worked with the many local contractors, arranged for materials and ensured ICC’s requirements were met. A crew from MMM International also came in to help with the finishing.
The October move-in date was fast approaching. The volunteers and staff were excited. The children and young people were anticipating their new homes. And everyone around the world in ICC were waiting for the 26 new children to move into their new family groups.
But heavy rains in June 2014 caused a disaster. Land uphill of the homes where more than 80 children were living lost stability and crashed down. Several buildings, including kitchens, offices and classrooms, were either hit directly, or the landslide upset the surrounding soil and made them unsafe to be in. Those 80 children had to be moved into spare rooms at the nearby welfare centre.
Fortunately, the new children’s care centre was unaffected and final construction was completed on time. On an early October day, the children made the walk to their new homes as the staff and other helpers brought in their furniture and possessions.
In the courtyard that day, Kyla addressed the children: “You are very precious, and you are the reason we have this new building. I hope that through this gift of new homes, you will know that you are loved and cared for.
“Know that no matter how sick or disabled you are, that you are not alone in this world, but that you are part of a big family,” she continued.
Back at the official opening, Geoff Hall, ICC’s Pastoral Care Director and a former long-term volunteer in Hengyang, was capturing the festivities with his video camera. He and his wife, Dianne, lived in Hengyang during the construction period and were there the day the children moved in to their new homes. This official opening was a powerful day for them.
“We were not just opening a building, but we were joining them in celebrating their new homes.”
“It was a very moving occasion,” he shares. “The reaction of the children created a very real awareness that we were not just opening a building, but we were joining them in celebrating their new homes.”
He adds, “Being in Hengyang, particularly during this season of building…has been a very rare privilege. The [October] day the children moved in was the absolute highlight.”
Geoff also says that he will never forget seeing the children’s faces as they went in and out of rooms, exploring their new surroundings. With everything around the children being brand new, he strongly believes that each young person felt brand new, too.
But, a building is just a building; it doesn’t magically solve the challenges and issues that face the children that live there. ICC’s volunteers in Hengyang will quickly say that while the temptation would be to relax, the real hard work is still yet to come.
The children and young people will continue to grow in age, size, maturity and ability. Many of them will need the opportunity to exercise the potential that develops within them as they live in their homes. Some will need to transition into community living, allowing more children to come into ICC’s care from the government welfare centre.
“It is about working towards what is best and possible for every single individual child that enters our care,” says Kyla Alexander, “and committing towards giving them what they need for life and wholeness. That’s what these new homes represent.”