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A Day At Swallows Nest
Last year, I went to visit a small foster home for orphan children run by Clay and Pam Williams. The visit was truly overwhelming. 5 Years in Zhengzhou, what started as an effort by Pam to assist a physically challenged child she spotted at the official Zhengzhou orphanage a few years ago has evolved into 4 foster homes caring for (currently) 36 children with disabilities of varying degree and type.
Pam and Clay enlist the help of fellow teachers and local paid students and staff to provide 24 / 7 care, hospital and surgical assistance for severe cases, and nurse these kids back to the point where they are able to be properly adopted by either Chinese or US citizens.
They call the program "Swallows Nest" and when I visited, I was able to meet some of the dedicated workers who care and manage the needs of the children, ranging in age from a few months old to 4 or 5 years old. The pictures will show that the accomodation is not 5 star. Clay and Pam, with limited means, have manage to lease 4 older style 2 bed appartments where they house and care for the children. The children are grouped into each Swallows Nest home according to age or care typerequired. They have purposesly chosen to keep this homely format (rather than try to rent a larger institutional style dwelling) as it allows the children to experience and live in a "family" environment, with the noise, toys, attention and close involvement of their "brothers and sisters" and their family of support workers.
Clay and Pam are viewed by the children as Mom and Dad, which sits well with both of them, as they have a passion and devotion to this support program that was very evident from my short visit.
Clay and Pam are originally from the USA. Clay spent 20 years involved in college /school investigative and security work. Pam has been a teacher for many years. Both devoted Christians, they now regard Zhengzhou their home and the Swallows Nest as their life focus in China.
I was amazed that Pam has been able fund the entire operation of 4 accommodation sites, food, paid care workers and special funding for surgical / special treatments often required for the children, from a very modest budget. The funding comes mostly from friends and supporters in USA or China, and when asked if more financial assistance would be welcomed, the answere was clear. They could help more children, pay for more specialised medical treatments for some of the children who need repeated corrective surgery or open up another centre if pressed, given that there are hundreds of children in the government run Zhengzhou orphanage, and Pam is getting contant calls to take on more special case children, who, unless given the special care Swallows Nest provides, would likely be doomed insofar as opportunities for adoption are concerned.
They have a modest website, which they use to also collect donations via PayPal http://www.swallowsnestzz.org/ I am hoping to assist with some improvements Pam is interested in implementing over the next few weeks.
I arrived at the first Swallows Nest carying a bag of balls, playclips, coloured wrist bands, bananas and two small (live) turtles with special turtle food, (even turtles have special needs). The kids were typical active, adventurous, playful, despite their often visible dissabilities. (I wondered how long the turtles would survive). But the kids were happy and surrounded by love. What alternatives to Swallows Nest were available, for these orphans with extreme dissabilities living in Zhengzhou, I was fearful to consider.
Reflecting on matters after the visit, it became clear to me that it takes absolute dedication to step outside ones comfort zone and embark on a humanitarian course. Simply because, no matter what the project, it will typically demand long term focus, constant attention, energy, patience and sacrifice. It's not a casual toe-in-the-water endeavour. I say sacrifice, because, when invited to finish our visit to Swallows Nest by dropping into Clay's home appartment to meet Pam and their daughter, we found Pam in the the living room of a small, modest Zhengzou apartment, with no sofa or lounge. Instead, just some stools and Pam's desk from where she runs the 7 days a week Swallows Nest operation (staffing, schedules, finance, shopping for food, organising etc etc etc etc.