Thursday, December 17, 2009

The spirit of Christmas

Last week, I was reminded of something special. Something we know exists, and we value, but don't often get to witness.

Last Monday night was our annual HKD trip to the Po Leung Kuk orphanage in Causeway Bay. Po Leung Kuk is an organization that runs several orphanages in this city. Our dear Lolly, Ella's best friend, came from Po Leung Kuk in Kowloon. In my third year as HKD supervisor, I wanted our trip to this orphanage to be different. Each year that we've gone, our kids perform a few of their dances at the Christmas party, we listen to some carols that our choir performs and we spend the evening playing with the children - who range in age from 6 to 18 years old.

It's this part of the evening that is the most meaningful for all of us. The children are seated by dorms, and all take part in some fun Christmas game - decorating a gingerbread house or something similar. It is this time, the human interaction between my students and the children at the orphanage that is special to watch. It's fun to see my students play. But more so, it's special to see the children in the orphanage come alive when someone pays them a little attention. They are starved for it.

A hug. A pattycake game. Someone to climb on and laugh with. The students, especially the boys, come away from the evening utterly exhausted. I tried to explain to them this year that what my own children do when their dad comes home is climb on him, like a jungle gym. These kids don't have that person, and it's the fun part of being a kid.

Then, before the night is over, Santa comes. He draws names (perhaps 5 or 6) out of a hat. Those children, not even one from each dorm, receive a present from Santa. The others watch. Hopes dashed for another year.

This year, we hoped to contribute more than just ourselves. My dancers quickly pulled together to organize collection of 123 presents for the children who live there. We wrapped. We ticked names of the list. We scrambled to have enough. But, we did it.

Ella and Buddy even contributed some of their toys for the children. We had many stuffed animals still in bags from when we moved this summer. Joey thought this the perfect new home for them. Ella sat with us in the afternoon leading up to the Po Leung Kuk visit and helped hand out tape and pack up presents. Then, I brought Buddy with me to distribute them. They both just love HKD. They love the kids. Buddy loves to do his version of hip hop. Ella loves her baby ballet. He was excited to come along this year - a seven year old, big enough to take part in an HKD event.

Joey and I try hard to explain to them how lucky they are to have what they do. In my stories, I always mention the orphanage, and how only a few children get gifts. He was very curious and excited to be a part of helping those children get one thing each. I thought it the perfect opportunity to learn first hand what I've been telling him the last few years.

And what an experience he had. I'm so proud thinking back on it now. At first, he was shy. Timid. Uncertain of all the 123 children in the room. He clung to me. In the morning, he'd asked what orphans look like. Do they wear cloth for nappies? I told him they are in many ways just like him, reminding him that Lolly used to live in an orphanage like this one. It was so interesting to watch him absorb what he saw. First, he looked at me and said, They're all Chinese! Yes, I commented. They are all from Hong Kong. He stuck close as I made some introductions.

Then we started dancing with the band hired for the evening. It was chaotic (and that's putting it nicely). I could see him wide-eyed and bewildered at some of the kids tearing around, swinging at each other. I whispered in his ear, Remember, these kids don't have a mummy or daddy to help them know how they should and shouldn't behave. This was a good enough explanation for him.

Slowly, he warmed up. Partly due to two of my students who also play on Joey's basketball team, who took Buddy under their wing and danced with him. Also due to the faces of kids just his size, who were eager to come up and just play. He met a little boy named Josh, who wanted to show him some breakdance moves. Connection made.

The special part of the evening came later, when Santa arrived. This time, there was no lucky dip. Instead, our HKD students carried over the bags of wrapped gifts, each labeled with a child's name, for Santa to distribute. I wish I could show you their faces. The little ones on the edge of their seats in anticipation of hearing their names. Some children ripped open the gifts, while others carefully, meticulously peeled the tape off the paper before taking a peek inside. They all smiled. I watched the faces of my students watching the direct impact their act had on other people. Then Buddy noticed Josh's name had been called, and the present he was to receive was a Lightning McQueen car he had had picked out of his car box just that afternoon. We recognized the shape. Buddy looked so excited, almost as if it were his new toy all over again. It was magical.

When I asked Buddy how he felt about what he'd just seen, his reply was simple.


And the feeling continued after we left. We were all happy about what we'd been able to accomplish. We know this tradition will continue in the coming years. I'll bring Buddy again. Ella when she's old enough. Maybe even Cally. I want them all to see this. To feel the real spirit of Christmas. And giving.

On the bus on our way home, Buddy and I spoke about these children, and our hope that they soon will find their forever families like Lolly did. And Rubin. We shared our feelings about how happy they must feel, but also how the connections with some of them, like Josh, touched our own hearts.


Diane said...

WOW! Your INSPIRATION is like tossing a rock into a still pond: the ripples keep moving out and out to touch places at the edge you won't even know about. Beautiful! and beautifully written. I had to read it a second time to be trasported again. Thank you for sharing, so we could come along with you and be touched as well. Such a gift, you have...

Anonymous said...

I know I'm hormonal...but...seriously.....thinking about these children...and their interaction with your HKD dancers....and MIchael....and the fact that they could ALL get a gift this makes me cry. What an experience for Michael to be a part of...I'm so glad you are able to share it with him. xn

CheleTales said...

What a wonderful thing to teach your children, and such a beautiful way to make a difference in so many children's lives. Thank you for sharing and reminding me what this season is all about.

Happy Holidays!

brummygem said...

i teared up too reading this post! thanks for sharing the magical happy evening - with them and with us - and, like michele said reminding us what the season is really about! happy holidays!

anna x

emily said...

i love you guys!
i'm reading this and just weeping. and i'm not at all hormonal, like naem. (love you too, new mama!)

thank you, thank you, thank you. and michael too. for making a difference this Christmas.

janiece said...

Bless them! After being at my childrens' orphanages--I can just imagine how this went. You are awesome. Thank you for taking Buddy with you. That is just great--an experience so many children don't get--but should. Merry Christmas!

kelly said...

So lovely. Thank you for your true holiday spirit, and how wonderful that you are teaching your kids the value of giving.

-from Emily's blog friend Kelly (who briefly touched base with you in HK in Nov :)

Merry Christmas!

Shan said...

You have just reconfirmed everything for me. Have been investigating international adoption in HK and/or Thailand. It breaks my heart, but what a wonderful gift you have given them. xo

Christine @ 12,450miles said...

Thank you for a little bit of magic this season... I've been looking for some!

- Christine
(Emily's blog buddy)

Krista said...

What a Christmas to remember - for not just you - but those children too. Thank you for the reminder that not everyone is as fortunate as us (and our children who do find homes).
- Krista, Emily's blogging buddy

Kris said...

The true spirit of giving! Thank you for sharing this story.
-Kris (another one of Emily's blogging buddies)

gilly said...

Merry Christmas!! A great reminder of the Christmas spirit. It should however have come with a disclaimer or warning at the beginning for hormonal pregnant women who might need to stop halfway to go get tissues! xxx

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