Day 3 – Spring Build at the Changsha Model Children’s Centre

This morning, spirits seem high as the bus rambles through the morning traffic. We pass shopping malls, a sports arena, and a massive Ferris wheel larger than any other I’ve ever seen.

We arrive at the orphanage and gather again in the central classroom filled with the tiny chairs and tricycles that are the results of yesterday’s handiwork. Today our assignment is more painting: a half-dozen play rooms and common areas with freshly plastered walls.

We break out the same shades of paint that we used for the chairs—yellow, lavender, green, and blue. Initially there’s a bit of chaos as we divide into teams to conquer our task, and then as we hunt down the proper supplies. The children watch from the hallways as we scuttle back and forth with the necessities: masking tape, brushes, rollers, and paint pans.

We are working on two separate floors of the building, each with plenty of walls needing to be brightened up. I happen to be working with some of the younger volunteers. One is a high school sophomore from Seattle; this is his third trip to China, the other two trips he made were to collect his adopted sisters. Another, a freshman girl, is herself an adopted daughter, here with her mother. They are polite and earnest, and fun to work with. They’re good kids.

The time moves quickly. Once we hit our rhythm, the painting is done before we know it. We finish the first coat, the second, the accent walls, and the second color band running through each room. Each area has a different combination of colors, and the whole place looks a lot brighter at the end of the day.

There are still some final touch-ups and a lot of cleaning to be done before the space is ready for the children. We leave for the day exhausted, but satisfied with the day’s work and looking forward to the finishing touches that the rest of the week will bring.


We finished painting all the rooms today and they look really good. We had some time to play with the kids some more and they loved the attention. I got to watch more training where each trainee had a kid lying in front of them. Then they would talk about what they had observed about the child in terms of motor skills, awareness of her/his surroundings, making any sounds, and other things like that. It was interesting to see what they could learn from watching an individual child and then personalize how they teach and interact with each kid.


Today the volunteers were invited to sit in on a toddler care training session for children with special needs. It was held in one of the multicolored Half the Sky rooms that we just completed, which is aptly named “Happy Valley.”

In the session, Deborah Tong, a pediatric physical therapist who works at Stanford University and Half the Sky, was teaching the caregivers the correct way for a child to stand and reach. I never had considered that there may be a right or a wrong way to accomplish something that comes naturally to healthy babies and toddlers.

The child must be sitting upright with his feet firmly planted on the floor, hip-width apart, and reach for the caregiver with his arms straightened. The trainees took turns encouraging one little boy to reach for them by pointing to their glasses, waving a pen, or holding out a credit card (which seemed to work the best out of all the items held for the boy). When he reached for the caregiver with both arms out and stood without leaning backwards, the child received applause from all in the room. Learning to stand was a fun game for him. Watching Deb teach the trainees how to teach the boy to stand was a rewarding experience for us.

– Teri