My name is Maya Robinson and I am a volunteer/intern here at Alenah’s Home in Beijing, China. Alenah’s Home welcomes volunteers from around the world for any length of stay. This opportunity is not very well known so I have been asked to write a short article about my experience as an intern/volunteer.
First off, what is Alenah’s Home? Alenah’s Home is a foster home located in the north-east area of Beijing. It is just a 20 minute walk away from MaQuanYing, a stop along the #15 Beijing subway route. It is currently home to 24 children however its max capacity is 30 children. The children living in Alenah’s Home have been selected and sent here by their respective orphanages. Their selection is based on the child’s health and ways in which Alenah’s can help. Most of the children at Alenah’s Home are recovering from their various surgeries. Some are severely disabled and need extra attention and care. Each child has a different situation and personality but all are in need of one thing: love and care.Alenah’s Foster Home, as well as a child abuse prevention program and a medical assistance program, are just a few of the projects the Children’s Hope Foundation has created in China. The Children’s Hope Foundation was founded in 1992 and Alenah’s Home in 2004.
What makes Alenah’s foster home different from an orphanage? At Alenah’s Home, the setting in which the children are raised is much more familiar as there are an appropriate number of people to watch over and take care of the children. The ages of the children living in the home can range anywhere from 0-8 years old but most of the children are around 2 to 5 years old. This stage of the children’s lives is very important as it is when children must learn to socialize and develop their motor abilities.
How can you volunteer? Those interested in volunteering in Alenah’s Home during their next visit to Beijing should fill out a simple application (please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for an application). In general, the application simply asks about one’s previous experience with children and what kinds of skills the prospective volunteer can contribute to Alenah’s Home. You do not have to be skilled at anything to volunteer at Alenah’s Home. You do not have to speak Chinese. Just come willing to have fun and play with the children.
What can you expect to do? Volunteers play one of the biggest roles in the lives of the children. Volunteers primarily play with the children, however they can also help cook food, clean the facility, supervise field trips outside the home as well as update the Alenah’s Home Facebook pages, help with translating (many of the workers here do not speak English), help give tours of the home to other foreigners and much, much more.
What is a typical day at Alenah’s Home? Each morning the children wake around 6-7 AM and eat breakfast at 8. They play all morning interrupted only by snack time and eat lunch at 11. Their daily nap time takes place from 12 PM to 2:30 PM. Then the children may play until dinner time (5 PM) with another snack and bottle time. Finally the children go to bed by 6 PM. During the school weekdays, about six of the children attend the nearby school. The main portion of the day is used caring for the younger children.
How do the volunteers fit in? Volunteers are expected to be active from breakfast until dinner. Free time is after dinner each day and during the weekends. The most popular thing for volunteers to do on the weekend is go sightseeing. The subway is easily accessible and can deliver tourists to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Olympic Park, the train station, the airport, etc. The daily curfew for volunteers is 10 PM every night.
The room and board fee per person, staying in Alenah’s Home, is $15 a day. Wifi, A/C, meals, and laundry machines are available to the volunteers. Volunteers can live outside the home however it is more convenient to most volunteers to live in the home with the children. Volunteers typically spend anywhere from a couple of days to a week or two at the home but longer periods are possible.
When inside the home, volunteers must act as guests in the home and keep their living space clean as tours of the home are often frequent. They must act as visitors and must not ask the children to call them ‘mama’ (mom) or ‘baba’ (dad). The appropriate terms are ‘a’yi’ (aunt), ‘shu shu’ (uncle), ‘ge ge’ (older brother), and ‘jie jie’ (older sister). Please do not give the children promises you cannot keep. Also please do not talk about their personal health, story, and future family with them or in front of them as many do not know they have been adopted.
Volunteers, from both foreign and local origins, bring toys, supplies, food, and many other things to Alenah’s Home as gifts and donations. Gifts for the nannies are also welcome. Money donations may be given (in RMB) to the main staff in the home so if you are interested in donating, please convert it to RMB before you enter the home. A simple clean pair of sandals or rubber shoes may be used inside the home. Those without clean shoes may be given little sanitary bags to place over their shoes before they enter the children’s play area.
Drinking water and food are available in the home. If anything else is needed, please bring money to shop in the nearby grocery store.
Meals in the home are relatively Chinese. These consist of simple rice, vegetable and meat dishes, noodles, etc. There are restaurants near Alenah’s Home if the food does not suit your taste. The fee will not change whether or not you eat in the home.
Are there other ways to help at Alenah’s? Other ways to get involved with Alenah’s Home (besides volunteering and donations) may be sponsorship of a child or simply spreading the word about Alenah’s Home.
Please consider volunteering your time at Alenah’s Home. This is an excellent opportunity for adoptee’s (like me) to explore their roots and where they came from. This is my last day living at the home of my two week stay. I have learned much about myself and the children. I am very grateful for such an opportunity to connect with my country and help other children who are going through the same thing.