Tuesday, February 7, 2012

China here we come

Forest Grove teen plans return to China to help babies in orphanage

Published: Monday, February 06, 2012, 3:25 PM Updated: Tuesday, February 07, 2012, 7:02 AM
Rachel Kang.JPGView full sizeRachel Kang, 13, pages through photos of the babies at Starfish Foster Home in Xi'an, China. Rachel and her mother, Sarah Kang, spent a week at the foster home last April helping care for the babies. Rachel leaves soon, this time with her grandmother, to help at the home for five weeks.
FOREST GROVE -- Changing diapers and calming crying babies may not be everyone's idea of a great vacation.

But Rachel Kang, 13, enjoyed her time in Xi'an, China, doing just that. So much so, in fact, that she's leaving soon for a second trip.

Last April, Sarah Kang, 33, and her oldest daughter, Rachel, went on a "coming of age" trip of sorts. Sarah wanted to take Rachel on a service trip to teach her the importance of service to others.

The two learned of the Starfish Foster Home in Xi'an through friends. Starfish was founded in 2005 by Amanda de Lange, who collaborates with government orphanages to get medical care for the most medically at-risk babies.

Babies at Starfish often have severe medical problems, such as heart defects, spina bifida and cleft lip and palate. De Lange and Starfish ensure that the children get the medical services they need.

Sarah said she wanted the trip to have a purpose. Teens can be somewhat self-centered, she explained, and she wanted to give her daughter a chance to "look outside herself."

Once the two chose Starfish, they began planning. They would spend a week volunteering at the foster home, then visit Beijing to see the Great Wall of China.

"Throughout the planning, Rachel transformed," her mom said recently.

The two made sheets and pillowcases, and collected baby clothes and other necessities for the home, which houses up to 50 babies at a time.

When departure day arrived, Sarah said, Rachel packed the bare minimum amount of clothes for herself so she could carry more for the babies.

"I didn't know what was expected of me," Rachel said of her arrival at the foster care home. "A little boy named Joshua walked up and started pulling me around." She was hooked.

"She wanted to cancel our trip to Beijing so we could stay another week" at the foster home, Sarah said.

Rachel and Sarah saw the good and the bad during that week. They met baby Charlotte, who they later learned is being adopted by friends of friends in Seattle.

They saw babies new to the foster home who would cringe at their touch. By the end of the week, the babies were asking for attention. Several other babies that Rachel was especially attached to have died since she's been home.

Rachel also visited a Chinese hospital, which was "crowded with people lining the hallways waiting to see a doctor," she said. Sarah said they witnessed a whole new definition of poor.

The day Rachel came home, she began to plan her next trip with what her mom calls "fixed determination. She talked to people about the babies like everyone should know them." Mom and daughter have given several slide-show presentations.

Rachel began raising money for her trip by selling crafts on etsy.com. She recruited the women of her church to sew covers for changing tables and other items for the foster home. She had a friends-and-family baby shower to benefit Starfish that raised $480 and many contributions of baby clothes.

Her goal, she said, was to raise enough to pay for her airfare, plus $2,000 to donate to the foster home. She exceeded her goal, raising enough for 10 cleft lip surgeries for the babies.

She leaves soon with her grandmother for a five-week trip to volunteer at Starfish.

On Monday, the chair of the board of directors for Starfish Foster Home announced on the organization's website that de Lange has been diagnosed with cancer, but assured supporters that the organization's untiring efforts would continue.

-- Kathy Fuller



  1. I wish you both, a safe and rewarding trip. I hope you've been brushing-up on your 'Chinese'.

  2. Thanks so much for posting that! It was so good to read. I went to the Starfish website when you first blogged about it, so I can imagine what you'll see and do. What an adventure/service/experience of a lifetime!

  3. Super fantastic. I am so happy that you and Rachel will have the support of your whole family to be able to have this experience. We hope you can BLOG while you're gone. Wishing you a very SAFE and FUN trip!! Love, Candy