While living in a gated Chinese community, an American woman decides to try various exercises in cultural immersion.
“Step out or stay put,” is how Cricket (her online pen name) dually classified her experiences in a blog she writes about her new life as an ex-pat, a word that describes someone who has rooted their life in a foreign country.
Cricket describes herself as a woman with a large heart, a love for sewing, and a cautious approach to acclimatizing to her new life in China. So when she came across the website of another North American woman who sought quilts for orphaned Chinese children, she saw an exercise in cultural immersion that required both “stepping out” of her comfort zone, and “staying put” to do some of the work.
The name of the woman seeking quilts?
Terrace B.C.’s Jenine Basaraba.
“You need how many quilts?” asked Cricket, who describes the experience of getting in touch with Basaraba on her blog.
“Ninety-five,” replied Basaraba, who lives in Nanjing, China with her husband Steve, also raised in Terrace, and their three children.
The family moved to China chasing 44-year-old Basaraba’s dream of working with orphaned children.
“I know, I know that’s a lot, but I want each child to have something that is just theirs. When they leave the orphanage they can take it with them,” Basaraba replied to Cricket.
Basaraba’s mother and Terrace resident Roberta Taron had already made three of the quilts, leaving 92 homemade quilt requests on the table. The idea to have them made was inspired by Basaraba’s Canadian quilt-loving friends, coupled with a fondness of her own quilt from childhood made by her mother which she took when she left home.
“I could make you 95 homemade custom pillowcases, if you like,” said Cricket in return.
“You do what your heart is telling you, and if you go home and decide not to do anything, I accept that, as well,” replied Basaraba.
By the project’s end, the children who live at the Zheng Sheng Love Orphanage each received a quilt of their own to take with them once they departed the orphanage.
And alongside Basaraba, Cricket had stepped out from the comfort of her home for an eight-day stay where the two played games and made crafts with the children.
This experience with Cricket is just a window into the regular life of Basaraba, who moved to China more than five years ago.
“I travel to distant orphanages 6-8 times a year and nearer ones as well,” said Basaraba, emphasizing she does not work in orphanages but, rather, volunteers her time. “I gather resources and friends and help out when and where I can.”
Her first experience volunteering with children in an orphanage was in Mexico, and her first in China was in Fujian, a province on the eastern coast.
“The kids there lived in a school. They had bunk beds but no mattresses. There was one bathroom for 150 kids and it was just a latrine. They had no running water except for a tap outside. They ate behind the school under an awning outside. They had two vegetable dishes and rice for their meals,” wrote Basaraba, describing the experience.
“I was surprised at how polite the kids were and how good a job their caregivers did. They were very guarded and much more interested in any candy we gave them than anything we wanted to talk about, but the younger ones warmed up quickly.”
Then five years old, her daughter Kezia came along and played with the children.
“They chased her around and laughed at everything she said. She loved it too and especially loved the bigger girls doing her hair or drawing her pictures.
“When I tried to teach them they had about a 10 minute attention span and I had to just rely on games and songs after awhile. It was a lot like teaching small children. I had to change activities very quickly and be really animated to keep their attention.”
While Jenine has now established herself and is in the process of opening a hospice for sick children, which she will direct, getting started in a foreign country such as China is much different than it is here.
“In Terrace (and North America) everything is fairly straightforward. We have rules and procedures.
“In China, things are best accomplished through relationship, which can open doors very quickly, or slam them shut. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are or how much money you have, but who you know. When you’re trying to help children that can be frustrating. But it can also be great if you meet the right people.”
And Basaraba did. Initially through friends met in Hong Kong she began visiting two orphanages and made more relationships from there, which opened more doors.
Through time, dedication and trust building, Basaraba was recently asked to be the director of a children’s hospice in Nanjing, China, after volunteering time with a charity called Butterfly Children’s Hospices.
“We aim to open sometime this year starting with six beds,” she said. “The purpose of the home is to provide end of life care, first to orphans and then to branch out and work with families in the community.”
The hospice aims to help dying children feel loved and comfortable and, through love, care and special attention, bring some back to health.
“Then we aim to get these children fostered or adopted,” said Basaraba, adding a southern Butterfly hospice has taken in 56 children and six have been adopted, one is in foster care and 15 are currently at the home.
“Medical care is not free in China,” said Basaraba. “Some desperate parents will abandon their children, hoping that the government or hospital will provide some type of emergency care when they cannot afford it. We want to stop this from happening by working with the government to educate and reach the larger community.”
To open the doors to the new hospice, money will need to be raised and a location needs finding. A medical director and staff are also needed, as is equipment.
Basaraba is currently building relationships to open those doors.
Looking back, she explains her heart has been in service work for as long as she could remember.
“Simply put, I am a Christian and it’s a big part of our faith to help the poor,” she said.
“When I was young I used to come up with crazy schemes for helping the poor and my sister and I used to babysit for free for a single mom friend and do things like that.”
Basaraba’s mother, Taron, agreed.
“She was always just such a caring kid,” said Taron about Basaraba’s childhood in Terrace and the pathway that led her to today.
“It is not easy to become a person like this, you have to fight so many battles, so many nos.
“And, I say to her, how many people get to do what they wanted to do when they were kids?”