Thanks to the dedication and compassion of the Ripley United Church of Christ quilt ladies, more than 110 orphans now have a warm quilt of their own. The handmade quilts were recently delivered to two specific Chinese orphanages by Charlie, Michelle, Rachel, Victoria and Dale Eastman as part of their summer vacation trip. Michelle is daughter of Hugh & Ruth Calderwood and grew up at Ripley UCC. She and her husband were married at the hometown church in 1987 and the whole family enjoys worship there when visiting.
"It was an honor to present these beautiful quilts to the children," Michelle said. "I know the ladies put a lot of love into each and every stitch."
After exploring several shipping options and discussions with the travel company, it was the most economical to take the quilts as checked baggage on the airplanes. The travel company was so touched by the generous gift that they agreed to fund the extra cost. The quilts were packaged in cardboard boxes and went with the Eastmans to their first overseas location in Beijing.
The quilts that were handsewn by several of the ladies from the Ripley United Church of Christ in Traer made their way to China this summer. Above, the Eastman family presents the quilts to the director at the Shenyang orphanage. Below left, the children at Nanchang Social Welfare Center receive their quilts and mingle with their visitors. Below, a young girl naps, covered by one of the quilts made by the Ripley UCC quilt ladies.
From there, two of the boxes were shipped via Chinese carrier to Nanchang, while the other two accompanied the family by train to Shenyang.
First to receive the quilts were the orphanage children in the town of Shenyang, located in northern China and the home of Dale Eastman for his first three and a half years of life. Warmly greeted by his former teacher, Dale and his family were given a complete tour of the orphanage, the grounds and treated to lunch in the cafeteria. Staff indicated that the visit of a former orphan only happened about once every other year, so they were pleased to see the family and accept the quilts. Four hundred children are connected to the orphanage there; half are in foster care onsite and in area homes. The children received the quilts with great joy and many smiles. Since it was naptime after lunch, many of the children napped that day covered with a purple dinosaur or adorned under quilted tulips, but all were covered with love from Iowa.
The facilities there had been upgraded since 2005, when part of the family had visited when Dale was adopted. Three large buildings had been added as well as wonderful playgrounds and even cherry trees. Much of the change had been as a result of an organization called "Half the Sky Foundation."
Toward the end of the two-week trip, the family visited the town of Nanchang, where Rachel and Victoria had been born. After a Chinese lunch with the orphanage director and staff members, they went to the orphanage where they were greeted by the Chinese foster family who had cared for the twins as infants.
"Even though we couldn't talk the same language, it was clear that this couple cared deeply for me and my sister," Victoria said. "They were so glad to see us as teenagers. It was an amazing feeling." The families spent time talking about the 14 months they cared for the girls as infants and the many experiences since then with the aid of an interpreter. Later in the day, the Eastmans hosted the foster family, their daughter and grandson for dinner at the hotel making more memories.
The quilts were needed at the Nanchang orphanage and presented to many children.
Most of the children in care were special needs and having the visitors give them gifts was a real treat. More than 300 children lived in this orphanage and another 200 were in foster care. The orphanage was the same building that the family had visited in 2000. The facilities were worn and the nurseries were full. "It is heartbreaking to have to leave the children there, knowing they may never have a family of their own," Michelle said. "I could have added several to our family."
In addition to delivering the quilts and visiting the orphanages, the family climbed the Great Wall, toured the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in Beijing, visited the Terracotta Warriors and Horse Museum in Xi'an, held live pandas at the Panda Breeding and Research Center in Chengdu, and ended their sightseeing in Guangzhou at the Safari Zoo before boarding a flight in Hong Kong to come back to the United States.
Some favorites of the family were holding the panda, riding bicycles on the city wall of Xi'an, seeing an acrobatic show in Beijing and spending time at the orphanages with the girl's foster family. Overall the children enjoyed blending in and having people stare at their white parents. "It was the trip of a lifetime for all of us to experience the country of our children's birth, see many sights and give them the opportunity to explore some of their birth heritage," Michelle said. "I am forever grateful to be chosen as their mom and giving them the opportunity to see their birth country is something I've wanted to do their whole lives."