A metro-area high school student said she feels a special kinship with children living in orphanages in China.
Abbey Grace White, 17, said the connection stems from her history as a Chinese orphan who lived in an orphanage in Yichun, a city in the Heilongjiang province of China.
When she was 10 months old, White was adopted by an American who brought her to live in the United States.
The teenager is returning to China this summer to serve as a volunteer at the orphanages that many Chinese children call home.
“In China, these children are left behind — hopeless, hurting and vulnerable — due to the cultural stigma of gender or their special need,” she said.
White, who will be a senior at Deer Creek High School in the fall, held several fundraisers to help pay for her trip to Beijing in July. She said she is still raising funds to help pay for some of the expenses related to her trip and for small gifts for the children, but her airfare has been paid for.
White’s return to the land of her birth comes through a program created by two nonprofit organizations: China’s Children International and Half the Sky Foundation. White said she will be with 11 other China adoptees who will make the trip to volunteer at one of the China Care Children’s Centers, a specialized medical care center for orphaned babies, toddlers and children in China’s capital city.
The teen said she did not think of visiting China as she grew up.
She said she has kept busy ice skating and teaching beginners’ ice skating; playing classical piano; baby-sitting; taking tae kwon do classes (she’s a second-degree black belt); and enjoying youth group activities at the family’s house of worship, North Pointe Baptist Church. The teen also is a Youth Leadership Oklahoma participant and a tutor to younger youths.
Her mother, Linda White, said she wanted to help keep Abbey connected to her Chinese roots. She said Abbey had some basic Mandarin Chinese language lessons as a preschooler but didn’t retain much of it as she grew older.
Linda White, who also adopted another infant, Carlye, now 12, from China, said the family belongs to several groups made up of families who adopted children from China or who are experiencing transracial adoption.
She said she and her daughters celebrate Chinese New Year as well as Autumn Moon, also called the Chinese Moon Festival, a harvest festival celebrated by many Chinese.
Abbey White said her recent interest in returning to China grew steadily after she began taking “Introduction to Mandarin Chinese” language classes in the past year.
The teen’s mother said she was initially apprehensive about her daughter traveling overseas, but she talked with other teens who took the trip in previous years, and they spoke highly of the trip and the mission program.
Linda White said she feels the trip will be beneficial to Abbey in many ways, and it comes at a pivotal time as she approaches young adulthood.
“I feel like it’s good timing for her,” Linda White said.
Cultural awareness, desire to help
In addition to helping orphans, Abbey White said she is particularly interested in the medical aspect of their care. The teen is studious and is considering a career as a doctor or a biomedical engineer. Her mother said her SAT scores indicate that she will qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, so her goal of attending college to pursue her dreams is realistic.
Abbey said one of her long-range goals is to develop a device to help children who have a hearing disorder that she has.
Abbey said she has had several surgeries due to the medical condition, and she lost most of her hearing in her left ear. Abbey and Linda White said doctors believe the disorder is congenital.
In addition to her attention to the medical facilities for the orphans, Abbey White said she hopes to visit many of the cultural sites she has read about in books or seen on TV.
She said she envisions the visit to her native China will help her as she continues to explore her identity.
Linda White said she and her daughters saw the 2011 documentary “Somewhere Between,” which chronicled the lives of four girls living in America who had been adopted from China.
She said the film, which examines themes of family, adoption, race and identity formation, helped the family become more aware of some of the issues that China adoptees like Abbey may eventually explore.
She said the coordinators of the mission trip are encouraging Abbey and the other 11 China adoptees in the summer program to journal everyday, which could help them process much of what they feel and encounter on their return to China.
Abbey White said any funds raised above her travel and program costs will be donated to the Half the Sky Foundation.
How to help
For more information about Abbey White’s planned trip to China or to make a donation to her trip fund, go to www.gofundme.com/Abbey-Mission-Trip.