Foshan Orphanage Trip: A Journey into Karuna

Since 1995 I have been bringing students to the Foshan orphanage in southern China because of the happiness that it brings to the children we visit and the profound effect that it has on our students.  Following the creation of Humanities I in Action in 2002, the Foshan trip quickly became the highlight of the year.  This is a picture of our final moments at the orphanage on November 13th, 2011 before we said our emotion-laden goodbyes and began our return to Hong Kong. 

People often ask what the Foshan trip is all about and why it receives such strong reviews from students.  However, as students pointed out in follow-up discussions this week, it’s easier to say what we did – play with babies for 3 days – than to express what it meant to us.  In our discussions, students explained that leaving behind the relentless push for college admissions that is a defining, nearly ever-present reality for most students, and venturing into what we called the “special world” of compassion for a long weekend is a heart-and-mind expanding experience. Spending the better part of three days with babies and special needs children challenges students and teachers alike to consider what life would be like if compassion were the highest value of society rather than success.  So, while the trip appears deceptively simple, it introduces profound and universal questions about altruism, compassion, purpose and meaning, fairness and disparity, and it then presses these seemingly abstract queries into adorable flesh and blood that we grow quite fond of in three days.

One of the highlights of this particular Foshan trip was a visit to the mammoth Kuan Yin statue, more than twice the size of Lantau’s Giant Buddha, and learning about this Goddess (or Bodhisattva) of Compassion.  Before we left for Foshan, Ivy shared about the essense of Kuan Yin, which is karuna, the Sanskrit word for compassion. She explained that karuna is an “unblemished sense of oneness with others that involves an all-encompassing love that is unlike conditional love in that it is neither egoistic or possessive but extensive and ever-expanding.”

While at the temple site, we had the privilege of meeting a Chinese Buddhist monk that spoke to us about the Buddhist path of compassion.  One of our students, Winfield, asked, “Which Bodhisattva [a Buddha-in-the-making] is the most important in Buddhism?”  The monk gestured to all of us and stated, “Each of your hearts is the most important Bodhisattva.”

Although difficult for students that have not even completed their first semester in high school to articulate clearly, the Foshan trip leaves an indelible imprint of “karuna,” the joys and sorrows of caring for children who are invisible in Chinese society. Just this morning I received an email from a graduate, Robbieana Leung, who was in my first Humanities I in Action class that attended Foshan in 2002, and she even asked how “Hung Na,” a girl at the Foshan orphanage with leukemia was doing.  I was glad to report that this 13-year old looked better than I had seen her for years.  What a world it would be if all of us years later would bring to mind the names and faces of children that we have encountered whom we still carry around in our hearts.

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About martinschmidtinasia

I have served as a humanities teacher at Hong Kong International School since 1990, teaching history, English, and religion courses. Since the mid-1990's I have also come to assume responsibility for many of the school's service learning initiatives. My position also included human care ministry with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Hong Kong, southern China, and others parts of Asia from 1999-2014. Bringing my affluent students into contact with people served by the LCMS in Asia has proved to be beneficial to students and our community partners alike. Through these experience I have become committed to social conscience education, which gives students the opportunity to find their place in society in the context of challenging global realities.
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9 Responses to Foshan Orphanage Trip: A Journey into Karuna

  1. From Wendy Connerly on the Foshan Families Yahoo group:
    How cool to see that photo you took and recognize some of the kids we just
    saw in August!! My 7 year old son recognized a couple of them right away.
    While I was there, I just prayed for those children that they would get an
    opportunity to receive some compassion, some affection, and some attention. Most of them will never be adopted. That is a tragedy. But the firs tragedy is that they were orphaned in the first place. I am so thankful that some of the children there received some compassion through the
    students you brought there. Even if it’s brief, it’s valuable. Thank you, Wendy

  2. Donna says:

    I love your visit! We are waiting to travel to get our daughter from there…do you have any other photos of the children, perhaps ours?
    thanks
    Donna

  3. Krystn says:

    Greetings, Mr. Schmidt! I was on a Foshan trip with you way back in 1998. I also took a bible studies class with you, back in the day. Here I am, at age 28, looking for the name of that orphanage and stumbling across your blog! Needless to say, the trip made an impact on me. I frequently think of the little girl that I spent my days with at that orphanage. She took her first steps when I was there. I wonder how she’s doing, and have faith that with her bright smile and amazing personality she was adopted. I am so glad to see that you still do these trips! I’d love to make my way back someday.

    – Krystn Hood

    • Hi Krystn,
      So nice that you stumbled across my blog. I still go to Foshan with students – and have built our 9th grade Humanities course around service in general and the Foshan trip in particular. Do you remember the name of the girl? There is an online group that has adopted from Foshan, and I could see what happened to her, if we have any clues to go on. You were on interim with me, so I guess that was March 1998. I was so struck by the impact this seemingly simple trip made on students that I started a senior elective in 2000, “Service, Society, and the Sacred,” and then a grade 9 core class, “Humanities I in Action” in 2003. I started doing doctoral research in 2005, and completed my dissertation in 2009. I really do believe this is a great way to educate students. Good to hear from you – what are you doing these days? Mr. Schmidt

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