Guest post: A note from the front of a Chinese orphanage

Around six months ago, I received an email from Susan Baller-Shepard. Susan has an adopted Chinese daughter and was planning to embark on a trip to volunteer in a Beijing orphanage. I asked her to send me a guest post of her experience and she agreed. True to her word, she responded with a suggested entry and some pictures that arrived in my inbox this week. True to mine, I publish it here, in full and unedited:

This is not your usual vacation

Have you ever taken a vacation or holiday to “get away from it all,” and returned to work, still feeling like you never did get away? This is one holiday where you will not only get out of Dodge, but you’ll arrive home with more than just dirty laundry, photos, and souvenirs.

Chances are, you will change on this trip, or something within you will shift, or like the Grinch your heart will grow three sizes, or something. Meaning, you will not return home the same person.

I just had the time of my life spending a week in and around Beijing, volunteering in orphanages. Sure, I am an adoptive mom, with a beautiful daughter from Yangjiang, but half of our group were people who thought helping out in orphanages would make for a meaningful trip.

Along with time spent in various orphanages, there is time for sightseeing and getting to see a country that is changing at the speed of light. We took a cycle rickshaw into a hutong for lunch made by a hutong resident. We visited the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, the Lama and Confucious Temples, along with the Bell Tower, the Dirt Market, and the Great Wall.

The program I went on works with non-profit orphan care providers in the BORN (Beijing Orphan Resource Network) collaborative. These include such providers as Children’s Hope International, Philip Hayden Foundation, Hope Foster Home, and others, with volunteer experiences specifically tailored to a person or group’s travel plans. You can volunteer for a day, a week, or a month. They adjust to individuals and/or groups or families, and can work with school groups or civic groups as well.

At my computer, I find myself scrolling through my Beijing photos. I look at the faces of the children we met, played with, took on walks, laughed with, fed. It’s not everyone’s dream vacation, but it is one that you will not soon forget. This is a great way to get away from home, to focus on the needs of someone besides yourself for a week, and to enjoy a place that is both ancient and modern. It’s unforgettable. I’d go back again in a heartbeat.

“They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom. “—Confucius, The Confucian Analects

“If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.”—Confucius, The Confucian Analects Our Chinese Daughter’s Foundation “Volunteer China” Program

One great idea and one good cause

Yesterday afternoon I went to the annual spring lunch of a company called Travel PR – for those not in the know they are, you guessed it, a travel public relations company that mainly specialises in small, independent and often quirky travel companies.

Their client list includes the Association of Independent Tour Operators (, Kirker Holidays (, Sunvil (, Voyages Jules Verne ( and many more… but it was two newish clients that really caught my eye.

One is a company that is just launching called Get Back To Me. Anyone who has tried to book an independent B&B in the UK will be familiar with how frustrating it can be. These days, people expect an immediate answer when trying to book online and unfortunately for many small B&Bs they just don’t have the manpower to do it.

While Mr Bloggs is out buying the bacon and eggs for the next morning’s breakfast, someone who is trying to get in touch and can’t is likely now looking up the number of the nearest Travelodge.

What Get Back To Me does is allow the consumer to input a destination and the site will send an SMS to all registered B&B and hotel owners in the vicinity, if they have availability, it costs them £1.50 to get back to the consumer and the deal is done.

The consumer facing side should be with us sometime in early summer – owner Anne Corbett thinks end May is likely – but B&B and hotel owners can register at now at

The other interesting lady I met was Stella Huyshe of Lyme Disease Action ( Like Travel PR’s MD Sue Ockwell, Stella is suffering from Lyme Disease – an infectious debilitating disease brought on by tick bites.

The symptoms sound pretty awful

Lyme disease can affect any part of the body and cause many different symptoms. The commonest symptoms relate to the person feeling unwell, having flu-like symptoms, extreme tiredness, muscle pain, muscle weakness, joint pain, upset digestive system, headache, disturbances of the central nervous system and a poor sleep pattern. In some cases a characteristically shaped, expanding ‘bull’s eye’ rash appears on the skin. However, a rash in any form is not a universal symptom. If the rash does occur, it is termed Erythema migrans or EM rash. It may manifest in a chronic form and be known as Erythema chronicum migrans or ECM rash. The list of symptoms known to be associated with Lyme disease is long and diverse. The symptom pattern varies from person to person.

But crucially, there are different views on how long the disease should be treated for. Government advisors believe a 28-day course of antibiotics will do it while other scientists are of the view that the disease can affect a person for much longer.

That Stella has suffered for almost a decade without any joy suggests the latter could be right.

They’re a decent charity that are trying to change the government thinking on Lyme Disease and deserve some attention.Please give them some!

Obama lifts HIV travel ban

ObamaWell done Barack Obama for taking a step another step that once again softens the image of the USA: the lifting of entry restrictions to people who are HIV positive.

The The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act was signed last week to end the 22 year ban with Obama saying the old legislation was ‘rooted in fear, not facts’.

In an era where medical advances mean HIV sufferers live full and normal lives, it was the only sensible solution. Around a dozen countries have similar stupid HIV travel regulations, let’s hope they also follow suit.