Visit by Chinese Is Special to Local Girl
Willa Mitchel was just 7 months old when somebody found her lying on a bridge in China.
That unknown person took the little abandoned child to an orphanage where she would spend the next nine months of life before her "Family Day" -- the day she was adopted and brought home to the Sandhills of Moore County.
Now she is a sprightly 11-year-old American kid growing up as a Tar Heel. She knows only a few words of Chinese, but she listened closely last week as visitors from her native land spoke to county leaders. Willa and her dad, Roger Mitchel, were guests for a breakfast meeting to sign a friendship pact between a county in the land of her birth and the county where she now lives.
Willa and her parents stay in close touch with a number of other families in the state who have adopted children from China. She was one of 10 children who made a "homeland visit" at the same time as the Friendship Delegation from North Carolina was in China for the dedication of the monument in Guidong last year.
"We were there for a homeland journey," her father said. "We went back with 10 people. All these girls see each other twice a year. They all take part in Chinese New Year through the Triangle Area Chinese American Society (TACAS)."
TACAS is a 30-year-old nonprofit organization organized to foster Chinese-American cultural exchang-es, promote Chinese language and cultural education, and support the exchange of culture and arts among all ethnic, racial and professional backgrounds.
"Every child we traveled with is part of this ongoing cultural education that continues," he said. "Willa is the only one that doesn't have the opportunity to learn Chinese. We are trying to get something going here."
Some day, perhaps when there is enough demand for it, there will be teachers of Mandarin Chinese and classes here as there are in larger North Carolina cities.
"We did this for our daughter," Mitchel said. "We had 10 adults and 10 kids. I took our older daughter, Caitie, with us along with Willa. The whole purpose is to show these girls where they came from. We plan on going back again in five years. We took them all back to their original provinces, to their original 'finding spot' as they call them."
The finding sites vary as much as China.
"One city was all mud, where one little girl had been found in a motorcycle shop," he said. "We went back, and she met the woman who was the director when she came in as an infant."
The person who found Willa took her to an orphanage that happened to be one of more than 200 Chinese orphanages that take part in international adoption. The Maoming Welfare Institute (MWI) in Guangdong Province in southern China is about a six-hour train ride from Guangzhou (formerly Canton) through rolling hills past farmland, mining camps, duck and fish farms.
MWI had opened its new building when Willa returned for last year's visit.
"It was a different place," she said. "It was very nice."
The new facility has room for a daycare center, several beds for senior citizens and rooms for the children who await adoption. It has a total of 300 bedrooms. There is also a medical clinic with eight doctors serving both the center and the local community. It currently cares for children ranging in age from newborn to early teens who, due to various circumstances, are in need of families.
The American girl from China was seeing her hometown for the first time she would remember.
"It was really different," she said. "I was fascinated by all the people and how they lived. I was really amazed by everything, a great trip."
She went to the river and walked out onto the long bridge where she'd been found as a baby.
"I came from Maoming, and I got to go there," she said. "It was a great experience."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at jchappell@ thepilot.com.
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