by Jessica Hansen
Working with Alliance for Smiles has made me rethink my opinion of ‘ordinary’.
I always thought of it as a synonym for plain, boring, or uninteresting. When I first heard mention of the ‘Ordinary Girl’, I thought, “What an unkind way to be described – why wouldn’t you want to call her ‘extraordinary’?”
As I came to learn, her name is Cai Fan, and her story is anything but ordinary. She was found, as a newborn baby born under the one child policy of China, abandoned in a dumpster due to her cleft lip – not directly killed by her own parents, who should’ve been the ones to cherish and protect her, but sentenced instead to a slow death alone in a garbage heap.
Thanks to her cries, she was found by an elderly couple living in poverty and without a home. They, who had so little, didn’t abandon her to her fate but rescued her, took her in, cared for her, and raised her as their own. With so few resources, even if there had been surgeons available to help with her cleft lip and palate, the couple wouldn’t have been able to afford it.
They were overjoyed to learn of a team of doctors and nurses who were coming to their area and would provide free cleft lip and palate surgeries for children. The Alliance for Smiles team met them in Wenzhou, China in 2009. Cai Fan’s surgery was successful and she was such a sweet and charming baby that one of the PACU nurses on the team even made a bid to adopt her. However, the nurse could not part her from the sweet couple who had found her and come to love her so dearly that – despite their financial hardships – they officially adopted her.
Ten years later in 2019, the AfS surgeon who had operated on her – Dr. Wally Chang – was on a Teaching Mission back in Wenzhou.
He was deeply moved to “encounter a beautiful young girl accompanied by her mother at our Opening Clinic.” As he described, “she has a beautiful result from her surgery and [was there] for orthodontics.”
This girl’s story makes me think of all the moments and decisions that can change a life in deep and profound ways. Those of the people who abandoned that sweet baby, those of the people who rescued her, and those of the volunteers and donors that make the work and surgeries of AfS possible.
So often we don’t let it truly sink in – the potential life-changing impact of each decision we make, dollar we donate, or mission or project for which we volunteer. These children’s lives are transformed forever in immeasurable ways and it truly takes a village.
I think about how different this girl’s life could’ve been – how short it would’ve been had that elderly couple decided the financial burden of adopting an abandoned baby, especially one with medical hardships and needs, was just too great. How difficult it would’ve been had she suffered the countless health issues and malnourishment that babies with cleft must overcome, and then the bullying, ridicule, and rejection of others throughout her life.
Her story makes me think of my own youth and how badly I wanted acceptance, friendship, and to just “fit in”. That is the true and amazing gift that her adoptive parents and the donors and volunteers of AfS have given her – the gift of being able to be ‘ordinary’, of having the health, happiness, and acceptance so many of us take for granted. From there, the choice to be ‘extraordinary’ is completely up to her, but with such a harrowing and then fantastic beginning, it’s hard to imagine that she and her life could be anything else.
Cai Fan’s story and the thousands of others like it are only possible because of you and your generosity and support. Because of you, this girl and so many others have a new chance at life where they have the choice and opportunity to become whatever they desire. We are wishing you all a new year just as filled with love, great acts of kindness, and the opportunity to live whatever life – ordinary or extraordinary – you choose for yourself. Happy New Year!