Ruhai and Nanny Zhang

Ruhai: From Blank Slate to Happy Little Boy

In an orphanage in China a 4-month-old baby boy named Ruhai was lying quietly in his crib, watched over by his new nanny, Zhang Yanfen. He would never know the love of his real parents, but Zhang was determined to do her best to help fill that void.

She observed the child, mesmerized by his chubby little face, which, to her, had the appearance of a blank slate. He registered no emotion as she knelt down next to him, introducing herself.

“Sweetheart, nice to meet you. From now on, I am your Mama. I promise I will often take you out and play with you. Can I hug you?” she asked, touching him gently.

Ruhai remained silent but looked at her curiously with his mouth slightly upward, exposing the most beautiful dimples Zhang had ever seen. “But he turned away quickly. He didn’t have any feelings towards me. Neither attachment, nor resistance,” she said.

Still, Zhang greeted Ruhai with a friendly smile, then cuddled him. The moment her hands felt his warmth and weight, she immediately fell in love with Ruhai. Though it took time for him to learn to love her back.

Thanks to her OneSky training, Zhang had become educated about the importance of early bonding and attachment to a child’s development. According to Alice Wong, OneSky’s Chief Programs Officer, Global: “When a caregiver provides loving responsive care to a child, they are teaching the child to trust you and others, as well as themselves, to communicate, explore, and discover the world in which they live.”

Ruhai and Nanny Zhang bondOver time, with Zhang’s consistent love and care, Ruhai came out of his shell emotionally and thrived, reaching age-appropriate physical developmental milestones. By the time he was 7 months old, after working with Zhang on various exercises during playtime, he was able to lift up his upper body while lying on his stomach.

Because of Zhang’s responsive nurturing, Ruhai’s sense of security had increased. For instance, when Ruhai showed interest in something, be it a toy or the surroundings, Zhang told him what it was used for and encouraged him to give it a try. Zhang would praise him for his accomplishments, even the smallest one.

Zhang said she will never forget how, when he was about a year old, he began to call her “Mama,” very distinctly. From then on, every time he saw her, he would open his arms, saying “Mama, Mama” aloud and couldn’t wait to run into Zhang’s warm arms.

Reading togetherBy the time Ruhai turned two, he was very comfortable playing in OneSky’s Infant Activity Room, where caregivers help young children by creating a rich environment with diverse stimuli. Ruhai particularly liked to wander around the book area and fetch his favorite books.

“Mama, read this book!” he would say to Zhang, who he had known since being a baby. The two would then cuddle up and read together, with Zhang teaching him the beginning skills of learning to read. Sitting on her lap, with a well-loved book in his hands, his self-confidence improved as well as his language and cognitive development.

Ruhai and Nanny ZhangBy the time Ruhai turned three, he had moved onto live in a foster home near the orphanage as part of OneSky’s Loving Family Program, so he could experience the joy of family-like love, with new siblings and two dedicated parents, determined to give him a second chance at childhood.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, for a time, the orphanage’s activity room was closed and Ruhai was unable to come and see Zhang, as usual. So, she recorded some lessons for his foster mom to play for him and arranged to video chat with him by cellphone.

Ruhai called out to Zhang excitedly over the screen: “Mama, come back soon. I miss you so much!”

With teary eyes, Zhang comforted him. After hanging up the phone, she realized how vulnerable children are during times of crises. “We should continue to give them love and the nurturing they need to grow,” she said.

Ruhai returns to the playroomLuckily, for her and little Ruhai, the lockdown was finally lifted; the activity room opened again. As soon as Ruhai saw his “Mama Zhang” as he approached the familiar playroom, he ran towards her, his eyes filled with joy.

Zhang could see that he was now a very happy, adjusted little boy, with a family to call his own — his old days of being a blank slate long forgotten!

This year, we need your help more than ever to make a difference for more children like Ruhai. Please donate today.

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By Louis Luo, Communications Manager, China