- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

WESTLAKE, La. (AP) - Just a few weeks ago, Xiao (pronounced SHEE-ow) Nan, 12, was living in an orphanage in China. After arriving at the home of Michael and Katie Manuel of Westlake, she embraced life in Southwest Louisiana and developed a fondness for gumbo.

The Manuel family hosted Xiao, who has Down syndrome, for several weeks with the goal of helping her find a permanent home with an adoptive family in the U.S. But the Manuel family decided to adopt her.

“It’s not an option for this precious girl made from God to go without a family,” said Katie, who works as an adoption consultant. “That’s just not acceptable to me.”

Xiao is from Xining, a city in Qinghai Province that has a population of 1.3 million. She has been living at the Xining Children’s Welfare Institute, the only orphanage in Qinghai that allows international adoption.

While hosting Xiao, the Manuels said they quickly became attached, but their home was already full with five children, ages 3-12. They have three biological children, a son they adopted from China, and another son they adopted who also has Down syndrome.

“Regarding whether we would have considered adopting Xiao, we prayed about it and continued to be in prayer as we sought God’s will for our family,” Katie said. “We realized that we simply couldn’t live without her, so we are moving forward to adopt this sweet girl and make her a part of our family forever.”

Although Xiao has Down syndrome, Katie said it “does not define her.”

“She is very smart and does speak some English,” she said. “She’s also very funny, loves to pretend she’s sneezing, likes to dance, enjoys being around people, and really loves noodles, oranges, bacon and Chinese Pringles.”

Xiao turned 12 during her time in Westlake, and the family celebrated her birthday with a cake, manicures and a dinner out. She also enjoyed Christmas with the Manuel family, with her favorite gift being matching luggage.

During her short time here, Xiao visited several local doctors. Dr. Philip Moses, a pediatric dentist, Dr. Mudar Kattash, a pediatric cardiologist, and Dr. Keith Menard, an optometrist, all donated their services.

“What we have found is that she is amazingly healthy,” Katie said. “In the past, she did have heart surgery, but the doctor said everything looks great.”

The biggest concern the Manuels had was that Xiao could have aged out before finding a family. Children in China who live in orphanages or are being fostered age out of the system at 14.

“I didn’t want that to happen to Xiao, so time really was of the essence,” Katie said. “She is very loving and affectionate, and we have really been enjoying our time with her.”

When someone in the Manuel family would do something that Xiao approved of, she was fond of saying, “Good job,” Katie said, and she kept the family smiling and on its toes.

Recently, Xiao returned to China, where she will stay for a few months while her adoption paperwork is completed.

“There are several adoption agencies that have hosting programs, and these are designed so that people can have an opportunity to advocate for these children and give them a chance to be seen, which can increase the odds that they will be adopted,” Katie said. “We are connected with an agency called Great Wall Adoptions, and they have a winter hosting program, which is how we were able to be matched with Xiao.”

When Xiao returns to the United States she will have a new family, and she will also have a new name - Hannah Lin.

“She’s no longer an orphan,” Katie said. “She is too special, softhearted, and loving to not have a family. It was very easy to fall in love with her.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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