This is a continued feature multi-part blog post written by our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren. Alanna will be blogging about her recent experience flying off to China as the leader of the People-to-People Psychiatric Services and Developmental Disabilities Delegation. Every Tuesday and Friday, we will be posting about her journey in China, the developmental services offered there, and the people there. To read part 4, follow this link.
The next day, we visited the Fengtai Lazhi Rehabilitation Center in Beijing. Founded in August, 2000, the Center is a grass-roots non-profit that provides services to mentally disabled people. Many community members are employees of the Feng Xo Bei Li Railroad. There are spaces available for 80 students to focus on four major areas: family life, community integration, vocational skills and leisure activities. The Center is co-sponsored by a ‘civil society’ group in Canada through the Canadian Embassy who also helped the students participate in and watch the Paralympics.
Madame Xiao is the director of the Center and very proud of their accomplishments in such a short period of time. She was particularly happy with the high praise received from the Chairman of the CDPF. There is a residential school component for 50 adults where a daily curriculum and life skills training are provided. Over the past few years they provided students with employment opportunities, recreation programs, physical exercise, baking and cooking classes, self-reliance training, entertainment and summer recreation programs. In the last 9 years over 600 students have received education and training, with over 500 returning to their home communities, more than 10 getting married, 6 having their own children and 60 successfully employed. Madame Xiao is particularly proud that she now has ‘grandchildren’.
Of their present students, 10 have autism and over 20 have multiple disabilities. Volunteers from the community are heavily utilized by the center. Every second Sunday in May is “Assisting the Handicapped Day” in Beijing, when people with disabilities participate in public awareness activities that encourage people to think of ways they can help the disabled. Taxi drivers donate their time to transport clients around Beijing, art students will help teach art and gain exposure at art exhibits, and others offer training in catering, gardening, manufacturing, house-keeping, janitorial, grocery, rrestaurant work, dumpling-making and other vocational skills. One of their students was the employee of the year at a European grocery chain store. Others work at flower shops, hotpot restaurants and in housekeeping jobs.
For those who require sheltered work, the center has a small cafeteria and kitchen that teachers cooking and baking. Another small workshop produces hand-cut plasticine roses that are very life-like and pretty. Their goal is to prepare their students for work and community life.
Since the government passed a law in 2008 to provide more financial support for 0 – 7 year-olds under the Poverty Alleviation Program, Madame Xiao has ventured into children’s services. They opened a kindergarten last June with the benefit of considerable financial donations from the community, many volunteers and a reasonable subsidy for each family.
Staff ratios are 1 – 3, teachers to students. Staff at the Center are all college graduates who specialize in various areas, all have teacher’s certificates in special education and some have certificates in social work. Nurses work at an on-site clinic. Madame Xiao herself used to be an architect, but 33 years ago, there was a huge earthquake outside of Beijing where she assisted in rescue efforts. She saw a lot of physically multilated, disabled and brain injured people and was so touched by their challenges that she changed careers to help them. At first, only teens were referred from their schools to the Center, but now they have a website and a waitlist because their facility is #1.
It was impossible not to understand Madame Xiao’s passion in spite of the language barrier. Our guide did not need to interpret her pride in her staff and students and the many accomplishments of the people she supported. Despite being located ina lower-rent district of Beijing, her Center provided an oasis of professionalism and calm where everyone’s contributions were appreciated and valued. We all seemed to understand each other, heart-to-heart.