Developmental Disabilities in China: Part 12

This is the last entry to 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 11, click here. To start reading from the beginning of Alanna’s journey in China, click here.

After lunch at the Happiness and Harmony restaurant, we went on to our final professional visit at the “Sunshine Home”. Located in one of Shanghai’s many urban communities, the Sunshine Home “aims to build a community life for the developmentally disabled”. Serving students aged 16 – 35, they provide training in simple housework, rehabilitation, entertainment and help people find jobs in the community.

Our visit began with a tour, conducted by 2 of the students in English. The father of one of the students volunteers to teach the students English, which is a skill some of them hope to use as volunteers or employees during the upcoming Shanghai Expo in 2010. Madame Chen, who operates the center, joined us, beaming with pride at the great job her students were doing. The program offers self-help and pre-vocational skills, Kung Fu, aerobics and Tae Kwon Do. Students all spend time in the fitness center as well.

We visited one class where students were making ornaments. One hallway had the academic work of its students displayed and another room had a case filled with Special Olympics trophies and banners. We saw other students in the computer room, typing in Chinese characters and a room where life-skills were taught. In another room, we were treated to a splendid Kung Fu demonstration by the students. When they insisted that some of us join them, I realized how important it was to be able to understand the leader’s commands, but it was fun. Some of our new friends were top performers at the Special Olympics, with several gold medals between them.

This Sunshine Home opened in July 2005, in a space that was too small. In 2007, with support from District and Municipal governments, they almost doubled their space and expanded to 72 students. Three different groups are supported by the center: 30 attend full time, 6 part-time (when not working in the community), and a group of people with physical disabilities receive home care or visits from volunteers. There are four full time staff. Madame Chen is the administrator and manager (and an inspiration), who is supported by a head teacher, a life-skills teacher and a hygiene teacher. They rely on many volunteers, who seem easier to recruit in China. Factories will sign an agreement with the Sunshine Home to provide volunteers and ECNU also provides support and sends students as volunteers.

Prior to the Sunshine Home, people with developmental disabilities stayed in the home with their families. The goal was to get them out of the house and provide them with educational and behavior programs so the students could show the community their strengths and abilities. Their current mission is to build dignity and self-confidence in their students and they seem to be succeeding wonderfully. Students fall into the mild and moderate range of intellectual disability.

Every morning, everyone spends ½ hour talking about the importance of appropriate behavior, social skills and communication. A big priority at present is learning English in preparation for the 2010 Expo but living skills training, ensuring that each student can cook at least one dish for their family, family planning, sex education and responsibility, rehabilitation training, sports, recreation, singing, dancing and Special Olympics training are also priorities at the Center. In the 7th Special Olympics of Shanghai, Sunshine Home students competed in track and field, badminton, biking and weightlifting. They won two silvers and one gold.

People with behavior problems are trained in appropriate behavior and assigned to another student for role modeling. If the behaviors continue or are extreme, the Center meets with the family and gives them some strategies to implement at home and a warning. If the behavior is too disruptive, then the person can lose their place in the program. They admitted they have a long way to go to fulfill their dream of having a center that’s a “paradise filled with sunshine”.

Referrals are only accepted from their local community, which has a total population of 95,000. Shanghai has 18 administrative districts that are further divided into “communities”. These districts form the focus of an individual’s life, similar to the way villages define one’s identity in rural areas. Births are registered there, social services are centered there, and families generally live close-knit, in close quarters. Their communities, like ours, are noticeably turning grey.

Families volunteer at the Center and reinforce programs at home. Adults receive welfare funding, which is based on where one is born and registered. After the age of 35, adults move on to Adult Day Care and live on welfare – 520 yuan per month (about $160 per month).

There are Sunshine Homes in other districts and they meet once per month for joint training. ECNU provides training to staff and help teach students as well. There is a Sunshine Guiding Center that organizes tours of other provinces and where they learn about fundraising, bigger centers and volunteer mobilization. The Regional Sunshine Guiding Center recruits staff and trains over 200 volunteers per year. Not everyone can be a staff or volunteer, only those with a “heart of love”. The Sunshine Home also had strong ties with the “Citizen’s School” or local community center where locals could study painting, computers, piano, recreation, movies, dancing and offer other senior’s services for very low fees ($0.50). They also have over 100 performance teams or clubs in areas such as T’ai Chi, senior’s fashion, line dancing and music. The clubs compete in tournaments and hold festivals. The Sunshine Home competes in some categories and participates in arts festivals.

The Sunshine Home was so much fun because the students were so engaging and literally ‘moving’. They gave us all little gifts and insisted on group photos before we left, with the volunteer Dad who taught English playing photographer throughout the tour happily obliging. He is a very inspirational man, as is Madame Chen, who is very proud of her students and likely doesn’t take “no” for an answer very often. She has a vision and the ability to make it a reality.

Shanghai is a lot like New York, with non-stop, narrow streets, high buildings, sales, sales, sales, fashion, non-stop action, people and money. It is all about business. Beijing is more like Washington D.C., with priorities like politics, power, research, education, monuments and history. China’s history goes back over 4,000 years, America’s only 233 and Canada’s only 142 years.

When I was packing to come home, I came across a group photo we had taken in Tianamen Square and marveled at what a great time our group had together. On the bus back to our hotel after our farewell dinner, Riley told us that he had toured with many People-to-People professional delegations from many different occupations and, whereas they experienced China through their eyes and ears, what made us different was that we travelled through China with our hearts. He told me one day that being our guide had taught him so much about some great people within his own country that he otherwise would never have met. He also learned a lot about human psychological development and psychiatric practice, as did I. Having outstanding delegates from Canada as well as Belgium, Australia, Germany and the U.S. provided opportunities for many exceptional conversations and more than a few laughs on the journey.


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