By Anne Gerber, Occupational Therapist, with Ronni Rowland, Writer
Over five years ago, I began volunteering at Shanghai Huaxin Rehabilitation and Education Institution for Disabled Children, which was established in 2004 and is located in Shanghai’s Qingpu District. A German friend of mine, a physical therapist, invited me to join her, and I’ve been volunteering ever since.
Meet the Children
Huaxin Center serves children ranging in age from a few months to eighteen years old, and over five hundred children have been helped so far! Children at the center have a range of conditions, including autism, cerebral palsy, or mental and other disorders of the central nervous system. Some receive treatments three to five times a week; others who live farther away may come for a few months and stay near the center for ongoing treatments.
Two doctors and several therapists provide Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy, early education, and TCM treatments, like acupuncture and tuina (a special massage). Once a year, the center also invites a certified Bobath Therapist from Germany, who provides Bobath training to the local therapists at the center and to other therapists throughout China. (Bobath is a multidisciplinary approach to rehabilitation that promotes motor learning for efficient functioning and control in various environments.)
My Work at Huaxin Center
I normally volunteer once a month, supporting the local therapists in the areas of Occupational Therapy and Sensory Integration. A “typical day” begins at 9:00 am, and most of the time, we see five to eight children in the morning. With the help of an interpreter, a local therapist introduces each child and explains their health problems and learning goals. Then, we work with each child and share new treatment ideas with the local therapists. Following the sessions, we also talk to parents about how they can provide support.
In the beginning, the standards at the center were quite low. The few toys we had for working with the children were broken or incomplete. So we worked together with the local therapists and showed them how they could use simple toys to provide treatments and organize the materials and rooms. Now, when we come to the center, it is well organized. We also showed therapists how to create treatment records for each child, so when one therapist leaves the center, new therapists can continue with the appropriate treatments. That’s also happening now.
Living as a foreigner in Shanghai isn’t always easy, but I think my life is much easier than the lives of the families I see at the center. So I think it is good to give something back to the community where I live.
Volunteers – medical and non-medical, international and Chinese, individuals and groups –play an important role at Huaxin. Volunteers are needed for therapists, teachers or adults who are experienced with children. If you would like more information about how to volunteer or offer much needed financial support, please contact Ellen Loasby via email: [email protected].