In May 2014, three staff members from Olivia’s Place, Heidi Gao (Assistant General Manager), Angela Gong (Speech-Language Pathologist), and Lis Ringrose (Physical Therapist/Clinical Director), spent three days at a children’s welfare center in Inner Mongolia, working alongside staff who are currently assisting the welfare center by helping to train staff and develop their practices. The welfare center is home to more than 200 children, from infants up to the age of 18, some of whom are developing normally and others who have diagnoses such as cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, cleft palate, and children with sensory needs. The orphanage works with an organization that provides supplemental resources in the form of staff training, infant formula, and additional staffing. They have collaborated and formed a model room with a lower staff to child ratio for children with more complex special needs who require more care.
During their trip, our team trained local therapists and ayis (caregivers). Due to the high child to staff ratio at the center, Lis and Angela focused on training the local therapists in group therapy techniques to provide support for the greatest number of children in the therapists’ limited time. Lis helped the therapists create a positioning program to work with six to eight children in a group where the children would rotate to a different position at set intervals. Once the children were positioned in their groups, Angela showed the therapists that language activities can be implemented while the children are in their positions. The local therapy team appreciated that positioning and speech goals could be targeted simultaneously and with a group of children.
Our team came away with wonderful memories from their trip. This was Heidi’s first experience volunteering at a children’s welfare center and she commented that what she will remember most is the experience of working over several days in a group home environment. She worked with a seven month old girl and helped her learn to roll over in just two days, with her attention and support. Lis’ most memorable experience was seeing the welfare center therapists learn to do a group session and realize how many children they could help within the time restrictions they have. For Angela, the most impactful moments were when the local therapists realized that they could simultaneously train positioning with the children while addressing occupational and speech-language therapy goals.
In August 2014, Angela returned to the orphanage because she wanted to ensure sustainability of the work started and she also
missed the children. She spent two days at the orphanage, primarily in the model room with the ayis. The ayis and Angela jointly
created a daily schedule that incorporated activities that promote interaction and gross motor and language skills development. One activity involved rolling a ball between children to promote communication skills while they were in a therapeutic position (e.g., standing while using braces, lying on the tummy to improve trunk control). Another activity involved the children racing to get a prize by crawling, rolling, scooting, or walking). The head ayi commented that she and the other ayis have a great responsibility to care for the children, appreciated the support provided, and felt more equipped to help the children.
How can you help? Therapists can volunteer to travel to Inner Mongolia on one of our team’s future trips as they provide more training. Community members can donate money for much needed therapy equipment. To become involved in this project, please contact Lis Ringrose.