There is ample opportunity for therapists working in China to engage in volunteer work. It is a very rewarding experience and sometimes even the main reason why therapists decide to make the move to the Middle Kingdom.
Since starting to work for Olivia’s place I have visited several welfare centers that all had a great need for therapy and support. No two facilities have been the same, each presenting with new and different challenges. Stepping foot into a Chinese welfare center for the first time can be somewhat overwhelming, due to the high concentration of disability and lack of expertise to effectively provide care. I quickly learned to take a step back and address one problem at a time. The challenge is to find a way of providing therapy and ongoing support with the available resources and staff. Therapists are often required to think outside the scope of their profession whilst keeping in mind that not all problems can be solved.
A large part of the work therapists can do in welfare centers is to pass on their expertise and experience to local staff and caretakers, including giving advice on environmental modifications, alternative learning approaches, as well as teaching impairment specific exercises to help the children reach their full potential. However passing on this information can be a challenge in itself. Cultural differences regarding how to support and care for children as well as longstanding habits can sometimes be a barrier toward implementing new strategies and approaches. I learned how important it is to provide teaching and training in a respectful and culturally sensitive way to ensure that the new information will be well-received by the local staff.
A big advantage of working at Olivia’s Place and Eliott’s Corner is having access to a wide array of experience and skill, as well as connections to local specialists and charities. This support network can be a big help when it comes to accessing information regarding specific diagnoses or specialised equipment. One of the first steps towards solving problems encountered in welfare centers is knowing where to go for help. Thanks to this support network I was recently able to help a girl from a welfare center in Luoyang, Henan province get a diagnosis for a rare inherited connective tissue disorder known as Epidermolysis Bullosa (also known as butterfly disease). Despite the poor prognosis for this condition the girl felt empowered, having been shown by specialists how to effectively care for herself. Having access to information and the right equipment, as well as training to use it, can have a big positive impact in a welfare center setting where regular therapeutic input is often limited. More work is needed to streamline access to available equipment and information to help welfare centers improve the quality of care and ultimately maximise the potential of children living there.
Despite the time and effort that is often sacrificed to effectively support the children in Chinese orphanages, the personal development and rewarding experience that therapists receive makes this kind of volunteer work more than worthwhile.