Back in China

I have settled back well into life here in China and in some ways it feels like I haven't been gone for all this time. This is now my third week volunteering at the orphanage and each day is busy and full of various tasks and activities. As a reminder, I recently finished my studies to become an Occupational Therapist, a profession which supports people to carry out daily activities which they need to, want to or are expected to do each day. OTs can work with the full lifespan of babies to older adults and those with physical, learning, mental health or other difficulties. ICC here has 160 children and young people with all sorts of physical and learning disabilities who have experienced a whole range of trauma. OTs therefore have a huge scope for supporting these children and young people to live life to the full, and support the goal of ICC to bring love, hope and opportunity.

So what have I been doing so far?
Reconnecting: first and foremost I have been reconnecting with the children and staff here. In China relationships are so important and it is important to spend time getting to know people first. It has been lovely to see some happy faces in welcoming me back and that lots of the children have been adopted.

Wheelchairs, wheelchairs and more wheelchairs... A lot of the children and young people here use wheelchairs due to their disabilities. The wheelchairs are for a whole range of needs such as mobility or complex postural support. As would be expected, due to wear & tear and the children growing, parts can break or need to be adjusted a lot. Some need small and quick adjustments (such as fixing a break or side support) while others need complex problem solving to figure out how to best support their bodies and positions. There is an OT visiting from Canada and a long term Physio from the UK who I have been working closely with. There is also a wheelchair engineer visiting on a short term team so we have been using his skills to fix the more difficult chairs.

Problem solving sensory needs: Some of the children/young people have sensory difficulties which means they have difficulty receiving and interpreting the sensory information that their brain receives. This can manifest in many ways and may mean they are overly sensitive to what is going on around them or may mean they need a lot more input than they are receiving. One particular boy here has been exhibiting some unusual behaviours which may reflect seeking extra sensory input, but it is also mixed with being medically unwell recently and in hospital, and early childhood trauma before he came to ICC. This reflects the needs here which have so many different factors. We are working hard with the local therapists and caregivers to help find what this boy needs.

Fixing a communication (speech generating) device for one boy who is non-verbal (unable to speak) but very bright and has a lot to say. This boy needs a lot of support to learn how to use the device to communicate with others as currently he is reliant on those around him to understand his basic signs and gestures. This is like learning a new language, learning to communicate with a device, where on the app different words and phrases are stored and to use it quickly and effectively. It will take consistent and constant reinforcement by all around him to be effective and to open his world.

Fun there is always time for fun amongst the business. Last week I had the opportunity to teach some of the children to play boccia, a game similar to bowls. It is an activity which nearly anyone can play as it can be adapted to include a shoot (like in bowling) for people who cannot throw. This went down really well!

To sum it all up - I have been kept busy so far with lots more to do over the next few weeks. I am really happy to be back and feel very privileged. Thanks to those who have supported and encouraged me in coming back and for your prayers. Please pray for the leaders here and for the children we are working with and for wisdom for how to support them.

Get in touch if you have any questions about what I am doing or the organisation I am with.

Returning to China 2018 (take 8)

Seven years ago today, having just finished secondary school, I embarked on what I thought would be a rewarding two week trip to China to volunteer at a summer camp for orphans. Little did I know that those two weeks would change my life (sorry, I know that's so cliché!). In the past seven years I have been on seven trips to China, lasting from two weeks to seven months in length. I have invested in and worked with four different NGOs/charities who run summer camps, foster homes and support government orphanage projects. I have also completed my undergraduate degree and am soon to qualify as an Occupational Therapist with a Masters degree. It sounds like a lot when written in a few sentences but the overarching story is that I went on a trip to China, saw and experienced things I couldn't forget and my faith has urged and inspired me to act.

On this note, following completion of my Occupational Therapy degree in September, I am returning to China for two months, following a two and a half year hiatus. I left in April 2016, after spending 7 months with International China Concern in Hunan Province, to embark on the next step, to become an OT. Whilst at the time it seemed like an awfully long period of time of not being able to return, it has flown by. So I now return, as an Occupational Therapist, with new insights and perspectives, new skills and, but with the same passion and drive.

I will be in China for about 9 weeks and will stay for the majority of that time in Hunan Province with International China Concern. I will be reconnecting with the children, young people and staff I was with two years ago help in various ways, with the potential to use my new Occupational Therapy skills. More info to come closer to the time.

I am ready to get back!

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today I woke up early and boarded a train to Hengyang. Sitting on the train I had a mix of nerves and anticipation with an overriding sense of peace. I was about to embark on the most incredible, challenging and rewarding experience. Sitting on the train I had no idea how rich those experiences would be.

My first view arriving in Hengyang...
Living my dream, in the country that feels like home, living and working in a new city with all new people and forming lifelong friendships, serving and working with inspiring and amazing people and children. Being in the heart of China for a longer than before, where no two days were the same.

Dealing with injustice everyday, working in a project very different from what I had worked with before (much bigger and with a much more varied and complex set of needs), coping with death, frustrating situations we cannot change, missing home. To name just a few.

However, despite many challenges there were so many rewarding experiences and relationships. I learned so much, from those around me and the experiences I had and also about myself. I feel I got a much clearer glimpse at what it is like to live and serve in China, more than summer trips allow. I saw the huge need for people to commit to being there long term and I felt even more called and sure that I will return. I grew in my faith and ability to trust God in the good and difficult times...

Christmas Day walk with the amazing team I worked with and learned from!
I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spent 7 months there and am now ready for the next step. Next week I am moving to London to start a Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy. The course is 2 years long with 4 different practice placements. I can't wait for all that I will learn. Occupational Therapists have skills and expertise that is so needed and useful in working with children with disabilities. 

A Snapshot of My Fun and Sunny Week!

It's been a relatively cold winter having to wear lots of layers every day. This past week we had a week full of beautiful blue skies and hot weather just in time for Chinese New Year (CNY)! On Sunday evening to mark Chinese New Years Eve we let off some fireworks at the ICC Centre as a fun show for the kids. They all gathered on the balconies by their bedrooms in each of their homes and watched as they went off. That evening and night, all across the city and country people let off fireworks and bangers so we had to sleep with ear plugs to get some sleep!

After a very busy last week and weekend, and a night of waking up a lot, I took the morning off to catch up on sleep and to rest. In the afternoon I went out to the community group homes to wish them a Happy New Year {新年快乐 /Xīnnián kuàilè}. We took new family photos of the kids there with their caregivers. There are 8 boys in the boys home and 8 girls in the girls home and each home has 3 caregivers who were all there for the photo. We will print the photos out and put them up in their living rooms, just as any family does! We then had a big dinner with them to celebrate the New Year! 

 In the evening I took the boys out to the river to watch the fireworks!

We had beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine! It was the perfect opportunity to take the kids at the centre outside to play. As it was the week of CNY, there was no therapy or classes. In the morning I helped one of the caregivers skype a boy who was adopted in September and his family. She had cared for him as long as he was in ICC's care and missed him a lot, and the family was happy to do the call! It went really well and the caregiver was so happy to see how much the boy had grown. In the morning I took one of the boys out to clean out the fish pond, which had gotten disgusting! 

In the afternoon we took a few of the boys who use wheelchairs out to the playground, using a wheelchair myself! The boys found it so exciting to see Luke and I in spare wheelchairs and it certainly showed us which areas of the building and playground are easy and difficult to maneuver around!  We played in the 'musical garden', checked out the fish and went on the wheelchair swing! These boys all have Cerebral Palsy, a condition that affects muscle movement and motor skills, so these boys four limbs are affected. It's important to encourage them to be as independent as possible, so we try to get them to wheel themselves as much as possible!

In the morning Luke (my house mate who is an Occupational Therapist) and I took two of the younger boys to one of the sensory rooms. I was mostly with one of the younger boys who has Down Syndrome and tried to get him to crawl across the room and we played with some of the sensory toys. Later in the morning we brought the boys back out to the playground but gave their caregiver a spare wheelchair to use. We wanted her to experience what the children in her care do every day. It was really fun! She found it really tiring but the kids loved it and found it so funny!!

In the afternoon I had to finish off the sponsorship update photos with just a few kids left out of the 160 kids in ICC's care in Hengyang! It was a big job but enjoyable too! One of the boys came with me to take the few baby photos that were left to do and he loved getting to see the younger kids that he wouldn't normally have time for being in class and therapy.

In the morning I helped some of the older boys, from the woodwork class I help with, put together some wooden benches. It was really just screwing the legs and making them stable but the boys had fun doing it! It was a great opportunity to put what they had been practicing into real life. 

Over lunchtime Anna, Luke and I took one of the older more independent boys out for lunch to a local restaurant to treat him for CNY! In the afternoon Luke ran a therapy session for three of the boys mentioned above who have CP. It was great being able to help through translating and working with them one-on-one. We did fine motor activities first using hands such as pegs and cups, jigsaws and shaving foam! We then moved onto more gross motor activities with a sort of obstacle course, pulling themselves on a wheel board, then pulling themselves onto a bench and crawling across before finally crawling through a tunnel. The boys did so well and though needing lots of encouragment were very determined to do it themselves. They were certainly all tired by the end of it! It was great session to sit in on before I study Occupational Therapy from September, and makes me excited and sure this is the right path to be taking.

I spent the full day at the Community Group Homes, mostly taken up with helping them wash their own wheelchairs. Two of the girls use wheelchairs and four of the boys do. It was a nice hot day so perfect for this as they dried quickly too! In the afternoon we played with lego. I was certainly tired after a busy week! 

It was a brilliant week, more relaxed than usual but full of fun activities and sunshine, which makes everything here much easier! It was a much needed break from the cold!

Big catch-up (1)!

I won't attempt to share everything that has happened since I last posted. I neither have time to dedicate to that nor would anyone have time to read that much. Instead, I will try to give a brief overview of what I've been doing over the past few months. I've really settled in here in Hengyang and feel at home now. Though I said this too in my last post, it now feels more like home than I ever thought it would. It hurts me thinking of leaving in less than three months, even though I know it's what I have to do in the long-term, but more about that in the next post.

Hengyang River (taken at a warmer time...)

Since I've been here, and on every trip to China, there has been a mix of both ups and downs. Ups such as being able to see progress being made with the kids as they learn to be more independent or a child being matched for adoption, and lows such as feeling overwhelmed with all that needs to be done and trying to find a place to fit into that. In November I had a tough few weeks where I was feeling far away from home, and in some ways ready to leave. It wasn't that anything major happened to cause this or that anything particularly bad was even happening. It was a big mix of things like not feeling I had enough of a role here, feeling overwhelmed with certain things. The honeymoon period was long gone where everything was new and seemes amazing. I got through this and it resulted in feeling so much more comfortable here and secure. God used that time to grow me in many ways and since that I have been able to experience so many amazing things.
There are no shortcuts to any place worth going - Beverly Sills. 

Now to share some of the highlights. Time goes by very quickly, particularly December. We celebrated 10 years of ICC being in Hengyang with a big party and ceremony with lots of the kids performing. As volunteers we also had to do something and for some very strange reason we decided to dance in animal onsies to 'The Fox Song/What Does the Fox Say?'. Don't ask why! We had to practice lots and performe it in front of many people!

In our costumes at the 10 year celebration! (only in China!)

Christmas was approaching quickly and the weekend before we hosted the whole ICC in-China team here in Hengyang for a weekend celebration. On the Saturday Luke and I hosted 26 people for a traditional Christmas dinner (we cooked the turkey and others brought the other dishes!). It was a fun time seeing people I had met before and meeting and connecting with many new people. The week of Christmas was hectic with many different Christmas parties for the different kids. Each child (and young person) attended a Christmas party and received a gift - it was really special. I was really impressed with how the parties were run, being done over three days. The first day was for the children who have more severe disabilities. We did the nativity story and had them sitting in a circle and engaging as much as possible through song and different senses (visual, smell, touch, taste, sound...). The next day was for the babies and toddlers which was full of singing and games and circle time. The third and final day, on Christmas Eve was for all of the other children and young people. Some got to dress up as either wise men or angels and others got to perform. For the first and third days I was Joseph! That week we also were invited to two lunches with both local district leaders and city officials. We got to see a different side of Hengyang at one of the best restaurants.

Two of our meals with local officials!
On Christmas Eve, after the parties and carol singing, I went out to the community group homes, where I spend up to have of each week, and took one of the boys out to buy some pizza for both the boys and the girls. It was fun taking him out to do that and to then eat pizza with the kids on Christmas Eve to celebrate specifically with them.  Then on Christmas day it was just our team - 8 of us for Christmas lunch and we played games and had lots of fun. It was very strange being away from home at Christmas for the first time but it was a very special time too. We then had a relaxing weekend together watching movies, eating more food and playing games.

Pizza and Chinese dishes for Christmas Eve with community group home kids.

Christmas Day dinner!

In the next post I will share more about the day to day things I have been involved with.