On June 16th, students from Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) along with parents, teachers and a WISS graduate visited the School for Disabled Children in Qingpu as part of an event in partnership with the Giving Tree Project. Giving Tree Project is run through The Community Center (www.communitycenter.cn). They are exploring further opportunities to engage with communities that would benefit from relationship with international school communities.
The School for Disabled Children is a rehabilitation center serving children ages 2-18 years old with a wide range of severity of disabilities. Some cannot walk, some cannot talk, and some cannot do both. Most of their parents don’t know how to take care of their children because they have limited knowledge about their child’s disorder due to the lack of public education and exposure.
WISS alumnus, Oriol Casanovas Ortega (Class of 2016) also attended this event. He recently finished his first year studying medicine at Barts and The London School of Medicine. Oriol finds joy in giving to others which is evident in his reflection below.
What made you decide to join the event at the School for Disabled Children?
I decided to join WISS in this event with the disabled children for one main reason. The reason being that since I joined university, I have not participated in community and service which used to be part of my weekly live here in China as an active member of the Saturday School program at WISS. As Mr. Cucinello (former Director of Community and Service at WISS) once told me “We can only really love when we give in to others. It’s the memories of our accomplishments that we will see in our last breath,” and I feel that giving to the less fortunate community was one of my greatest accomplishments while at WISS. Community and Service is also important for a more selfish cause. According to the “5 ways of Mental Wellbeing” published by the United Kingdom’s Government Office for Science, one of the steps to mental wellbeing is “Giving in to others”. Giving makes us feel good about ourselves and helps us deal with stress. It lifts up our mood and improves our mental state in many other ways. I used to think that my greatest accomplishment at WISS was my good grades, but as life in university goes on, my grades are no longer my greatest accomplishment, they become “irrelevant” in a way. What I cherish most are the friends I made, giving to the community through service (e.g. Saturday School) and the skills I learned through these projects.
What were your feelings and thoughts as you worked with these children?
It’s one thing to read about autism and understanding the signs and symptoms and practice guidelines, and another is actually dealing with sufferers. The aim of the activity we did was to help the kids create something they can be proud of and take care of it, so the activity consisted of painting pots and planting a plant. Simple, right? Well not as much as you might think. The kid I worked with in conjunction to two other WISS students suffered from autism. He was 4 years old. Based on the Denver Developmental Screening Test he should be able to draw circles and start to draw simple people. However, in our group we had to constantly come up with new ideas to find a way in which he would actively paint his pot. At one point the kid, with his low attention span, picked up some wrapping material and started to hit it with the brush. So we thought, if we can substituted the pot with the wrapping material he could paint like Jackson Pollock. It actually took us a little over 30 minutes to accomplish such a substitution. However, every kid in the room suffered in a different way, some were more playful than others, some did not want to interact with us and remained with their care taker. This verified one statement given to us during our training, “You know one kid with autism, you know one kid with autism”. Once we left I was talking with some people about how hard it was dealing with the children just the one afternoon we were with them, so imagine how hard and how much effort the caretakers must give to take care of these kids every day.
As a WISS graduate, what are your thoughts about WISS students and community service?
At my time at WISS I saw WISS teachers, parents and WISS students take a very active role in community service especially with helping the less fortunate. It might have been through a the trip to Cambodia or South Africa, or locally at Saturday School or bake sales or some other charitable cause – I think WISS and its students are very proud of taking on so much community service and representing the school while doing it. It’s important for the same reason I quoted Mr. Cucinello before, “We can only really love when we give to others”.