By Chloe Banks
Bethel China is an organization that provides foster care and education for children in China from orphanages who are blind or visually impaired. When it started 10 years ago, the founders had no experience with working with children with visual impairments, but they felt that children needed extra love, care and education than what was being provided for in the orphanages at the time.
What started with 3 children moving into a family’s house, has grown into five projects, including four sites around China for home and education and one orphan prevention project.
Bethel China takes in orphans who live in institutionalized care. Most of these children have been living in an orphanage for a period of time, abandoned as a result of their visual impairment. Children arrive into Bethel’s care with different eye issues and different levels of development but they all have one thing in common-they need love and they need to feel safe.
Bethel has seen children blossom! Each child lives in a home with 6-8 other children and 2-3 mamas (caregivers). They follow a daily routine with breakfast and dinner at home and school during the day. Each child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP): for babies this may involve learning to walk and speak; for pre-schoolers, learning to recognize fruit and animals by touch; and for older kids, learning to read and write in Braille.
Bethel is committed to each of the children who come into their care, whether they are 6 months old or 13 years old and until they become an adult. They believe strongly that these children have the ability to lead independent lives as equal members of society once they are older.
In China, there are very few resources available for a parent to care for their child who is visually impaired. Websites such as WonderBaby.org and Pinterest do not exist to share information and ideas, and parents lack community and support. Schools often refuse entry to blind children, citing a number of excuses.
As a result, parents often do not know how to teach their kids to walk or do simple life skills. They don’t know if their child can have sight-restoring surgery or where they can go to school. For parents who keep their blind children, this is a courageous move, and they need support!
For the past few years, Bethel China has been developing materials in the Chinese language to support caregivers and teachers of blind children. In the form of a manuals, web posts, forums and videos, these materials are the first of their kind in China. Their education team also runs 3-4 trainings each year for parents and teachers, which have been growing in attendance. Click here to visit their Parent Support Page and Education Corner aimed at Chinese parents with a VI child (translated into English).
The community of parents with a visually impaired child that has been built in the past year has been extraordinary. Parents are supporting each other and encouraging one another, organizing conferences and inviting Bethel’s Education team to attend. Parents who were lost and despairing say they now feel hopeful that their child can have a great future.
So… How Can You Help?
Bethel China is working to build up a network of support from a community of parents with VI children outside of China.
- Volunteer: Bethel has a number of volunteer positions based in China and at home, especially for (but not limited to) those with experience with special education and visual impairment. As well as working directly with kids in China, there also opportunities to support Bethel China by being involved in child advocacy and in developing materials for their orphan prevention. Visit the volunteer page for more information.
- Sponsor a Child: Child sponsorship is a great way to support Bethel by a monthly donation, and to keep you in touch with the children. You can choose a child to connect with and follow their progress. Perhaps you can chose a child who is the same age as your child, or sit down with your family and pick a child to sponsor together.
- Raise Awareness: Raising awareness basically just means “encouraging others!” This can be done by hosting an event or a dinner with an auction or presentation about Bethel China or children with visual impairments, or it may even just be at the school gate talking to another parent about visual impairments. All of these things help to normalise visual impairment and show what amazing things kids can do!