Last week, some classmates and I had a chance to visit Bethel’s Doudian foster home in Fangshan District. Though willing to help, we were also a bit hesitant and apprehensive since we did not know what to expect from an orphanage for blind and visually-impaired children. In the end, we were all pleasantly surprised – both by the children and Bethel itself.
When we arrived at Doudian, we were warmly welcomed by Bethel Development Manager Chloe Banks. She gave us an introduction to the campus and of the history of the orphanage before leading us to see the children and the classrooms.
First of all, the Doudian campus was much bigger than we expected. The children live in groups of six on average in different houses. This is designed to create a family environment, with 24-hour care. The building with the classrooms and the canteen was located not too far from the houses.
There was a great environment at Bethel, featuring pictures of the children outside every classroom, spacious and illuminated learning spaces, and all the learning material the children need – most of it bought abroad. The teachers and the assistants must all undergo training with Bethel before meeting the children.
The campus also has a farm, with the goal of becoming self-sustaining and respectful to the environment, as well as giving the children a space to play in.
The kids at Doudian are all either infants or primary school students. The campus currently houses around 40 kids. They were all extremely familiar with the campus and moved around or played with an ease that I did not expect.
Bethel was founded by a French couple, Guillaume and Delphine Gauvin, when they first came to China in 2002. Their aim was to find a vulnerable group that needed specialized help. After working in orphanages and foster homes, they singled out blind children in China as one of the groups that needed the most help.
In 2003, the Gauvins started a foster care project with just three children. The project kept growing until 2008, when it moved to Fangshan District. Here, Delphine and Guillaume were able to get in touch with other orphanage and help even more children.
The vision of Bethel is “Independent, visually-impaired orphans living a fulfilling life as equal members of society.” To that end, Bethel runs several projects:
There is Project 555, which aims to help 5,000 children in 500 orphanages in 5 years. Bethel wants to be a model for other orphanages, as blind and visually-impaired children often have little access to care and education. Bethel also provides support and training for parents of blind or visually-impaired kids.
Love Is Blind is Bethel’s foster program, which currently includes four sites: Doudian Campus (for infants and primary school students), Beijing City Life Project (a partnership with the Beijing School for the Blind in Haidian District, in which children learn independent skills), the Zhengzhou Project (part of Project 555, Bethel supports the Zhengzhou Orphanage in caring for blind and visually-impaired children), and the Lighthouse Project (started in October 2012, this is a home that cares for multi-disabled blind orphans).
At the moment, Bethel looks after more than 70 orphans and is staffed by 120 employees. The organization is always looking for more help, donations and volunteers. Volunteers with specialized knowledge are particularly needed, but those who would like to regularly visit the orphanages and play with the children are always more than welcome.
The best way to help these children is through adoption, but another great is sponsorship. An amount of RMB 250 per month covers all daily expenses, including food, clothes, books, and therapy. You’ll be updated on the child’s progress, classes, and life in general. You even have the opportunity to meet and regularly visit them to build up a relationship. Through these visits, the child can also learn more about the outside world and exercise their social skills.
Sponsoring a child can change his/her life. Not only will they get the best care and education, but they’ll know that someone cares about them outside of Bethel if you visit them, play with him, and show interest in their life.
People are sometimes scared of children with disabilities, but seeing these kids first-hand, I understood myself that they were just normal kids. Above all, they just want to have fun and be loved.
To find out more about Bethel’s kids and programs, “like” Bethel’s Facebook page (VPN needed) or visit their website.
Photos courtesy of Bethel