But the process is full of barriers as the children's families and schools are reluctant to recognize their capabilities. When a retarded girl succeeded in cooking a fried egg in a program held inside her community, she was so exuberant that she wanted to perform it at home. But her enthusiasm was soon dampened by her mother's curt refusal who told her not to trouble the family any more.
Discrimination against people with disabilities is everywhere, despite the fast growing economy which is the powerful driving force behind the incredible modernization of the country. However, this transformation seems only to play externally, as mentally and physically challenged people are being left behind.
"I know some parents try to put their retarded children into ordinary schools in hopes of making them better understand society," said Xie, "but the reality turns out to be disastrous." According to the veteran social worker, some teachers will even tell the retarded child that they would never treat him or her like a human being.
A social worker and a handicapped person work together to cross a creek. [Courtesy of Pudong Association of Social Workers]
"I understand people nowadays are living under great stress, such as those teachers, whose jobs are evaluated by the marks of their students," Xie said. "But how about the children?"
Looking at their children's cruel surroundings and worrying about their future, the social workers in Pudong are taking action. They organized an activity for the children to hike into mountains in suburban Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, to cook, clean and learn how to take care of each other.
"There are a couple of children in wheelchairs who seldom come out of their rooms," Xie recalled. "Their parents protested strongly when we persuaded the children to join us without the parents as companions."
The social workers didn't relent, visiting families to persuade parents to allow the children to join their planned activities. During the negotiations with parents, Xie found most of the children to be pacified ― they repeated what their parents said and seldom held an independent thought.
"The two sides finally compromised," Xie said, "We allowed their parents to join us, but they were placed in separate groups from their children." Yet the trip became a turning point as the parents found they could enjoy momentary freedom without the worries and concerns of taking care of their children. The kids also managed well on wheels en route without much help.