Disabled students shine under Li Fang's guidance

Four years ago, Li Fang joined the Xuhang Sunshine Home with no regrets about giving up a stable career to face the challenge of making a difference in her students' lives.
Gao Yuqing / Ti Gong

Li Fang (left), the director of Xuhang Sunshine Home, guides her student writing Chinese character, aiming to provide skills to the students rather than normal day-care service.

A charity auction of intangible culture heritage artworks was held in Jiading on December 3, the International Day of Disabled Persons, and all the 45 pieces of artwork put up for auction there were made by local disabled people.

Altogether, 85 enterprises from different industries in Jiading placed bids at the auction and all the artworks were soon auctioned off that day.

Among these delicate artworks, there were straw plaiting works created by students at the Sunshine Home in Xuhang Town. The Home accepts local residents with intellectual and mental disability, providing them a campus daycare service.

Four years ago, Li Fang gave up her stable job as a computer specialist in Jiading government to join the Xuhang Sunshine Home and become the director there. It is known to all that working for the disabled calls for a lot of energy and care. Li has faced up to the difficulties and tried her very best to make a difference in her students’ lives.

“Actually, it was a challenge for me to work here because I was a casual person, not considerate enough,” said Li. “Helping my students requires a lot of passion and care, but now it turns out that the job makes a better me.”

When Li first arrived at the Sunshine Home, it was a bit chaotic. The Dashi Village shared the activity room with the Sunshine Home where residents and the disabled students stayed together without any professional teachers to take care of the students. Li had a rough idea that the Sunshine Home should give these disabled students a campus not only for daycare, but also for improving their quality of life.

As a result, Li expanded the campus and set up various classes including writing, reading, singing and arts and crafts. She also applied to the government to paint new crossings and build a bus stop in the front of the Sunshine Home.

“The Sunshine Home is located along the Jiahang Highway where rushing cars and trucks can be hazardous for our students,” Li explained. “Most of the students need go across the road to a bus stop far from here. For the sake of their safety, I proposed the changes.”

Also, students are divided into two classes, the Sunshine for mentally disabled and the Home for intellectually disabled. And Li arranged two adaptive teaching plans through five chapters — recovery, arts and crafts, education, labor and daycare. Every day, Li will check the assignments of Chinese characters writing and math classes.

“People say it is useless to teach them how to read and write Chinese characters. I disagreed,” Li said. “Although some of them are not as intelligent as normal people, they are diligent and delighted to learn and finish the daily assignment, and they will feel confident and encouraged after completion. The Sunshine Home is more than a daycare center.”

Yu Hong / SHINE

Showcasing of various delicate straw plaiting products made by students in Xuhang Sunshine Home proves the success of Li’s teaching plan. 

Under the special teaching methods introduced by Li, some students have made progress. The student surnamed Mao, 28, is one of the success stories.When Mao first came to the Sunshine Home, he was silent and behaved like a three-year-old kid that even couldn’t go to the toilet by himself. Sometimes the classmates and teachers needed to help clean him, Li recalled. However, after taking training courses at the Sunshine Home, Mao has become more outgoing and eager to engage in the class. Now he can call the names of every student in the Sunshine Home, and manages to read easy books and newspapers. One day, he cooked one meal, which excited his parents.

“I feel happy when hearing these news from his parents and it proves the feasibility of my teaching plans. Other students are becoming more confident after Mao’s story, as well,” Li said.

For the students at the Home, they have a special straw plaiting class guided by a professional craftsman. As the feature of Xuhang, straw plaiting has been listed as a national intangible cultural heritage, but fewer people know the craft nowadays. It is a good opportunity for these students to get some fun and command a traditional Chinese skill while studying at the Home.

“It is marvelous that their artworks are as elaborate as those by normal people. As the saying goes, when God closes a door, he opens a window,” said Li excitedly. 

Yu Hong / SHINE

The students in the Xuhang Sunshine Home makes the straw plaiting products in the classroom. 

Unlike normal pupils or students lacking motivation to go to school, these special students come to the Sunshine Home with great passion, even though they don’t have summer or winter holidays. Usually, they come to school around 7:30am while the class starts at 9am.

Li is glad to see their support by coming here so early. It means they love here and don’t feel alone.

“These special students are vulnerable and emotional, so I must be more careful and considerate. If they smile, it means they feel full of happiness from heart and soul,” Li said.

Now the Sunshine Home has 35 students and five teachers with level-4 qualification. According to the policy in Jiading, the students can get 400 yuan (US$60) for the full attendance in a month. Two years ago, two students graduated from the Home and started working in companies.Li attributed the achievements to her family. 

Coincidently, Li’s daughter chose a similar career path as her mother — a kindergarten teacher. Teaching little children is absolutely a job requiring patience, kindness and consideration, just like the teachers at the Sunshine Home. Months ago, teachers from the kindergarten where Li’s daughter works visited Xuhang Sunshine Home to exchange their teaching plans with their counterparts there.

Having worked in the Sunshine Home for four years, Li has noticed that still some people have bias toward these special students. Some school graduates worked in the Sunshine Home for several months and left there because of the hard work.

“I believe with our efforts, the disabled people will live in a better life and one day, people can get rid of the discrimination, treating them as their family members,” Li said. “It is my pleasure to work for these disabled students at the Sunshine Home, bringing benefits and care to them. I’ve made up my mind to keep working till my retirement.”

Yu Hong / SHINE

The ink painting themed on flowers by Zhuang Meili, the student in the Xuhang Sunshine Home

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