The story appears on

Page A5

March 1, 2021

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Metro

‘Mom’ who cares for the mentally disabled

EDITOR’S note:
President Xi Jinping has urged everyone to follow their hearts rather than chase money or position. This series introduces Shanghai residents who pour their hearts and souls into their chosen work, whether they are designing rockets, practicing medicine or caring for the less fortunate.

Zhang Xinya is mentor and “mom” to people with mental disabilities. The 73-year-old has learned over the years how to help them cope and adapt to the outside world because her own daughter is mentally challenged.

She established the Zhang Xinya Disabled Assistance Workshop in Hongkou District in 2012.

The center has since provided services for 410,000 disabled people, in cooperation with the government-funded Sunshine Home, a daycare center for the mentally impaired.

“Though we cannot improve their intelligence, we can tap their potential,” Zhang explained.

To achieve that goal, Zhang has created classes in education, the arts, song and dance, and handicraft skills in her workshop.

She also trains volunteers, drawing them from all walks of life.

With the help of Zhang and volunteers, disabled clients who once had no prospects but to sit at home have learned to sing, dance, play musical instruments, make handicrafts and win sports medals.

About 21 of them have found employment in menial jobs.

Zhang’s workshop now has 46 full-time volunteers and over 400 part-time. They include lawyers, teachers and sports coaches.

The workshop has been honored as one of China’s best volunteer projects, and Zhang herself has been named a “beautiful volunteer of China.”

“Volunteerism is not merely about devotion to others but also about self-satisfaction,” Zhang said. “It brings me happiness and a sense of self-worth through hard work.”

Zhang’s daughter Shi Ming suffered mental disability after a paint-poisoning accident when she was just 3 months old.

“In the beginning, I hoped she would recover, but I finally had to accept reality when multiple public schools refused to enroll her,” Zhang said.

Seeing Shi stuck at home with nothing much to do, Zhang resolved to get her involved in society.

She took her to Sunshine Home, where her daughter could make friends with other children.

After retiring from a local clothing factory, Zhang volunteered to work at Sunshine House in 2005.

Her first task there was to persuade more mentally disabled children in the community to come to the center, which had only four students at the time. She visited families and wrote letters explaining the benefits of Sunshine House. Many parents declined her overtures out of fear that their children might be harmed by activities outside of the home.

Yan Ping, whose daughter is both mentally disabled and has poor eyesight, was one of those initially reluctant to send her daughter to the center. But she finally decided to give it a try and now her daughter can wash dishes and clothes by herself.

Daytime training

“Zhang’s help gave our family a new start on life,” Yan said.

Zhang said it is essential for the children to socialize. Thanks to her persistence, more than 40 children were recruited to attend Sunshine House for daytime training.

Some of the children didn’t like the center at first and refused to come back. Zhang put that down to the awkwardness of a new experience and set about to establish their trust. That led her to open her own workshop in the Quyang Subdistrict.

Each student at the center now has acquired at least one skill, and an orchestra assembled by the workshop gives performances.

Lu Yuanxiang, a senior student at the center, said “Mom Zhang” helped him find a niche by introducing him to diabolo, a traditional acrobatic game. He has become so proficient that he often performs on local stage, including at Shanghai Great World, a popular entertainment site.

“I used to have a bad temper and felt shunned by people,” said Lu. “Zhang and other volunteers at the center treat me very well.”

A classmate named He Liping, 40, who is severely mentally handicapped and was once ill-mannered, recently won two gold medals in badminton and bowling at the Shanghai Special Sports Games.

She lived with a blind father for years and existed on a meager diet of rice and soy sauce.

When her father died several years ago, Zhang and her colleagues took her to the workshop.

Thanks to their patient care, she has developed skills in good manners, painting and multiple sports.

Zhang encourages the students to repay society by offering their services to others who are also less fortunate. For example, she takes them to visit the elderly in nursing homes.

“They were lucky to be born in an era of government subsidies and full medical insurance, so they need to learn to be thankful,” Zhang said.

Lu Jiewei, who is confined to a wheelchair, works as a repairman in the Quyang community, fixing small appliances and replacing batteries. He doesn’t charge mentally disabled residents.

“It makes me feel useful to society,” Lu said.

Zhang, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, said she intends to keep working despite the prognosis. She returned to the workshop soon after surgery and chemotherapy.

Xiao Junfeng, deputy director of the Quyang Subdistrict, said a search is under way for a successor to take over after Zhang’s retirement.

She will be hard to replace. Those who work with her are full of praise for the energy and dedication she has brought to achieving the goals of the workshop.

Zhou Jumei, an art teacher at the center, said Zhang’s patience and devotion have been an inspiration to everyone associated with the workshop. “It is extremely difficult to teach the mentally handicapped, but Zhang treats them like her own children,” Zhou said.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend