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CIEE Beijing Visits the Beijing School for the Blind

As you may have seen in a previous post where we visited an Autism Institute, on Friday March 15, CIEE students from both the Intensive Chinese Language and Environmental, Cultural, and Economic Sustainability (ECES) programs visited the Beijing School for the Blind.

Accompanied by the CIEE Beijing Center Director, as well as staff for both programs, there were two purposes of this trip was to be introduced for the Beijing School for the Blind, get an understanding of their facilities, their mission and their methods.

First, was students for the ECES program taking the Ethnographic Methods course are required to do a three-week field study at the blind school. Second, we invited all CIEE students interested in volunteering at least three hours per week at the Blind School to submit resumes. In all, four students were eager to volunteer for the semester. Thus, this was the day where they hammered out schedules for the rest of the semester, where they would teach oral english to the students.

When we arrived at the facility, it was markedly different than the Autism Institute we saw the week before. An enclosed, pristine campus with new buildings were justaposed by a six story high bell tower which soared above the other buildings and was a marked contrast from the non-descript block-style apartment buildings built in the 1908s.

The principal and staff for the school greeted us and we immediately began the tour of the facilities. The school, which has nearly 250 students from kindergarten to adult, was spacious, well-lit and impeccably clean. The principal showed us the art rooms, the home skills classroom, resource center which included braille enabled computers, as well as the evaluation rooms. All were very impressive.

What really stood out to me was after the English class, four students had agreed to stay behind and talk to us. I was paired with two ECES students, Crystal and Mai. We were lucky enough to talk to a young whose English name was Nancy. Nancy, who was 19 and from Northeastern China had been at the school for 20 days at that point, having just begun her two year program in massage therapy. She told us she enjoyed spending time with friends, singing karaoke, listening to music, exercising, and studying - hobbies like those of any 19 year old Chinese (or American) person.

So why did this really stick out to me? Well, it was how she came to choose her profession of being a massage therapist. As she told us, for blind people in China only two career choices, that is they can become a musician or a massage therapist. Nothing else, no questions asked.

Now before as I come off as some empathetic, espousing noblesse oblige-esque platitudes down upon those less fortunate than me, this systemic rigidity really did strike me. Coming from a background and a country where a disabilities are not limiting, this was a wake-up call for me. In Nancy's case, and as in the case of millions of blind people (and disabled people) across China, it is and always will be the feature that defines her. It just, for some reason, got to me.

I asked her what she thought about being at the school, and her response was overwhelmingly positive. She said that being blind already makes it difficult to get an education and to be independent, thus she was thrilled at the prospect of how this program will allow her to be self sufficient for the most part. As for the school, she commented on how impressive the resources were, after alluding how poor her schools were growing up.

Being one of the most well-funded schools for blind people in China, it was really encouraging to see such a bright place for one of China's most underserved populations, and hopefully the beginning of larger change in China.

We will keep you posted and hopefully get some updates from the volunteer students as the semester carries on. In the meantime, see the picture below:


Above (from left to right), Mai, Crystal, and I chat with Nancy (right).


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