In August, Calvin College professors Judy Vander Woude, Peggy Goetz, and Jill Bates traveled with speech pathology students to China to work with children with special needs at the GIFT Parents’ Support Center. GIFT is a Chinese nonprofit, one of few there that create peer networks for families of children living with disabilities.
Working with Chinese churches organized by GIFT, Calvin provided onsite and online education for pastors, families, and health care providers at a week-long family camp.
In Zhengzhou, where GIFT is located, there is only one children’s hospital and little to no rehabilitative services, explained Vander Woude, professor of speech pathology.
Nine years ago, Xu Bing, GIFT’s executive director, saw a need to support families of children with disabilities while providing respite care for a Chinese family fostering children with special needs. After partnering with Bethany Christian Services, Bing, a trained linguist, began GIFT.
“People with disabilities are some of the most stigmatized members of most communities—including China,” Bing said. “If the church is not going to welcome them, who is?”
GIFT’s vision is “to promote and support healthy families and to provide a social environment in which special needs children are highly valued by demonstrating God’s love.”
Around the world there’s a stigma associated with the birth of a child with a disability. “Bing is all about healing families,” Vander Woude explained, “because other people who see children with disabilities think that either the parents or children committed some horrible act in the past.”
Since 2013, Calvin has taken students on several trips to work at GIFT during the college’s January Interim term. In addition, Vander Woude and Bates have been back at least once every year to speak about disability with parents, pastors, and church leaders. This year, Bing invited Calvin students to attend GIFT’s family summer camp. In addition to lectures, students were able to demonstrate for parents how to play with their children and develop communication using various interactive play activities.
At the end of this year’s camp, parents were able to share difficulties they have had. “We wanted them to know that they are good parents, because they don’t hear that very often,” said Vander Woude.