This summer, the ALP-TFI students (Justin, Melissa, Spencer, Jing Ren, Daniel, Marvin, Grace, Gio, Keith and myself, Joel) were on a mission to bring smiles to the special-needs students of 杭州市湖墅学校 (Hangzhou Hushu School), in Hangzhou, China.
I’m not sure what to expect; it’s a little quiet, but we’re all curious and a little bit excited. The school sits at the junction of road and river, and is painted a cheery bright yellow. Past the gate, pots of colourful flowers line the entrance to the school building.
We wait at what seems to be a lounge, cosy, yet spacious. The late morning sun peeking through the window, and the array of sofas and tables give the room a homely feel, but a counter at the far end confirms that it’s a café of some sort.
A taller, cheerful lady and a shorter, cheerful lady make their way towards us. This must be 刘老师 and her colleague. She explains that the kids are having their mid-day siesta, and that we must reduce our chatter to a whisper and tread lightly should we disrupt their sleep.
We make our way around the compound. Much like a regular school, the classes of kids are organised by their age. The kids start attending school from the age of seven, till they are about eighteen years old. Many of the desks are claimed territory, with a school bag lined beside or on the accompanying chair.
The school is organising a sports event soon, 刘老师 says. The sports event involves the kids, as well as alumni who have graduated, and are coming back specially for the event. She arranges the date and we mark it on our calendars.
Back on the first floor, we walk past a small supermarket and a sewing room. Almost instantly, we realise what the café is for. These serve as training spaces for the kids, who might be cashiers, seamstresses, baristas or waiters in the future.
We definitely want to see more of this place.
The discussion is done, and as we bid the teachers goodbye and leave the cheerful yellow building we notice a large paragraph of text on a panel mounted on the wall next to the entrance.
It is written for the children. The words speak to the children endearingly, telling them that they are different; that they may never experience what it is like to be ‘other’ children. But does it matter? The words, strangely comforting, prompt the kids to treasure the extraordinary and never to accept being a victim of circumstance.
The school might never be an accurate microcosm of society, but it gives the children a safe space for them to form personal, unique experiences, and find their own happiness in the world.
This story is continued in the next post: Grand Canal Excursion and Sports Day