Shortages hamper right kind of care

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 1996, 12:00am

A LACK of funds and shortage of professional staff at mainland orphanages is making it difficult to provide care to marginal groups, an experienced Hong Kong-based charity chief said yesterday.

Kathi Zellweger, director (international co-operation) of Caritas Hong Kong, said her organisation has had considerable involvement in China and had observed both negative and positive attitudes in officials throughout the country.

'There is no definite pattern of running these institutions, but we believe our support and management guidance to institutions such as orphanages and schools is generally well received,' she said.

'We all know there are problems in a society where money is short, but things are changing for the better all the time.' Caritas has been heavily involved for the past 10 years in a school for mentally handicapped children, a notoriously marginalised group in China.

The Zhi Ling Special School in suburban Guangzhou operates independently of the government, but has wide-ranging support from the local authorities.

When the school started, non-government organisations were a rarity and anything outside the Party-sponsored loop was frowned upon.

But a recent visit to Zhi Ling by the Sunday Morning Post, coinciding with the institution 'going independent', showed how they have advanced.

Caritas has not withdrawn completely from the Zhi Ling school, but has stepped back to allow it to operate with more autonomy using the management and teaching skills provided over the years.

In contrast to the Human Rights Watch report, the provincial government and local officials have been more than supportive of the good work being done for the school's 150 students.

In 1994 the District Education Bureau gave 100,000 renminbi (around HK$930,000) to the school as an annual subsidy.

The difference between Zhi Ling and other special schools is that fees are charged. As a result, the students tend to be children of the relatively well-off.

The monthly fee of 400 renminbi for live-in students is a significant portion of an average family's income. Teachers at the school earn about 500 renminbi a month.

In other parts of the country, particularly the poor rural provinces, such school fees would be beyond the reach of most families.

Ms Zellweger said it was also difficult to find the right sort of people to work in institutions such as special schools or orphanages.

'There are groups of individuals and people in the church who care, there are also initiatives in China for foster care which are still being developed.

'But it is hard to find people to inject heart into their jobs with children if they do not have the training or are being poorly paid,' she said.

'At Zhi Ling there are a lot of volunteers and that, of course, means their heart is already in the right place and they will genuinely care.' In addition to the government subsidy for the Zhi Ling school, educational films have been made of teachers and students in action as part of a video being distributed as a learning aid to government schools throughout China.