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Australian woman teaches kids with special needs in China

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-12-11 10:32
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CANBERRA/FUZHOU-Speaking fluent Mandarin, Australian Rachel Gilmour was teaching her students in Southeast China's Fujian province, and the classroom was filled with laughter.

But the cards she always carried with her revealed that those kids were not ordinary students: they were orphans, most of whom with physical or intellectual disabilities. Pictures on the cards were a special way for Gilmour to communicate with them.

"These kids are amazing," said the 35-year-old teacher, who, always with a smile, was known as Miss Mo Ruijie at the Zhangzhou Social Welfare Center. "I don't think they notice that I'm a foreigner like I don't think they are different."

Previously a teacher in Australia between 2008 and 2010, she taught third grade students in a small regional school. One of her students at that time had an intellectual delay but she did not really know how to help her.

In the meantime, she found herself "had a love for China".

"I heard a lot of stories about China and I don't know where the love is from," said the woman who arrived in China in 2011.

She then visited an orphanage for the first time, and became overwhelmed because all the children had disabilities. While she was moved with compassion, a desire was birthed that day: to do all she could to help Chinese orphans with disabilities.

Gilmour received her bachelor's degree in primary education from the Sydney University in Australia. In 2018, she was awarded her master's degree in special education through Macquarie University's online Master's program. She did her master's program while working full time in Kunming, the capital of Southwest China's Yunnan province, managing the early intervention center for children with autism.

In 2019, she joined the Sunshine Academy in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong province, where she is now the special education director.

Last year, the Sunshine Academy started a collaboration with the Zhangzhou Social Welfare Center, and she representing the former came to Fujian in March.

She still remembered well the first day she stepped into the center. "The thing that struck me about these kids was how well-mannered they are and how happy they are,"Gilmour said. "These kids clearly have teachers who love them and a director that really cares about them. I was super moved on the first day... You could tell as the kids had smiles on their faces."

The role of Gilmour in the center was mainly to equip the teachers with special education methodologies, helping them establish a special education school and giving demonstration classes to the children.

Every now and then, they would have discussion as how to solve the problems, such as teaching the kids how to count. "You tried for six months, a year, two years, and you still haven't got there," she explained, stressing that they were a team.

"And then we come up with a solution that impacts the lives of the kids in really positive ways."

Talking about the children, Gilmour said the most important thing for them was love. "You need an ability to see their values, because each of these kids has incredible value like they've been created ...even though maybe the world doesn't see it because of their disability," she said emotionally.

Every achievement from the kids makes her feel rewarded. "There are so many stories of kids like they couldn't go to the bathroom now they can, or they couldn't communicate their needs and now they can. "A couple of weeks ago, they succeeded in helping one of the kids to be independent.

In the eyes of teacher Lu Nengna, Gilmour was "very hardworking"."She helps us in many aspects," Lu said. "From her, we see dedication and the sense of responsibility."

Xie Junbo, head of the Zhangzhou Social Welfare Center, described Gilmour as "loving and friendly". "She is on very good terms with all the teachers and kids here," he said.

For her own part, Gilmour really enjoyed working in the center, where she had meals every day with the colleagues and children, playing with them and practicing her cello.

"I feel like I have gained so much from working alongside the team of teachers here," she said.

"Love knows no limits," she said. "It is a language that everyone can speak."

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