Introduction: The following article is by the founder of Huiling, one of China’s oldest NGOs serving the intellectually disabled. Community integration is central to the mission of Huiling schools which seek to help intellectually disabled young adults become part of the community by teaching them social and life skills. Meng expresses some of the challenges NGOs in this sector face and advocates for government legislation, and social acceptance of people with intellectually disabilities, to make it easier for NGOs like Huiling to carry out their work.
Huiling’s most serious incident, in 1992 in Guangzhou, involved the purchase of 6 apartments in Luo Xi New City intended for use in providing services [for our young adults with intellectual disabilities]. When the apartments were completed and the payment made, the developer refused to allow entrance or provide compensation. Dozens of our parents and staff fought back with reasoned arguments, conducting social action that brought the situation to the attention of the media and the mayor. In response, the mayor instructed the city government’s Office of Letters and Visits to mediate . The government’s so-called mediation was an attempt to get Huiling to leave Luo Xi New City, while also attempting to get the developer to provide more compensation. The dispute lasted for a month, and in the end we had no choice but to agree and drop our claims. However, the developer did return the 720,000 yuan that we paid for the apartments, and provided an additional 680,000 yuan in compensation. (The developer, in an attempt to save face, said it was not compensation money but rather a sponsorship.) In this case, Huiling suffered no economic losses, but our goal of integrating mentally disabled people into mainstream society did suffer.
In 2004, when Beijing Huiling (北京慧灵) moved a small group [of young adults] into the Fangzhuang neighborhood, the residents complained to the government which organized a meeting between the two sides. On the surface, the discussion was about the “nuisance” we were causing, but in reality their complaints stemmed from “discrimination.” We repeatedly apologized and pledged to take measures to reduce the volume of music being played and also to only use the back door and not the front door, but residents still refused to give in and began posting big character posters to seal up our door. At that point, Huiling had no choice but to move.
Huiling presently has organizations in ten locations nationwide, with nearly 40 small community groups (each made up of around 10 people) and homes (each with 6 people). These groups are an important part of how Huiling integrates [intellectually challenged young adults] into the community.After the experience of dealing with unaccepting neighbors, we have formulated guidelines for improving community outreach. For example, we carry out early-stage research and public education in the form of questionnaires, street exhibitions and performances in order to help residents understand the characteristics of people with intellectual disabilities. We point out that those with intellectual disabilities are not violent or contagious, nor do they suffer from psychiatric illness. Our emphasis is on publicizing the way in which those with intellectual disabilities can contribute to society, and we make clear that our resources are also available for local residents to use. (For example, our international volunteers can teach residents English free of charge.)
In recent years, at Chinese New Year we have given performances and offered holiday greetings to residents in the community, and the neighbors have also sent their holiday regards to us. Because we strongly value the importance of establishing a strong relationship with the local community, Huiling and community residents now rarely come into conflict.Still, the most important step in [guaranteeing community acceptance of organizations like Huiling] is in getting the government to enact appropriate legislation. Developed countries (and regions) have provisions in their urban planning and development standards whereby land and buildings for use by public welfare organizations such as schools, hospitals, community centers, and space for the rehabilitation of the disabled, is set aside proportionately based on land area or population. After this kind of legislation is enacted, residents no longer have a right to oppose people with disabilities entering into the community.
China also has some relevant regulations, and in recent years, many community centers, such as Sun Home (阳光家园) and Fragrant Home (温馨家园), have established space for disabled people. [Editor’s Note: Sun Home and Fragrant Home are government-supported centers opened in urban communities [shequ] by local authorities with the help of GONGOs such as the China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF).] The problem is that these community centers for the disabled are not open to civil-society service organizations. Thus [we have a situation where] centers set aside by the government are often not used while civil society organizations have to pay high rents, and are often unwelcome in urban communities. Moreover, every time there is a dispute, the government and the China Disabled Persons Federation CDPF) fail to come forward to resolve the problems fairly, inevitably allowing disputes and conflicts to escalate.
Intellectually disabled people and local residents both belong to the same big family, To coexist peacefully, they need both the establishment of the rule of law, and a culture of acceptance for the disabled – it is not as easy as simply chanting slogans. Huiling is a service organization devoted to professional, rational, long-term development of an integrated community. We must continue studying how to better promote our cause. Service organizations encounter a lot of difficulty in helping society, but the situation is changing in the right direction.