09/09/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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For Paralympics, volunteers prohibited from helping disabled orphans

For the whole period of the games, they will not be permitted to visit the institutes where they bring comfort and material help to the children, who are often abandoned by their parents and have few others to care for them. Websites for assistance to the disabled blocked.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Beijing Paralympics have opened with a grandiose ceremony (4,823 participants, 423 of them disabled) broadcast throughout the world, and, according to the organizers, intended to depict "a common family in which all human beings live together". But while Chinese television and newspapers are full of news about the Games, and about the medals won by disabled Chinese athletes, the volunteers in Beijing have been "asked" not to visit the institutes for disabled orphan children, during the Games.

Many volunteers, including physical therapists, visit the children every day. But Eulalia Anderson, head of the Beijing International Committee for Chinese Orphans, explains to the South China Morning Post that "we were told by each orphanage that we could return after the Paralympics, probably in October". Since April, public safety officials have "asked" them to suspend their visits. Anderson thinks that, perhaps, "needing help from expatriate volunteers is seen as less than ideal".

The volunteers help the children with their rehabilitation exercises, apply creams and ointments, change diapers, make beds, clean bathrooms and game rooms, repair wheelchairs, and perform countless other services.

For more than four years, Keith Wyse has been working at the orphanage of Langfang (Hebei, 40 kilometers from Beijing), which has 25 disabled children. He says that "since just before the Olympics, we have been forbidden from visiting the orphanages". "The government sees disabled people and disabled orphans as an embarrassing problem, which they don't know how to deal with". He also runs a private house for disabled children, the website of which (agapefamilyhouse.com) was blocked just before the Olympics.

Medical operations to ease pain and correct disfigurements, paid for with charitable funds, have also been stopped.

Deborah Mason explains that at the institute in Shunyii (with 40 residents, from newborns to adolescents), "when we used to arrive, all of the children except for the few who are physically independent were just lying in their cots, though the situation was not horrific". Some of them are mentally handicapped, others have physical disabilities like cleft palate or brittle bones. "They are either abandoned at birth, or as they get older, their parents can't afford medical care so they are taken to the orphanage". "The orphanage is clean and bright, but it is a pretty desperate situation now. There are just two or three [staff] carers on any one shift, so the daily visits by volunteers were vital".

Sun Weide, spokesman for the Olympic organizing committee, says that he was unaware of the temporary ban. "I will look into this and check with the relevant authorities", he says.

But Wyse says that ""It's only the orphans who suffer. I have to play cat and mouse with the authorities to keep my foster home open".

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