What do you know about the history of the agency you are serving? What do you believe is the long-term future of the agency and its work? Is it self-sustaining and if not, what might be changed to make it so?
What have you learned about the strategies and internal operations of your host organization? Are there aspects of the organization that work very well or that seem problematic?
I am helping CereCare revise the English translation of their chinese website (separately so I can still spend time with the children), so I have read and heard a lot about the history and goals of this organization. CereCare was started 10 years ago by an elderly chinese woman with cerebral palsy who developed her own acupressure/massage therapy method and wanted to open a rehabilitation center for children with cerebral palsy. They’ve always struggled financially, and the founder’s sister (Iris) travels quite often to countries such as the U.S. and Canada to fundraise and apply for grants to keep the center running. A couple hundred of children have lived at CereCare over the years, I believe (it is a live-in center year-round with 8-day vacations every 3 months), and a couple thousand children have received free consultation from the center. Right now there are about 30 children ages from probably 6 to 18. They have lessons and training and therapy sessions everyday and are separated into four color groups (the basis for dividing into these groups are unclear).
I believe the long term future of the agency is to garner enough funds to increase its current facilities and resources as well as develop centers for people with cerebral palsy who are over age 18. The center cannot accept everyone who wants to be admitted into the center because they do not have the space, staff, or money. The conductors and physical therapists are paid quite little as well and do quite a lot. A couple of the children are getting close to turning 18, and the center is not exactly equipped for their needs as they get older, so it is definitely a goal to have centers catered to people with CP who are not only adults, but perhaps even the elderly.
I cannot say if it is self-sustaining. From what I know, there are sister centers who are also called CereCare in Hong Kong as well as in the Philippines, but they are independent organizations financially. The one in Hong Kong is apparently significantly subsidized and recognized by the government there so there aren’t any financial problems. However, the one in Shanghai does not receive much help from the government, and they do not prefer getting money through governmental agencies because then there are restrictions and very little of the money actually goes to CereCare. I think money from overseas is paying for most things at the center right now, so the center by itself at its current size is self-sustaining, but in order to expand, a lot more money would have to come in. The sister of the founder (Iris, the CEO) and her friend Windy currently are responsible for fundraising and whatnot, but I think they would need to do some more serious fundraising abroad and more connections in general to access big money for the plans that they have. It seems as though Windy just internet searches for foundations that she can apply to for grants, but I think her knowledge about what is available might be limited, even though Google is all powerful. I think it would be a god-send if someone with connections and knowledge about big philanthropists/foundations abroad came along and offered to help. Otherwise the burden is a little too heavy on just Windy and Iris.
In terms of strategies and internal operations, it seems that all the teachers have regular meetings at least once a week, and each group’s teachers themselves organize their own meetings at least once a week as well. Every day after lunch from about 12:45 – 2pm, the staff have enrichment time, which can include training, speakers, meetings, English lessons, etc. It seems that each group has a lot of freedom to create their curriculum, to create short-term goals for their children, and to decorate their surroundings. From what I can tell, most people work quite hard and are very loving towards the children. I do think that some staff are less loving and less committed than others (they’re a very small minority). It is a pretty physically exhausting job, and I find that some assistants dose off in the afternoon when they are supposed to be tending to the children during classes, which includes sitting by them and helping them out, reminding them about correct postures, etc. Another aspect that I find problematic is that while the physical therapy is very rigorous and helpful to the kids, I think that intellectually the kids are not stimulated enough. Of course, they have varying degrees of intellect, since some CP children are mentally handicapped. But the academics are not very challenging or as formally organized as the physical rehabilitation curriculum, which means some kids are very behind and need a lot more work, while others already know the stuff and are not learning more. Although they do have field trips not infrequently, the kids’ experiences are quite limited at the center. They have the similar schedules every day with 1-hour blocks of lessons/therapy and half-hour blocks of transitioning, but even with their disabilities they still find themselves with 10-15 minutes of down-time during these frequent half-hours where they are not doing much except waiting around and sit around. They have a two-hour naptime from 12-2pm, which is quite long and frankly unnecessary for the older kids, and it could be a more productive time for them. Then around 5pm they have dinner already, after which they all sit in one room to watch tv and maybe get a few toys to play with, shower/transitioning/bathroom happens, then they’re in bed by 8 or 9pm. The children watch very simple shows without much variation. Since the teachers get off work by 5:30, after that time the children are just being taken care of, but not really taught anything or experiencing much. Although CereCare definitely does more than just letting the children’s conditions get worse and has very good intentions, I think it needs more resources and more focus in showing the kids more than just the same mundane things every day. Besides money, another thing that might contribute to this is that CereCare aims to rehabilitate CP children so that one day they can hopefully attend regular schools and get a formal education, which might be why they do not aim to be nearly as rigorous as a real school.
All in all, I do think that CereCare is making the best of what little they have, and they are organized enough to have a very consistent schedule, a small and focused team of staff, and to have me around without interrupting their daily operations.