By: Lara Pytlik, MOT, OTR/L
Helping children succeed and traveling. Two things I’m most passionate about. What happens when you put those together? You spend the first two weeks of July exploring Beijing and Yanjio, China along with a group of 13 people for tourism and service projects. After a friend asked me to join her on what appeared to be an amazing adventure, I quickly answered ‘YES!’ and soon after we were touring through Beijing for a week seeing sights such as Tiennamen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, and navigating our way past many adventurous food options.
Our second week was spent in Yanjio, China helping friends at the Living Tree Foster Home. Since 2002, Living Tree has served the
needs of orphaned children in China with Cerebral Palsy. This foundation ensures these children are loved, cared for, and given a happy life through meeting daily living needs, rehabilitation centers, workshops, special education schools, and intensive care rooms for the more medically fragile children. Currently 29 children live at Living Tree ranging from 2 – 19 years old. They employ 15 full-time workers and welcome hundreds of volunteers each year.
I could not wait to spend time with these children and help the orphanage complete a variety of tasks they had prepared for us, but litlle did I know how much of the ‘occupational therapist’ role I would take on during my week there. It was not long before I saw the great need this organization had – a lack of resources and a lack of financial means; but, after only minutes inside the walls of Living Tree, you know it’s a very special place and the workers are truly dedicated and loving. They are eager to be educated on therapeutic techniques and ways to help better these children’s quality of life. Using supplies such as pizza boxes, plastic formula lids, scraps of fabric, foam wedges and bubble wrap, I spent my week creating and educating. I demonstrated prone prop position over a wedge to improve upper body strength and head and neck control, taught workers how to use common toys as therapeutic materials to encourage range of motion and stretching of upper extremities, created built-up utensils and writing tools for increased independence eating and coloring, fabricated hand splints to prevent contractures, and fit children into wheelchairs to promote improved seating and positioning.
This service trip was truly the experience of a lifetime. The children and workers I met will always have a special place in my heart. I returned from China more grateful and thankful for the opportunities and resources our children and students have every day. My love for occupational therapy has only strengthened and will continue to thrive through the kids of Bridgeway Academy!