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An orphanage experience - water therapy in China

Francoise asked me to share about my experience of going to my daughter, Amy-Li's, orphanage to introduce the concept of using water as therapy.  This is a totally foreign concept in China, especially in Orphanages, as the babies spend most of their time either laying in their cots, or sitting in baby walkers.  Most of the babies have floppy muscle tone and developmental delays due to lack of movement, love and stimulation.

All we had were two paddling pools, loads of enthusiastic physiotherapists, open to new ideas, and many, many needy babies.  Amy-Li's orphanage is in Bao'an in Shenzhen, which is just north of Hong Kong. Most of the babies in her orphanage are special needs children.  We spent the morning discussing the principles of water, the effects of immersion and the benefits of aquatic therapy. We then spent some time practicing some basic holds on land, talking about rhythm and quality of touch, before moving to the water.  

The paddling pools were filled and the babies wheeled down from the baby room, 3 in a cot at a time.  The therapists climbed into the paddling pools in their clothes and the babies were put into the pools in their clothes too. The resident doctor kept a close watch, as putting young babies into water in China is not done, especially under 6 months of age. I was in one pool with 2-3 Therapists and my friend, Christie (a fellow Birthlight Infant Aquatics teacher), was in the other pool, with as many therapists as could squeeze themselves in.

The therapists were very nervous handling the babies in the water and needed a lot of hands on help to begin with. But, the babies loved it! The therapists were amazed at the almost instant beneficial results to being in the water. The babies responded so beautifully; they instantly relaxed, some moved spontaneously, others became alert and chatty and some even fell asleep.

Day 2, the pools were set up outside as it was a lovely and warm day. The therapists became a bit more confident in their handling, enjoying the experience and engaging with the babies. By the time we went home, the directors of the orphanage were talking about the need for a Hydrotherapy pool and discussing fundraising ideas with us.

I plan to go back next year as I feel that this training has the potential to change the lives of these babies for the better, who would otherwise spend all their time laying in cots. Any movement, some soft, gentle touch and just being held, will make a huge difference to these babies, not only in physical development, but their emotional development too.

We had a chance to go and play with the babies in the baby room too and even help with feeding time, which was very special. It was a memorable visit for both me and Amy-Li.

Julia de Lucchi

Birthlight tutor