22 DecGetting to know… Callum & Mali (Part 1)

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We are very lucky in the Butterfly Home to have some wonderful volunteers who work alongside our permanent staff to enrich the lives of children. Callum and Mali have been volunteering in the Butterfly Home for nearly a year and took time this Christmas to reflect on what it means to them…

“My name is Callum Greenwood, I come from a small costal town called Margate in the south-east of England. I moved to Changsha around three and half years ago, and quickly set about exploring as much of the city as possible. I developed many wonderful friendships with some fantastic people, who helped me (and continue to help me) have an incredible experience in this amazing country. I bring these people up because it was they who had the most profound effect on my character while in China.

If you haven’t come to China before, I am sure your head is filled with ideas of what it is like, I know mine was, but I was very unprepared for the realities of living here. How isolated being weak with the language makes you feel and how hard it is to achieve even simple tasks, so much so that even ordering porridge successfully gives you the same feeling you get passing an exam.

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But the people, the people here will not only alter your mind to the ideals of true kindness but your heart as well. The Chinese friends I made back in England that helped me move out here and the friends I made in the first few months living here changed my life. It appeared to me as if they lacked the ability to say “no” since anything and everything I needed was taken care of. Balancing what you take with what you give is very important, but not if the only reason you give is, so you may take later. The depth of understanding of what kindness should be, is incredible among the Chinese people.

I found that being treated with such kindness, motivated me to kindness, not because I wanted to pay back something I owed, but because I witnessed the happiness and contentment that came from people doing things to help others with zero expectation of reward and I wanted to share in that happiness.

So, in late January early February 2017, I set about finding a way to give back that would enable me to do some good. I had heard of the Butterfly Children’s Hospice before, but I had never been and was even more unsure about how to contact them. I spoke to my good friend and fellow university colleague, Mali, about it and she too decided that we should get involved.

I phoned the hospice and a very nice lady helped us arrange a time to come to the hospice to meet the management staff and see if we were suitable candidates to volunteer there. On the day we came to meet them we were lucky enough to also meet Lyn for the first time. We had a long chat and they decided that they were happy to have Mali and I begin volunteering the following week.

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Day to day:

We started out by coming every Sunday for a couple of hours in the afternoon. The hospice has strict rules on the amount of time the volunteers can spend with the children so as not to overwhelm them. To begin with, I started helping with manual labour that needed doing around the hospice: building things, lifting things, and reaching up to help get things down from the store shelves for the nurses, or 阿姨 (ayi) meaning “aunty”. Shortly after that, Mali and I began to be paired up with children that the management thought needed more personal, or in my cause male interaction.

This is how I met John. John is one of the loveliest little boys I have ever met. He is mostly non-verbal but if you are patient, you will slowly come to understand how he expresses himself. You become familiar with the noises he makes when he is happy, or his body language when he’s having a bad day. Working with John has taught me a great deal about communication beyond verbal. He especially taught me that there is more than one way of expressing yourself, and every way is valid. There is more than meets the eye with John, and I’ve been fortunate to see the bright boy he truly is. John is highly sensitive to sound and motion, he enjoys listening to different sounds, or making them himself, and swinging on the hammock in the playroom.  Whenever the weather is nice, I will always try and take him for a walk around the hospital compound and sit with him on the big two-person metal porch swings in the playground. He is the only child at the hospice, at the time of writing this, that is capable of unassisted walking and is older than the other children in the home. As is true for any boy his age, it’s important to keep him as well exercised and as physically active as possible.

After several months of helping, playing with, and watching the children, we began to start spending more time with other children. Holding them when they were upset, playing with them, or reading them stories. My favourite part of the volunteering on a day-to-day basis, must be taking the children outside for a stroll. The children spend a lot of time indoors due to their illnesses, the Ayi’s always ensure they are taken care of, played with, and supported. Watching a sick child, smile or laugh when you read them a story or play with them is great, but I especially enjoy it when we are outside, and they close their eyes and enjoy the sun, or laugh and wave their arms wildly when they are pushed around the playground in their strollers, it’s the best!”
Look out in the New Year for a follow up blog with more of their experiences… Thank you Callum and Mali for all you do for the children.

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