Eagles' Wings, Jiao Zuo, China

My Diary

Before the trip:

I was first introduced to Music Therapy in the spring of 2013 by my friend Kim Bennet, a child specialist. In the video she shared with me, I saw a girl named Li Zhu sitting on the ground, hunching her back with her face almost touching on the ground. She often put her arms around her head to get a sense of security. She would not respond to anyone and crawled on the floor most of the time. She was one of the autistic children at Eagles’ Wings Orphanage in Jiao Zuo, China. The video showed that after a 20-minute music therapy session from Kim and her colleague, Li Zhu started to respond to Kim by standing up and walking toward her to receive a toy. This was the first time I witnessed the magic of music therapy and decided to join Kim’s Beacon Team to visit Eagles’ Wings in the summer of 2013. This was a meaningful trip for me as I came to understand the true meaning of music therapy and helping disadvantaged children.

 
 

Training the local staff

Kim and Angela leading the group singing

In the Activity Room

Playing Bach's Sarabande.

 
 

Li Zhu in the far back as of Dec., 2012

 

Li Zhu as of July, 2013

Day 1:

When we first arrived at Eagles’ Wings, I immediately loved the beautiful garden and lake in front of the building. I could hear children’s laughter in the distance. When we entered the Activity Room, it was filled with local staff and children. Then I recognized Li Zhu immediately. I could not believe she was the one in the video that refused to stand up and respond to anyone. Now, when I saw her, she was sitting on the chair and smiling at me. She ran to me and held my hand, as if we have known each other for a long time. After she spotted my iPhone, she grabbed it from me and started playing games on it. Then Kim introduced me to the staff and children and asked me to play some violin pieces. My first piece was Salut d’Amour by Elgar. While I was playing, I could sense movements in the room as some kids stood up and clapped their hands along with the song’s rhythm. Some children sitting in wheel chairs moved their bodies to the music. After I finished the piece, the room was filled with movements and sounds from the children. Then I started playing Sarabande by Bach, a solemn piece. When I played my first chords and made it sound like bells in the church, the whole room became quiet suddenly. After I finished, the audience applauded whole-heartedly. Then, Kim gave a short speech to the facility staff with my help in translating. In her speech, she stressed that she strongly believed that these children would become independent one day. Kim and her team would use music therapy to help them reach this goal, but she needed their support and corporation. After Kim’s speech, Angela Neve, the Beacon Team’s music therapist, played some songs from her computer and asked everyone to sing along with her. This is how we ended our first day there.

Day 2 and Day 3:

During these two days, the Beacon Team met with local staff without the kids.The team tried to help the staff better understand autistic children. According to Kim, these children do not talk, make eye contact, or strive to make friends, and it is especially difficult for them to concentrate. While Kim was explaining these attributes of the autistic children, some of the local staff started crying and identified their children with Kim’s description.Then they asked how they could help these children. Angela introduced them to the concept of music therapy which is explained in the upper right hand column of this page.

Angela and I working with the children

Day 4 and on:

The Team’s focus during the remaining days was on Li Zhu, but they started talking to Li Zhu’s nurse first. The nurse, though, did not believe what Kim told her and doubted whether the teaching would be effective. Kim and I had to reassure her to have faith and follow what she was told. We began working with Li Zhu; Kim brought a fan, a picture of monkey and a ball and their corresponding prompt cards. Kim showed Li Zhu each object with its corresponding prompt card. Then Kim shouted out the name on the prompt card and asked Li Zhu to find the right object. To our surprise, it took two times for Li Zhu to finish the task without any mistakes. The nurse started to show some smiles and followed what Kim was doing with Li Zhu. Soon, Li Zhu was able to pick the right object every time the nurse asked her. Kim praised the nurse for following the process correctly and asked her to repeatedly practice this for many times in the future to reinforce Li Zhu’s memory of this action. This video on the right showed how quickly Li Zhu learned things.  

After the training, Kim praised the nurse for following the instructions correctly, which helped Li Zhu make a huge progress. The nurse then started crying, saying no one had praised her for doing anything correctly, and that Li Zhu making good progress, because everyone at the orphanage thought Li Zhu was slow and the nurse was frustrated with her. Both Kim and I were touched by the nurse’s words and reassured her that her care taking of Li Zhu was admirable and encouraged her to believe in the method and Li Zhu. At this point, I started to understand that the meaning of this trip that is to have belief in these kids and give reassurance to the staff that there is a potential for better lives in the future for these kids.

More photos

According to Angela:

Music therapy is a scientific application of music to improve changes in non-musical mental fields including sensorimotor, speech and language, and cognitive. Music can help connect the two hemispheres of the brain, improving word retrieval in language, communication and developmental skills, which is important for school readiness. I also learned that when a person sings a song, he or she uses the whole brain to control and process information. Therefore, it is important to teach special needs kids to sing songs that could help improve their brains’ controllability. Angela mentioned that music can be used to teach social skills and pragmatics, and increase social interaction with peers. Also, the rhythm of music can help coordinate and time movements. So when you sing a song with the kids, you may use instruments to make the song more melodic, and you can also use metronome to emphasize the rhythm. The most important thing is when you sing a song to the kid, you need to use a prompt card to inform the kid what you want him of her to do. 

Angela at Eagles' Wings

Another accommodation Angela mentioned that might help is microphone, she said that sometimes, kids like microphone because it makes them feel like in a band mood or a pop song singer. She showed a video of how Casey reacted to microphone; the kid with difficulty in speaking, when there was not a microphone in front of him, he was not willing to sing nor speak, and he was not quite connected with the music although he kept clapping the drum randomly. But when there was a microphone in front of him, he would use his mouth to imitate the rhythm of the music, and eventually, he spoke, which meant that he was willing to communicate with people. 

Singing to the kids

Helping Kim train the child

Project by Cherry Yuen

From this trip, I learned that children with special needs might learn things at a slower pace than regular children.They just need more time and patience from us. I was happy to see these local staff really cared for the children. They stayed with these children no matter they were difficult or violent. Their love toward these children was the number one motivation for the children to improve and make progress. I wish they will have better lives because they have strong support from the staff and training from our team.

Eagles' Wings Families

Staff and Children

Video about Li Zhu's Learning