CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Hidden tragedy and miracle of care

 HONG KONG (SE): From its perch high on a hilltop, the modern façade of the Caritas Jockey Club Lai King Rehabilitation Centre gleams in the sunshine as it surveys the township and docklands of Kwai Chung in the New Territories.

Its handsome face also hides a tragedy of human illness. Those to whom society seldom gives a thought can be the casualties of our modern, fast-paced lifestyle and for around 750 people their struggle with life takes place behind the curtains that shield them from public view.
The curtains hide the struggle with schizophrenia, autism and a variety of illnesses that make coping in society extremely difficult or even impossible, but also hidden behind the modern façade is a miracle of kindness, care and expertise that brings joy and dignity into the lives of those who may otherwise be left behind and forgotten.
"Finding staff is difficult. Living off government subventions means that salaries are not that high and the work can be demanding as people are often slow to respond. You really need to want to work here, or have a vocation," an administrator at the centre explains.
The upper floors house some 480 people, mostly suffering the debilitating effects of schizophrenia, who in all probability will spend the rest of their days there.
A new concept in holistic care when it was set up some 13 years ago, each resident works, exercises and is treated according to ability and need. A gymnasium addresses the physical needs of motor coordination and keeping strength in the body, as well as helping concentration.
A physiotherapist explains that people are often not as old as they look, as the drug regime they live on causes rapid physical degeneration and premature aging, so he devises simple exercises to ensure their backs stay straight and they do not develop a permanent slouch.
But days are long and without a purpose are a nightmare. Art and design can put a reason into getting out of bed each day and those with the knack spend some hours drawing, painting and designing.
On the wall of the art room a painting, which took out first prize in an annual competition that displays the work of people from the various vocational training centres in Hong Kong, hangs proudly.
Ceramic tile plates that are the product of hundreds of chips making up attractive designs are created in another space. The atmosphere is quiet as deep concentration sees the intricate patterns taking shape.
The actions are repetitive, something that tends to bore many people, but are attractive to those afflicted with the illnesses that bring them to the centre.
And as with any job, there is pay day. A tour for visitors greets guests with a table selling the wares made in the centre, both a treat to see and sign to the residents they are not just digging holes and filling them in. An essential part of the dignity of work is the return on labour.
But a new problem is emerging. Not everything was foreseen when the facility was first set up, but with permanent residents aging, a new function area designed to take care of the deterioration caused by aging will become necessary.
The challenges keep growing.
But the atmosphere changes as you move down. The people there are transient. Although their stays are lengthy, programmes are set in place to help them learn to live in the hostile environment of this society of Hong Kong. The ambition is to see them hold a job and return to their homes.
Some go to work each day, usually at a sheltered workshop. Centre programmes train them in the skills they need to cope and survive, often in scary areas like catching a minibus or managing their low energy levels, which can be depleted by drug regimes.
On this floor there are computer rooms, as people are on average younger and some quite computer literate. They can search for jobs or follow their interest lines. A library also serves this purpose and games rooms and television provide relaxation and develop socialising skills.
Every activity and minute is carefully planned and the in-house workshops provide a chance to hone the necessary skills.
The Caritas La Vie Bakery wafts its aromas across other activities. It provides on the job training and employment opportunities to enhance self-confidence, an important step in becoming a self-reliant member of society.
Everything has a purpose and a reason. In the bakery all are apprentices and will come out with a qualification. But in a Chinese city why English cookies, tarts and bread, not Chinese delicacies?
"They mostly involve the use of a lot of oil," the head chef explains. "It soils the atmosphere and leaves a bad odour throughout the place, also makes it hard to keep clean."
La Vie Bakery products are a regular sight at Church functions and bazaars. They also end up in gift packs for wedding receptions, business functions and snack packs. These too are put together in another section of the workspace, mostly on contract to companies.
There is a wide variety of products stacked and waiting to find a home in someone's package. Inflight packs for airlines, toiletries for hotels, DVD jackets, book covers and boxed products are put together neatly.
Once again it is repetitive work, many people's weakness, but in this environment it is a strength.
Wrapping of the La Vie products is kept as manual as possible, as watching automated machines can be tedious, so a manual task inserted into the rhythm keeps the head tuned.
And of course there is pay day, which means products have to be marketed. The centre used to run its own shop in a mall, but rents made it inviable, so today they are only sold online and through direct marketing.
The centre has lessons for everyone, even for visitors. The smiling faces and happy waves that greet are refreshing and a reminder that a lot more joy could be injected into the sterile environments that we walk around in the city each day.
It is tempting to give thanks that you do not suffer from the afflictions of others, but that is a vain temptation, as we all have our own crucifixions and there is a lesson here that the important thing in life is to be content with what you have and with who you are.
As the great missionary to seventh century Europe, St. Columban, once said, "A life unlike your own may well be your teacher."


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