The Beijing Kangnazhou Autism Family Support Center held an introductory and promotional event for its Xing Xing Xiao Zhen (星星小镇) program in Haidian District, Beijing on November 12. The main purposes of the event were to introduce the Xing Xing Xiao Zhen, a planned town that is specifically designed for children suffering from autism, and recruit more parents to develop the town together. Nearly a hundred parents of autistic children attended the meeting, most of them with children in their teens and 20s.
The reference models of Xing Xing Xiao Zhen are the Zelkova Home (Keyaki no Sato) in Japan and the Camphill Communities. The Zelkova Home was established in 1985 by 21 autistic children’s parents. Currently, there are more than 100 adult autistic people living and working there. Camphill is a worldwide volunteer organization that has set up more than 100 communities in over 20 countries. The communities offer support to lots of people with special needs and provide them with opportunities to develop their potential.
According to one of Xing Xing Xiao Zhen’s sponsors, the father of a girl called Luoyi, the overall area of the town is planned to be 300-500 acres large and accommodate 300-500 autistic people. In its first phase the town will be 60-100 acres and able to accommodate 100 residents. The total investment is around 50 million yuan, and mainly comes from parents’ fundraising and subsidies from enterprises. Another sponsor, the father of a boy named Xiaoman, explained that the town is located in Jinzhai County, Anhui province. It takes about five to six hours to get there from Beijing by high-speed trains, and one to two hours from Nanjing, Wuhan or Hefei. There is also an airport nearby now under construction.
The complete Xing Xing Xiao Zhen will provide services including living support, sheltered labor, supported employment, industrial investment, modern agricultural tourism and social integration. It will accept other types of mentally disabled families as well and become a permanent comprehensive community primarily serving adult autistic groups. When it comes to the property rights of the land, Xiaoman’s father noted that they are still negotiating with the local government regarding whether Xing Xing Xiao Zhen will be granted the land use rights or freehold. The government has been very supportive however, and the land use for the first phase is nearly agreed upon.
Luoyi’s father explained that the town will be run as a corporation; in the first phase the plan is to recruit 40 shareholders, with each of them investing 500,000 yuan. Once the construction is completed, children will be able to move in. The town will include facilities for entertainment, vocational training and sheltered employment, and have professional counsellors and maintenance teams for assistance. If everything goes well, the whole phase will take two years to complete.
After the event on November 12, Xiaoman’s father said that there were about 30 parents who had expressed willingness to join in the program as stakeholders. One of the parents pointed out that money was not the key factor in their eyes; the most important thing was whether the town would fulfil their expectations. Most of the parents think that it is highly difficult for their children to integrate into mainstream society, and what they care about the most is that their children should receive safe and reliable care at the town.