Hope in store for deaf-mute children
German couple offers training and employment opportunities to disabled youngsters in Changsha
It's not difficult to find foreigners who have lived in China for more than a decade, but it's unusual to find a couple that has stayed for 14 years despite being almost unable to make ends meet.
Uwe Brutzer and his wife, Dorothree, own a Western snack shop in Changsha, Hunan province, and are devoted to helping deaf-mute children.
To locals, they are known as Wu Zhengrong and Du Xuehui, and having been in China for so long, they speak fluent Mandarin.
In 2002, they took a 17-hour flight to Changsha from Germany after Brutzer read a report on Chinese deaf-mute people that made him "determined to do something for them".
The 46-year-old joined a charity program that looks after deaf-mute children in the province and helped them with speech rehabilitation training.
The Brutzers spent day after day beating gongs or drums to stimulate the children's auditory nerves, and helping them to recognize images. They also helped children in many other cities in Hunan, including Shaoyang, Xiangxi and Yongzhou.
Their efforts paid off. Among the 500 children they helped, many are now able to speak after receiving their training, and a few are even able to communicate fully.
However, due to communication issues, they found many of the children were unable to secure employment as they grew up.
In late 2011, the Brutzers opened their snack shop and, with the help of a charity back home, they found a German with more than 20 years' experience working with deaf-mute people to help train Chinese deaf-mute people in the shop for four years.
Brutzer says he named the shop after J.S. Bach's Chinese name, Ba He, and hopes to make the best snacks, just like Bach made the best music. However, running the shop is not easy, given the cost of rent and salaries for 10 employees, including five deaf-mute people.
The shop was originally located on Taipingjie Street, but the rent of 10,000 yuan ($1,500; 1,340 euros) a month forced the couple to relocate to a small lane called Xiangchunxiang. The lower rental fee eased the financial strain and allowed the couple to concentrate more on making quality bread.
"I only follow one principal: Use the best ingredients to make bread with relentless effort," Brutzer says.
The shop has many regular customers. However, it's still difficult to make ends meet.
"The current daily turnover in summer is only about 1,000 yuan. We may pocket about 2,000 yuan a day when business is good, but that is only enough to break even," he says.
The monthly salary for each employee is 4,000 yuan, including social insurance.
"My wife also runs education projects with two friends. In cooperation with a Hong Kong foundation, she's also trying to raise funds in Germany," he says. The funds are used for rehabilitation training for deaf-mute children age 2 to 6, and to support students from poverty-stricken families in special schools in Changsha and Huaihua, another city in Hunan.
The couple has sacrificed a lot. For example, Brutzer was unable to go home to visit his parents before they passed away. However, certain moments have confirmed that their sacrifice is worthwhile, such as when a deaf-mute girl they helped was enrolled at university, which is not easy in China.
"Everyone deserves equal opportunities. We want to be people who create opportunities," he adds.