Uwe Brutzer at his bakery in Changsha, Hunan Province (COURTESY PHOTO)
Bach's Bakery on Xiangchun Road in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province, opens at eight o'clock in the morning every day and provides customers with German bread straight from the oven. The modest bakery looks similar to other shops on the winding lane; however, the Brutzers, who own the store, are well known as "the good Samaritans from Germany" in the neighborhood.
Uwe Brutzer opened the bakery in 2011 with the intent of furthering the couple's work helping hearing-impaired people in China. Of the 12 employees, seven have a hearing impairment, with two apprenticeships offered every year. Many of those who once worked in the bakery have gone on to start their own businesses.
Since 2002, the couple have traveled around the province, helping hearing-impaired people, especially children.
Brutzer is from Karlsruhe, a city on the Rhine River in southwest Germany. After graduating from college, he worked as a chemical engineer in a pharmaceutical factory in his hometown. His wife Dorothee worked as a teacher in a primary school. The couple lived a prosperous life, but Brutzer always wanted to learn Chinese. "I wanted to do something to help others. I was interested in China and I believed learning Chinese would be useful," he recalled.
He won Dorothee's support and the couple quit their jobs in Germany and headed to China. While they were learning the Chinese language, Brutzer happened to see a charity project run by Global Team Hilfsbund e.V from Germany in Changsha that was recruiting volunteers to help local hearing-impaired children with vocal rehabilitation training. The project provided him with an approach to helping others. In 2002, the couple moved to Changsha and began to work as volunteers.
At first, the Brutzers opened a vocal rehabilitation training class at the Hunan Disabled Persons' Federation. As rehabilitation trainers, they taught children listening skills and simple pronunciation every day.
Through cooperating with the federation and relevant organizations, they reached out to hearing-impaired children under 7 years old and applied for funds from Global Team Hilfsbund e.V for vocal rehabilitation. The couple has worked in most of the special education schools and rehabilitation centers in several cities in Hunan including Changsha, Zhuzhou and Xiangtan. In the past 16 years, the Brutzers have assisted more than 500 hearing-impaired children. Most of them can speak now, with a few fluently.
Bakery of love
In 2011, Brutzer left the rehabilitation center and bought the bakery once owned by another German. He recruited a professional German baker who taught hearing-impaired people to make bread.
"In the past 10 years, the educational conditions for hearing-impaired children have been greatly improved. However, they need employment training to integrate further into society. I wanted to do something to help," said Brutzer. His goal was to enable the hearing impaired to find secure jobs and live a decent life on their own.
Brutzer has a personal preference for the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach and that's how Bach's Bakery was born. "Bach wrote perfect music and we want to make perfect bread," he said. Meanwhile, Dorothee continued to work on vocal rehabilitation.
Initially, the bakery could only make ends meet due to its unfavorable location. However, after local media outlets told Brutzer's story, more and more customers learned about the bakery, and it began to perform increasingly better. Bach's Bakery became the bakery of love in Changsha and turned into a local attraction.
Brutzer is not too worry about whether Bach's Bakery makes a huge profit. "It is enough as long as people enjoy the bread we make and think we are doing something meaningful," he said. He welcomes any hearing-impaired person who wants to learn bread making and even provides dormitories for employees from other regions.
Progress on disabilities
In the past 16 years, Brutzer has witnessed the progress China has made in helping those with disabilities. Speaking on the topic, Brutzer was so excited that he raised his voice.
"China has made great progress. In the past, only a few hearing-impaired children could get training at rehabilitation centers. Now most children can participate in rehabilitation training and start to wear audiphones and receive listening training at 1 or 2 years old," Brutzer explained. "Sixteen years ago, children went to rehabilitation centers to receive training at an average age of 5. Since they missed the best years for getting listening training, the effects were not as good as they are now."
In Brutzer's view, China's rapid development and the government's focus on the issue have enabled more and more children to get assistance. "Now assistance projects and subsidies provided by the government are increasing and children in poverty-stricken areas can get help."
The report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China underlined the need to develop programs for people with disabilities and provide better rehabilitation services for them. With the implementation of rehabilitation and assistance projects, their situation in terms of receiving rehabilitation services has been remarkably improved.
Statistics show that currently there are 27.8 million hearing-impaired people in China and 23,000 hearing-impaired babies are born every year. Since 2009, China has initiated a rehabilitation project to provide hearing-impaired children up to the age of 6 in poor families with free artificial cochlea implant surgery and audiphones. Since 2012, China has allotted nearly 2 billion yuan ($289 million) to support hearing-impaired children. During the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) period, 27,000 hearing-impaired children received national assistance.
According to the Action Plan for Providing Disabled People With Targeted Rehabilitation Services issued by authorities in 2016, 80 percent of hearing-impaired people will be able to receive rehabilitation services by 2020.
Brutzer believes that as training related to hearing-impairment becomes popular in China, rehabilitation courses will cover all Chinese hearing-impaired children one day.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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