In rural China, about 270 million laborers have left their villages to look for work in cities. (The Economist) It is likely the largest voluntary migration in the history of the world. Many of those workers have children, and most do not take them along. These children are called liushou ertong, or ‘left-behind children’. According to UNICEF, the number of left-behind children has now reached over 61 million, meaning that 1 in every 5 children in China is ‘left-behind’.
A study by the Second Military Medical University in Shanghai showed on average, the absence of one or both parents has a tendency to substantially worsen left-behind children’s psychological development, emotional well being, social functioning, and school performance, as compared to children living with both parents.
CWEF’s newest program seeks to reach out to the left-behind children. The GROW program was developed by a CWEF staff member and a number of university interns. The university students received high school scholarships from CWEF or participated in the REACH student development program, through which they learned the importance and personal significance of giving back to their community.
With guidance and support from CWEF staff, the GROW program is mainly organized and led by our university interns. They have recruited and organized their classmates and fellow CWEF recipients into a large and active student mentor volunteer group.
Each month, a small group of these volunteers heads out to a small rural village to teach, encourage and show love to the ‘left-behind’ kids at a local primary school in Guangdong Province. GROW student mentors seek to facilitate improved communication between children and their parents, as well as coordinate with local schools to organize regular GROW activities at the school consisting of music, sports, language instruction, and other fun activities. GROW provides an opportunity for both children and young adults to ‘grow up together’ with a greater sense of service for others and hope for the future.
In December, the GROW team organized their visit just before Christmas, opening the opportunity to share about the meaning of Christmas. Activities included a fun nativity drama and songs such as Silent Night. The GROW team also had a time of fellowship and reflection each evening.
There are many reasons why NGO’s engage in work that aims to improve the circumstances of people in impoverished communities. Each organization has their own way to measure outcomes and determine whether their programs are successful. For the staff and leadership of CWEF watching young children grow and mature into thriving, active and committed members of society, as we’ve seen with our university interns, is the truest measure of success.