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 Children  China Project #21864

Help a village care for its left-behind children

by OneSky
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
Help a village care for its left-behind children
No longer playing alone!
No longer playing alone!

In a corner of the activity room in her rural village in China, 5-year-old Zhenzhen sat alone, quietly playing by herself. She watched as other children laughed and played together, but they all stayed away. Until that all changed, thanks to the dedication her OneSky trained mentor...

The first time the OneSky trained mentor saw the lonely child, she noticed that the little girl’s clothes were soiled and that she seemed unkempt. Filled with sympathy for the child— and believing that her disheveled appearance was keeping the other children away—she sat down on the floor, and began to play with her. Soon after, she decided to pay her a home visit.

When the mentor knocked on the front door of the little girl’s house, she was greeted by Zhenzhen, who answered the door, smiling shyly, her dad standing behind her. As the mentor entered the house, she could see it was in disarray.

She learned that Zhenzhen lives with her parents and three siblings. Her mom, Yanling, is developmentally delayed and can only do limited housework. Her dad, Junsheng, is the breadwinner in the family. He struggles to make a living by cultivating some farmland. Apart from harvest seasons, he does odd jobs with the village’s construction team. But recent back problems had forced him to take time off. He was having a hard time keeping up with the children’s needs.

During the home visit, the mentor encouraged Zhenzhen’s mother to establish daily routines and help the children get in the habit of washing their faces and brushing their teeth. “They can learn to do those things on their own,” she told Yanling. “Besides that, make sure they have on clean and neat clothes each day. That will help them feel comfortable and confident.”

She urged Zhenzhen’s parents to send her to the village’s communal Children’s Center as often as possible, so that she could take part in more group activities that are good for her development and would help her socialize more with the other kids. She even offered to pick up Zhenzhen herself if her dad was too busy.

“Thank you, ” said Zhenzhen’s dad. “We are very willing to take your advice. It’s a good thing to let her learn and gain more knowledge and skills.” Yanling, too, nodded in agreement and seemed to really trust OneSky’s mentor.

From then on, the mentor visited Zhenzhen’s home frequently to provide follow-up and encouragement on Zhenzhen’s behalf. She continued to teach her parents how to focus on their children’s needs and give responsive care.

Soon when Zhenzhen came to the Children’s Center, her clothes were clean. She had become more confident and secure. In fact, she made many friends and was always smiling! She even led the other children in games and loved it when her friends followed and imitated her. In one of her favorites, the children all jumped around like “beans in a frying pan.”

Zhenzhen also really likes music. During music time in the Children’s Center, she enjoyed dancing to the tunes along with her mentor, who noticed that she has a good sense of rhythm.

In the “reading through playing” activity—one of the center’s popular activities—the mentor noticed that Zhenzhen was particularly interested in the story of Snow White. So, one day, when Zhenzhen was stacking building blocks, the mentor joined her and said, “Zhenzhen, your building blocks are so tall. Shall we build a castle for Snow White together?”

Zhenzhen quickly said “Yes!”

So, they worked together, and soon a beautiful Snow White’s castle was completed. Zhenzhen added a small path in front of the castle. “This road is for Snow White to walk on. It leads to her castle,” she said.

“Fantastic! You have a very creative imagination,” said the mentor.

During a recent home visit, she told Zhenzhen’s parents about all her progress. And she was pleasantly surprised to find out that Zhenzhen had been making progress at home as well; not just washing her face and brushing her teeth, but being more polite.

“Now Zhenzhen has become much more thoughtful,” her father said. “She immediately apologized to her sister after arguing with her. I asked her who taught her to say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ and she said it was you. I can’t thank you enough for teaching her so well!”

To read more updates about work on behalf of vulnerable children, be sure to go to our story website page.

Playtime is fun!
Playtime is fun!
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Having fun while learning!
Having fun while learning!

Meet Ge, one of our dedicated OneSky Family Mentors. Thanks to her work with us she is able to remain home with her children in their small rural village instead of leaving in search of factory work in a faraway city. We hope you enjoy her story and we appreciate all your past support of our village program!  

Ge works as a OneSky Family Mentor in a rural village in China. Below is her first-hand account of how she was able to stay at home with her children while helping out other families in her village … 

Up until 2015, my sons Xuanxuan and Chenchen were cared for by their grandparents while my husband and I worked away from our home in a village in China. I came home to visit my sons only once a year for the Spring Festival holiday. When the holiday was over and I had to leave them to go back to work, my parents-in-law had to take Chenchen away because he could not stop crying. Usually, my older son Xuanxuan was able to say goodbye, but I will never forget the day he pleaded with tears in his eyes, “Can you stay with us and not leave?” I told him, “Why don’t you understand? If I do not go to work, how can I earn money for you? Please listen to your grandparents and be a good boy at home.” I can still remember Xuanxuan’s grieving eyes.

At the time I was so focused on earning money for my family that I didn’t realize how harsh my response was. Still, I must have felt guilty because I became very sad when I heard that Chenchen, at the age of five, was asking why other mothers could take their children to school and pick them up, but not his. I was not very busy at work so I asked for a leave and returned home to visit my sons.

During my leave, I learned that OneSky was establishing its village programs so I applied for the job of Family Mentor. I was thrilled to get the job and, after discussing it with my husband, decided to take it so I could stay in the village. The training for my new job combined theoretical knowledge with role play and the topics included Building a Brain, the Responsive Care Cycle, and Secure Attachment.

My training made me realize how important the early years are for cognitive, physical and social-emotional development and how I had fallen short as a parent. For example, my sons were not good at expressing their feelings and ideas, which I realized was closely related to my parenting methods. In the past, I had been very dedicated to arranging everything for my children. When they objected, I blamed them for being disobedient. It was no wonder that Chenchen gradually stopped voicing any objections to my plans.

In 2016 my resolve to change my parenting style was tested when Chenchen’s classmates applied for a summer class under the supervision of their caregivers. I asked Chenchen, “Would you like to apply for it too?” Trained as he had been to defer to me, Chenchen, who was 6 years old, responded: “I’ll listen to you.” But I was committed to following the lead of my child as I had been trained to do. I told Chenchen: “This time, you can make the decision.”

At first, Chenchen stayed silent because he had gotten out of the habit of thinking for himself, but I kept encouraging him. Finally, he said, “Mom, I do not want to go to the summer class. Is it OK?”  After thinking about it for a while, I agreed that Chenchen didn’t have to go to the summer class. Chenchen was so happy he jumped up and down. During that summer, I helped him with his studies at home and he had a happy summer vacation.

This year, going into third grade, Chenchen actually volunteered to go to a summer class in part because he was intrigued by a newly added subject: English. He asked me, “Mom, can you speak English?” I said, “Not really.” Chenchen went to the class happily every day. At the end of the class, he was among the best in all three subjects, Chinese, Math and English.

My relationships with both of my sons have improved since I received training and I’m gratified to see similar changes in other families. In fact, the changes have been so pronounced that villagers who adopted a wait-and-see attitude when OneSky’s Family Skills program was established, now completely accept OneSky’s parenting ideas.

For example, I started going to the mahjong room to talk to one mom Li and her kindergartner. At first, she did not welcome my advice, “I am good at taking care of my child. Lili can play with my cell phone for almost half a day quietly without intruding on my playing mahjong. This is very good.” When I showed her an article about the downside of too much screen time, including TV and mobile phones, she looked shocked, though she stayed silent.

Reluctantly, Li attended a Family Skills session about getting children to listen and follow instructions. One of the main points was “helping children prepare for changes.” At first, the caregivers did not understand, but after some explanation, they started to talk loudly about what they did at home, which was to tell their children/grandchildren to do something right away even if they were interrupting them. This always led to the children crying loudly. Each caregiver shared one of his/her own examples and resolved to change. At the end of the session, Li said, “This advice is reasonable.”

Since Li’s second daughter, Xinxin, who is now 10 months old, was born, she has not played mahjong at all and often goes to the Center to listen to family sessions and participate in parent-child activities and seek advice. She has said many times regretfully, “If the OneSky Family Skills Program had been established earlier I would have taken care of my oldest daughter much better.”

I have the same regrets about how I raised my older son Xuanxuan, whom I forced to attend summer classes, which didn’t help his grades but did make him unhappy and led to his venting his dissatisfaction by throwing things. But like Li, I am determined to do better and I’m grateful for my job and determined to make great efforts to give left-behind children in the countryside a childhood that enables them to feel the warmth of a mother and promotes their cognitive, physical and social-emotional development.

One on one time.
One on one time.
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Kaikai and his grandfather share a moment.
Kaikai and his grandfather share a moment.

Kaikai’s grandfather, Zhigang, was doing the best he could, but his own health was deteriorating under the pressure of taking care of his wife, who is bedridden, his father, who is over 80, and his grandson. Read on to find out how we help left-behind children like Kaikai, who live in China’s rural village, thanks to supporters like you!

For eleven months after his birth, Kaikai’s mom had been at home to help, but in order to lessen the family’s financial burdens she, like Kaikai’s dad before her, left the village to find work leaving the household in her 57-year-old father’s hands.

Living in a household with three aging family members, Kaikai gradually became very shy and afraid of strangers and seldom communicated or interacted with others. Zhigang thought Kaikai might also have physical problems because he kept his mouth open most of the time and drooled excessively. Though his grandfather was anxious and distressed about his grandson’s development, he felt helpless about his ability to provide the kind of care Kaikai needed.

Happily, help was available at OneSky’s Family Center where trained Family Mentors provide parenting skills training, including on-site demonstrations, for overwhelmed caregivers like Kaikai’s grandfather. At the Center, OneSky’s trained mentors assessed Kaikai thoroughly and determined that despite his grandfather’s fears, his physical and cognitive development was good, though his language development was slow.

OneSky’s family mentors urged Zhigang to take Kaikai outdoors more and to bring him to the Family Center more often so they could help him come up with caregiver-child activities to promote his grandson’s healthy development. They also encouraged him to talk more to Kaikai at home, advice he dutifully followed. For example, when Zhigang did housework, he started telling Kaikai what he was doing and asking him to help when he could safely do so. Now that he was living in a less-silent household, Kaikai started understanding and remembering more vocabulary easily.

OneSky’s family mentor Zhenzhen also assured Kaikai’s grandfather that his excessive drooling did not stem from a physical deformity telling him, “Please do not worry. You will see improvement after some training exercises.”  When Zhenzhen  and her colleague visited the family at home, they designed a “boat blowing” game for Kaikai. They put some water in a basin and then placed a paper boat in it. The mentors demonstrated the game first and then asked the grandfather to guide Kaikai to blow the boat around the basin. Kaikai loved the game and in the process learned to use his lungs more effectively. At the end of the home visit, the family mentors suggested similar games like blowing bubbles, whistling, and blowing up balloons. The mentors’ advice and practical suggestions enhanced Zhigang’s confidence that he could provide the care his grandson needs.

Thanks to the united efforts of OneSky-trained family mentors and his grandfather, Kaikai, who is now 18 months old, has become livelier and even takes the initiative to smile and say hello to each of his teachers. Now, no matter how busy and discouraged he is, Zhigang makes the time to bring Kaikai to the OneSky Family Center regularly where he knows that, despite the challenges of caring for his grandson while also caring for his wife and father, he will always find help.

 

Stay tuned for further reports from the field!

Getting the help they need...
Getting the help they need...
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Left-behind children are at risk. OneSky can help.
Left-behind children are at risk. OneSky can help.

Left-behind children—such as those we serve in China’s rural villages— have increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, conduct disorder, substance use, wasting and stunting, as compared to children of non-migrants.

 

That was the conclusion of a major new study released last year in The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, which is among the world's oldest, most prestigious, and best known medical journals.

Its findings include the recommendation:

“Parental migration is detrimental to the health of left-behind children and adolescents, with no evidence of any benefit. Policy makers and health-care professionals need to take action to improve the health of these young people.”

This was the largest and most comprehensive study to date to assess the impact of parental migration on all key areas of child and adolescent health across low-income and middle-income countries.

The report funded by the Wellcome Trust outlines:

“In China, where the most research has been done to date, studies have shown poorer nutritional, developmental and mental health outcomes in left-behind children than children of non-migrant parents.” (Read the report in full here.)

OneSky’s approach to working in China’s rural villages offers an affordable and replicable approach to mitigating the damage done to young children left behind by parents who have migrated away for work. In fact, at any given time, up to 85% of the parents are away.

We offer parenting skills and responsive care training, benefiting infants, toddlers, and their preschool-aged siblings, delivered to grandparents, parents, or other primary caregivers, with a focus on providing nurturing care in daily life, with an emphasis on attachment and bonding, brain development and stimulation, and on fostering early communication.

We also offer programs promoting community engagement, geared toward strengthening now disintegrating rural communities and providing a nurturing home for young children despite parental absence by offering trainer-facilitated village gatherings, monthly community projects (community garden, field trips and treasure hunts with preschoolers, etc.), and cooperative childcare to give weary grandparents regular respite.

Read about OneSky’s work with left-behind children in China’s rural villages.

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Learning to jump is an important milestone.
Learning to jump is an important milestone.

Thank you for supporting our continued efforts in China’s rural villages. We hope you enjoy this report from the field about our work measuring the development of left-behind children.

Can your four-year-old catch a ball? How about hopping two meters? Or pedaling a tricycle?For most children, these successes over time would represent natural development. Before the first birthday, a child should be able to roll over. By two, walk without support. By three, go downstairs unaided…

But for children who don’t receive all the love, care and stimulation they need, development can be delayed.That’s frequently the case for millions of children in rural China. Last year there were almost seven million “left-behind children” in China.

In villages where OneSky works, as many as 85 percent of the parents have left to find work in cities. The vast majority of children left behind are cared for by grandparents. These elderly caregivers, frequently exhausted from daily farm work, often lack time and energy children require. But without that time, energy and attention from caring adults, children’s development may lag.

Measuring Children’s Progress

That’s one of the many ways OneSky is helping children and grandparents in rural villages. As part of its Family Skills training and support, OneSky family mentors help grandparents measure progress of the children in their care. By 6-years-old, for example, it’s hoped a child can use chopsticks skillfully.

When children struggle, the list helps grandparents and mentors identify problems early. They can encourage children to try new activities, develop new skills, and help them meet new milestones. The aim is to help each child gain confidence and skill at their own pace.

Their Most Important Teacher

“While the checklist gives us a good snapshot of progress, it’s important that we don’t compare peers,” says Alice Wong, OneSky Senior Director, Global Programs. Instead, she explained, each child’s accomplishments are measured from one period to the next.

Thanks to OneSky trained mentors, grandparents are now learning how to help every step of the way, offering love, encouragement and celebrating progress.

“Engaging grandparents in the process not only raises awareness of typical milestones,” adds Alice. “It also reinforces their role as the child’s most important teacher.”

 

OneSky-inspired program models in China’s rural villages are designed to teach communities and caregivers how to mitigate the damage done to young children left behind by migrant parents who have moved away to find work in faraway cities.

*Find out more about OneSky’s work helping left-behind children in rural China.

 

It truly takes a village to help raise a child!
It truly takes a village to help raise a child!
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