Arriving in Shanghai takes your breath away. With a population of 21 million, the city has grown to a mega metropolis, representing the shiny façade of modern China.
It was a sunny fresh morning when I made my way to the IKEA China Service Office to meet with Save the Children and my co-travelers from the US and China. The Service Office is located right next to one of three IKEA stores in Shanghai, immediately creating a feeling of familiarity – blue, yellow, meatballs and Billy. Inside the store one could almost forget about being in China if it was not for the Chinese signs, a gentle reminder of being on the other side of the world.
After quickly introducing ourselves, Luisa from Save the Children gave us a briefing on China and the situation for children with disabilities, as they are the people our Soft Toys for Education programme from Save the Children is focusing on.
One can be easily fooled by modern cities like Shanghai, but the statistics in China speak strongly, showing that there still is a great need to invest in children’s wellbeing, especially for vulnerable children, children from minority groups and those with different abilities.
• There are still 130 million Chinese people living on less than $1 a day.
• The biggest human migration from rural areas into cities is still ongoing in China, leaving 61 million children behind as their parents seek work in urban areas.
• An estimated 3.9 million children under the age of 14 live with disabilities and are mostly discriminated against. Through IKEA’s yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign, the IKEA Foundation funds a Save the Children’s project that started in 2012, focusing on the fact that children with all different forms of abilities have a need and right to access quality education.
Access to education across China is not an issue any longer but securing its quality and creating a protected and safe environment – especially for children from migrant workers, minority groups and such with disabilities – remains a great challenge. With this project, Save the Children will reach out to change the lives of 2,000 children with disabilities and put a lot of focus on transforming society. The aim is to build greater acceptance for children with different abilities across the society and within governments, making inclusive education a reality in China.
Filled with curious excitement, we leave to catch our flight to Chengdu, the capital of Szechuan province, from where we will visit the projects and some of the children who have already benefitted from the programme.