We departed from the hotel around 8:30 a.m. to go to Wang Jia Ping village in Wufeng County.
While we are moving, we had a chance to talk with Ms. Heather from UNICEF China in a bus. She said that the IKEA Foundation is the largest private-sector donor for UNICEF China, and it started contributing to China’s country programs in 2003. The IKEA Foundation mainly focuses its support on early childhood development projects for babies to 6-year-olds. Especially she expressed her appreciation for IKEA co-workers who have shown a great deal of passion and devotion to bringing the Soft Toys for Education campaign alive. She said she was able to feel the genuine love for children in them.
After a three-hour long journey, we finally arrived at the small village where we were going to visit a community-based early childhood development centre for the infant-to-3-year-old children. It was rainy and the local people welcomed us with cups of hot tea.
In a meeting room, we had a short time to introduce each other, and the governor, Mr. Lv, gave us opening remarks. He said there are 180 villages in Wufeng County and Wang Jia Ping village is one that has a large number of left-behind children, as their parents move to cities seeking employment. Ms. Tan, who is in charge of the early childhood development centre and a local village women’s cadre, explained that this centre became operational in 2014 and it is very popular among grandparents and parents of the village. She said they love to bring their children to play together at the centre.
After a brief meeting, we went downstairs to observe parent-child interactive activities. To be honest, we had a misconception about the centre before we came here. We thought this centre was a kind of day-care centre for the left-behind children. So we were curious how only two volunteers could take care of all the children who came to this centre. However, while we took part in a group activity, we noticed that all children were with their caregivers (mainly parents or grandparents). We then were told by UNICEF that the centre’s main objective is to help build the capacity of caregivers and teach them the best childrearing practices. The centre also provides caregivers with information on child health, nutrition and early stimulation so that they can optimise young children’s developmental outcomes. So it is not a day-care centre but an early childhood development centre.
There are various toys and books at the centre, and there is also a computer for playing music for activities taking place in the room. Volunteers lead parent-child games and storybook reading at the centre, and parent can learn from them how to play with their young children at home. The caregivers can bring their children to play at the centre anytime from morning to evening. There are also group activities led and organised by the trained volunteers on weekends.
One of our members asked a question to a mother: “How often do you come here, and what makes you come here?” and she replied, “I normally come here three days a week because there are various toys and books which I do not have in my house. But the main reason is my kid loves to come here and he asks me to.”
As the mother of a one-year-old daughter, I am very aware of the importance of this kind of community. When I am with my daughter all day at home, I tend to leave her alone due to many chores, etc. However, if I have a gathering with other mothers, I have more time to interact with her. Needless to say, adequate parenting skills and knowledge of caregiving is very useful for a beginner mother like me. Since the chance to develop should be equal to all of us, I felt proud of working at IKEA, which realises this value.
One thing that impressed me is that UNICEF has designed and implemented this project with an aim to make it sustainable. The outputs from the project will contribute to building a community-based early childhood development model and, with local government’s effort and resources, this model is expected to be adopted by more communities and therefore benefit more children in China.
Around 1 p.m., we went to one of the villagers’ houses for lunch, as there were no restaurants in this small village. They served us various dishes all prepared with local ingredients. Some were a little bit exotic for us (especially the cock head soup), but mostly we enjoyed the chance to taste authentic local cuisine. We were also very touched by their hospitality.
We felt it was a pity we couldn’t stay longer at this village because of the long distance driving back to the hotel we stay at. But it was not too short a time to feel the warmth of the people. One of girls working at the centre burst into tears when we said goodbye.
After the visit we realised that investing in early interventions for the most vulnerable children is the most effective way for societies to ensure all children reach their full potential.