The day started with the journey to Shebu town, Xianfeng village. We met Zhou, the village General Secretary, who gave us a welcoming speech and an introduction on the village. The village has a total population of 1,886 people, of whom 320 work in the city. A total of 82 children aged between zero and three years old belong to this beautiful village and a good number show up every day to the centre to read, explore, run and play. So far, there are about five volunteers who work in the centre and they have recently had two primary school teachers and a few local residents who are willing to volunteer on a full-time basis.
The centre is open five days a week from 8.30am till 5pm. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the volunteers conduct activities for the parents and children together. What type of activities do they conduct? Activities such as parents and children reading, parents’ class, toy-making, home safety issues, games and many more.
In the two and a half years that the centre has been running, volunteers and parents have witnessed positive changes in their children who have visited the centre frequently. These include character changes—the children are more confident and sociable within the playgroup itself as well as with other adults. Our observation of the children was that they were extremely friendly and welcoming. Other than that, the villagers are also more receptive to the ECD centres and, according to the volunteers, three large neighbouring villages also join in the activities in the centre regularly.
After lunch, we took a two-hour drive up a mountainous area to a scenic village called Sanfu, which is located in the western part of Xiangtan County. When we arrived, we were greeted by the kids singing and dancing a welcome song in their blue cute bib (you would seriously wish you could have experienced this yourself because it was AWESOME and SWEET!) Once the mini show was over, we were taken into a small meeting room, in which we had a similar introduction to the village.
Sanfu village has a total of 1,180 people, 580 of whom are women and girls. Out of that, they also have approximately 215 children below the age of 18, 40 of whom are aged between zero and three years old. To give an overall picture of the living situation of the children in this village, 92% of the kids are looked after by a single parent.
This beautiful village is filled with paddy fields and that is the reason why their main agriculture produce is rice. The average household income perannum is RMB 6,500 (approximately RM 4,000 per annum). With that being said, that is the main reason why most of the parents would need to leave their kids in the village to make a living elsewhere.
The ECD centre has been established since July 2014 and, as a standard requirement from UNICEF, they open Monday—Friday from 8.30am—5pm. The volunteers are trained with the same credibility to run the centres in all locations, which means they would also have similar activities depending on the size of the centre. They attract more participants on special occasions such as Women’s Day, Mothers’ Day and Children’s Day, to show the villages what the ECD centre can provide for their children. So far, it has been very successful.
On top of the everyday activities that are conducted at the centres, the volunteers also conduct home visits to check on families who stop coming to the centre and to keep track on their wellbeing. With all that is said and done, everything is run with only two volunteers in this location.
In today’s visit, we observed that the family and kids are blessed with what they have in the centres even though we know for a fact there is more that we are able to help with. They are happy and they acknowledge the benefit that comes from the centres. The kids are able to socialise and learn at a young age to prepare themselves for the years to come. We believe that the money from our IKEA Foundation has helped so many lives and it has made a difference to the many people here in Hunan, China.