One child’s kindness inspired Caring for Life Education in schools

The compassion of a six-year-old was the spark for a humane education programme, which now reaches more than 100,000 children across China.

  • Six-year-old Kiki was the champion for CFL in schools
  • Children are naturally sympathetic towards nature and animals, and natural influencers for their peers and families
  • ACTAsia’s pioneer schools use education to change perceptions and encourage compassionate living

The first champion for CFL in schools

Ten years ago Kiki was just six years old, when her own curiosity led her to become the first ambassador for Caring for Life (CFL) Education for children.

Kiki’s mother was a volunteer for ACTAsia, which focused on consumer education at the time. It was when Kiki saw her mother packaging campaign materials about fur production for students in China, that she picked up a Fur-Free Life badge and asked what it meant. She could hardly believe that fur was the skin of the beautiful, wild animals pictured on the leaflets, or that she’d seen some of her friends and family wearing it! She knew straight away she must tell them where their furry coats and accessories really came from.

Kiki was so affected by what she learnt, that she asked her mother if she could take a handful of badges to school, Tang Guo-an Memorial School, to share with her friends. Her mother and teacher agreed, and Kiki distributed them among her class, telling them why fur was cruel, inviting them to wear the badge and tell the story to their own families.

Kiki’s friends sporting their fur-free badges


Blazing a trail for compassion

The subject of fur farming was new to the teacher, Ms Luo, but she was sympathetic towards the little girl’s new passion, and interested to learn more. Seeing how keen Kiki’s friends were to pass on what they now knew, she asked if Kiki would like to speak about fur in assembly to the whole school.

The children and staff were spellbound by Kiki’s presentation, including the principal. It might seem strange that many professionals didn’t already have an opinion on fur, but China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of fur pelts. Fur is routinely produced and worn, with the fur production and supply chain a major national employer; the moral questions asked around fur in Europe and North America do not generally arise. Just as meat is eaten and leather is worn across the world, so fur is bought and worn in China.

Following Kiki’s presentation, the principal invited ACTAsia to come and talk to the school, which helped embed the messages Kiki had sparked. Kiki began to volunteer for ACTAsia, and brought her friends to help.

Tang Guo-an Memorial School in Zhuhai first pioneer

ACTAsia’s founder and CEO, Pei Su, describes Kiki’s awakening as ‘opening a secret door’.

“We already knew the importance of educating future consumers while they are still children and together with experts were developing the world’s first six-year Caring for Life curriculum. But we had not identified how to introduce it into schools. It was who Kiki showed us the door with her secret key, and Tang Guo-an Memorial School in Zhuhai became our first pilot school for this ground breaking education programme.”

Tang Guo-an took the baton and flew with the concept of CFL. Riding the enthusiasm of the children, the school principal embraced a growing understanding of human connections with nature and instigated a new school vegetable garden. The organic garden is growing stronger than ever, planted, tended and harvested by the children themselves, and crops of fruit and veg cooked and eaten for lunch. It leads to discussion about plant-based diets, nutrition, the effect pesticides have on the environment and wildlife, and gives everyone an understanding of nurturing rather than exploiting natural resources, and how climate change can devastate a delicate natural balance.

“It’s an opportunity to instil green values among this blossoming community of ecologically conscious families,” explains Mrs Luo. “We know that children are influencers – they take the message home. Our community is so proud of our developing awareness of human relationships with nature and animals. It has become our identity – we are custodians of our beautiful planet, pioneers of a sustainable society.”

Tang Guo-an is now one of ten pioneer schools in China, teaching ACTAsia’s Caring for Life Curriculum for children for more than seven years. It’s a unique six-year curriculum for all primary school years, encompassing social welfare and citizenship, animal welfare and environmental issues, recognising the interdependence of all living things. The curriculum was developed from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Four Pillars of Education by ACTAsia and Nick Leney.

Changing perceptions through education

At 16 years old, Kiki is now a striking influencer. She was head girl at Tang Guo-an primary and junior high school, and her outstanding performance won her her a slot to broadcast about sustainable fashion over the school radio, and represent the school at external youth events. She’s leading her contemporaries away from conspicuous consumption, towards compassionate consumption. Kiki has even spoken about sustainable fashion and her own experience of influencing her peers at school at ACTAsia’s first teacher training conference in 2018.

“People ask me how Caring for Life will ever reach every school in China,” says Pei Su, “but Kiki has shown us how: potentially there’s a Kiki in every school. Humane education relies on sowing the seeds of compassion by touching comparatively few people with the truth, who in turn touch others, and then we can watch the message proliferate. Just look at what Kiki has achieved: educating her friends, their parents, the teachers and their families – and so it goes on. Tang Guo-an School is exemplary. We owe so much to Kiki – she is a changemaker who showed us the way.”

Hear it from Kiki

“When I was young, I overheard what my mum and her colleagues said in meetings and it had a big impact on me. As I grew older and learned about the world, I needed to do something about animal and environmental protection.

It’s not that people are selfish or don’t have empathy, but they don’t know the truth, they don’t know how much damage their actions bring to our planet. That’s why it’s even more important for people who do know to take responsibility and spread empathy. Empathy is not only for animals but also plays a vital role in human relationships. When people care for and understand each other, there will be fewer conflicts in society.

If people become the best they can be and cherish natural resources, we can create a greener Earth together. Cultivating a sense of empathy in children will make this process much less tortuous, as they will form our new society. I believe that empathy programmes are an indispensable part of our youth’s growth, just like Maths and English.

In the last year, I was motivated to write a speech about sustainability. Everyday at school, I saw my friends buying drinks in plastic bottles, and I thought how incredible that just one class can create so much garbage. The experts have told us the importance of protecting the environment, so why can’t we do it? I believe many students will have grown up after this pandemic and the lessons it has taught them.

Every life deserves to be respected, whether it’s the person who harms others or the animal that is harmed; all deserve to be loved. I think that is my deepest experience.”