Children must know love to show love

This is Wan Shu. She lives with her grandparents while her mother and father work hundreds of miles away in the city.

Wan Shu is seven years old. Her name means ‘millions of books’

She dreams of a life where she is surrounded by a loving family. Here’s a drawing she made during a Caring for Life course. It’s called ‘The Home of Wan Shu, age 7’. She’s the one with brown hair, holding her mother’s hand.

But the sad truth is that Wan Shu hardly ever gets to hold her mother’s hand. If she’s lucky, she’ll see her once a year.

In China, an estimated 61 million left-behind children live without parents in remote rural areas. Their parents live and work far away in cities, and most only return home to see their children once a year, at Chinese New Year. Some children are left with grandparents, and others are just left alone. Older children must care for young brothers and sisters, and sometimes for aging grandparents too. Responsibility weighs heavy at a tender age.

Learning to love and feel empathy are essential for healthy social-emotional development

Children welcome the chance to play organised games at CFL summer camp, which helps form bonds between them

Caring for Life can offer emotional support to children who shoulder great responsibilities

It’s not surprising that when parents do make a rare visit, relationships tend to be tainted with guilt, resentment, and estrangement.

It’s all part of an endemic divide in China between wealthy urban and poor rural areas. While the country is making huge strides in economic development, the cost to the 82 million people living below the poverty line is devastating.

Research shows that many left-behind children in China drift into crime through a lack of guidance in their formative years. The impact it will have on the next generation of adults is of deep concern.

ACTAsia’s education programme for children, Caring for Life (CFL), has a great relevance for China’s left-behind children. A specially adapted course helps to guide these children towards healthy social-emotional development. Over the course of a few days, ACTAsia’s summer camps introduce the themes of love, empathy, compassion and responsibility to groups of children who know only self-sufficiency. The lessons are interactive and engaging and involve lots of physical activity, cooperation and group discussion. It gives them a chance to voice their ideas, and be heard. There are sessions on safe interactions with animals – crucial in areas where people and animals live closely together, and rabies is rife. And lessons to explain how people, animals and the environment are all connected.

Beyond the classroom, our staff are there to listen.

Teachers tell us that after a CFL course, children are happier and more sociable

Reinforcing respect for animals is an ideal and natural introduction to compassion

Caring for Life educators are always on hand to listen patiently