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Farmhouse school cares about "leftover childern" in China
    2010-05-10 11:03:51     CRIENGLISH.com

China's rapidly developing cities absorb enormous numbers of laborers from rural areas, many of whom leave behind their children when they find work far from home. Statistics indicate that the number of these "leftover children" in China's rural areas has topped 58 million. In the absence of parental love, many of the children are prone to psychological problems, and some become juvenile delinquents. To deal with this issue, a group of volunteers has started a project called the Farmhouse School. They hope to dispel the loneliness many of these children feel and teach them ethical behavior using classic Chinese texts.

Let's hear more from He Fei.

Organizers and volunteers of Farmhouse School, Liu Weiming, Wang Jianle, Hu Yiwen, Lai Ji and Peng Zhiyong (from left to right) [photo: CRIBEYONDBEIJING.com]

It's a beautiful morning in Longdong, a village in central China's Hunan Province.

Brightly lit by sunshine, the classroom of the Farmhouse School is filled with joy and laughter as students and volunteers sing together. The Farmhouse School is much like a talent-grooming center for "leftover children" in the village. They come to the school on weekends to learn classic Chinese texts, drawing, singing and playing games with the volunteers.

Peng Zhiyong is a village official andone of the co-founders of the school. He says the village residents have relatively high incomes because many go to work outside the region and leave their children behind at home.

"We set up this school initially to deal with the problems, mostly psychological, of leftover children in this village. Lacking parental love, these children easily feel lonely and may develop a potential to commit crimes."

Peng says because of the absence of supervision after school time, many of these students do not display standard behavior and are weak in self-control.

That's also part of the reason why volunteers at the Farmhouse School have chosen to teach classic Chinese texts. They hope the stories will teach the children traditional moral standards that have been passed down through generations.

The village's deep cultural background is another reason why the volunteers use the classics as teaching material.

Wang Jianle, a local official, another co-founder of the school, tells us more.

"Our village is home to the descendents of Zhang Shi, who was the first teacher of the historical Yuelu Academy, one of the four famous academies in China. Under their influence, the villagers are mostly fond of traditional Chinese poetry and writings."

Peng Zhiyong says the school was opened in March 2009.

In the beginning, to better attract the local leftover students, the organizers chose to hold classes in the homes of locally renowned people, which is why they called it the Farmhouse School.

"We mostly choose teaching locations in local villagers' homes, especially some respected people. Teaching the students in these family homes can further promote this idea, and the family hosts with their cultural knowledge can also help to explain the classic Chinese texts to the students."

Besides local villagers, college volunteers are another source of teachers at the Farmhouse School.

Lai Ji is a university senior who used to volunteer at the school. Now she works as an organizer.

"Currently we have about 150 volunteers who are mostly college students in Hunan. One-third of them teach in the village at least twice a month. Basically, we will select volunteers as group leaders in each teaching team, and they can select their own volunteers according to their needs."

Lai Ji says the volunteers also receive training before they start to work at the Farmhouse School.

"As we know, the cultural background of the village is very deep, and the principals of the local schools are very helpful, offering us lectures in understanding classic Chinese texts. Also, we often invite college professors to instruct our volunteers in some teaching techniques. We also encourage experience-sharing among new and senior volunteers."

Currently, the Farmhouse School has already set up five permanent teaching locations in three neighboring villages. It has about 150 regular students.

Organizer Peng Zhiyong says the current cost of running the school is not high, and the money basically comes from donations and funds from the local government, charity organizations or enterprises.

"Now the cost of one permanent teaching spot is about 37 thousand yuan, or more than 5 thousand U.S. dollars, per year. The money is largely used to subsidize the transportation and meals for volunteers. Also as a long-term project, it focuses more on a continuous effort to improve the development of leftover students, which will be beneficial for their healthy upbringing."

But because college students always face the problem of employment, how can the organizers of the Farmhouse School encourage more students to serve as volunteers?

Lai Ji gives us her answer.

"We are planning to set up a platform for college graduates who want to keep doing this volunteer work but also earn a salary. We will try to help them find a job that allows them to continue their volunteer work. Meanwhile, for those who only want to do this work during their college years, we will evaluate their contributions and give them a good reference for a future job."

The Farmhouse School has not only been attracting college students, but also some members of various social groups. The city-level writer's association is among the groups that actively take part in the volunteer work, handing out books to leftover children in the village.

Liu Weiming is Vice Chairman of the association.

"After a year of contact with these children, we can sense an obvious effect on them. Not only have they become more well-behaved and open-minded, but also their writing level has improved a lot."

The education of leftover children has long been a dilemma for their parents and society at large. The Farmhouse School has been quite successful up to now in attempting to deal with the issue.

And with its low costs, its operational model is easy to copy and spread across the country. As long as an area has colleges or even high schools, the model can work smoothly and flexibly with enough prospective volunteers who can tailor teaching material according to the cultures of the area.



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