Under the scorching August sun in Beijing’s Pinggu District, a group of children wearing blindfolds could recently be seen groping their way forward on a long and narrow road sandwiched between the bushes.
People shouted unpleasant remarks at the young group, saying things like “hurry up” and questioning why they were out and about if they couldn’t see properly.
The yelling came from a group of teachers from Beijing Chunhui Children’s Foundation, who used scenario simulation to lead the able-bodied children to experience and understand the life of kids with special needs at an “integrated growth summer camp”.
Among the 40 children who participated in the camp, 70 percent were considered to be “in distress”, according to Yao Juan, senior director of Chunhui’s Watch Project which runs the camp. In China, there are millions of children in distress — “this is a group that needs to be identified and supported urgently.”
Beijing Chunhui Children’s Foundation was founded and registered in 2012, in order to provide better services for Chinese children. The foundation is committed to accepting children, accompanying children, helping children achieve their goals, and ultimately promoting the development of an industry serving children specifically.
According to a 2016 document from China’s State Council, children in distress include those who have difficulties in their day-to-day life, those that require medical treatment, and those that have difficulty accessing education due to poverty; it also includes children with disabilities who have difficulties with rehabilitation, personal care, nursing and social integration, and children whose personal safety is threatened or violated by abuse, abandonment, accidental injury, and more due to lack of parenting or improper guardianship.
Yao told reporters from China Times that the number of distressed children in Beijing’s Tongzhou District, which she is responsible for, is around 1,100. At present, Chunhui has achieved full coverage of Tongzhou’s distressed children through direct social work and indirect work like empowering local social organizations. Not only that, through what they call “the practice of moderate inclusive benefits”, Yao and her colleagues actually serve more than 10,000 children each year.
The idea of “moderate inclusive benefits” comes from Chunhui’s pursuit of “label-free attitudes” and “integration” when they deal with children in need, whether or not they are considered to be “in distress”.
“Here in Chunhui we have a saying, don’t put labels on children — neither positive nor negative ones,” Yao said. For example, “if we keep praising a child for being smart, then in order to maintain the ‘smartness’, the child may not dare to make any mistakes. In addition, ‘distressed children’ is a societal-level definition to make some kind of distinction, not for children to label themselves or others”.
In actual activities, such as the summer camp, among the 40 children aged 7 to 17, 28 children are “in distress” while 12 are not. Teachers do not directly label them as “distressed children” and “non-distressed children” when communicating with them, instead, they use a more neutral classification like “group A and group B”, and they also mix children from both groups to encourage integration.
Following the logic behind “moderate inclusive benefits”, Chunhui’s staff always welcome children and parents from non-distressed families to join their activities, with the aim of encouraging wider integration.
Over the years, Chunhui Children’s Foundation has successively launched three major projects: Chunhui Moms, Chunhui Home of Love and Chunhui Watch.
Since 2000, Chunhui Moms has carried out responsive education and care for orphans and disabled children aged 0 to 18 in the welfare institutions under the Ministry of Civil Affairs, with five sub-projects — namely Chunhui Infant, Preschool, Teenager, Family and Chunhui Training Program.
In order to ensure the professionalism of Chunhui Moms, the foundation has established contacts with local welfare home managers, nurses, teachers, foster parents, and social workers to systematically train thousands of “Chunhui moms” to apply the responsive education and parenting concept to their childcare approaches.
In 2009, the “Chunhui Home of Love” project was established to provide healthcare services to orphans. By cooperating with more than 300 welfare institutions and 56 hospitals across the country, the project provides comprehensive services for orphans with disabilities or serious illness.
In 2015, the “Chunhui Watch” project was launched in Henan, and has been carried out in 57 local villages in order to provide children in distress with emotional support, empowerment and a nurturing environment.
The initial service target of Chunhui Watch were mainly left-behind children living in rural areas, Yao said. As China broadens its child welfare services, Chunhui gradually expanded their service target to distressed children throughout the country.