Village library aims to help left-behind children

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NGOs, social workers, community volunteers, and local administrations have come together to explore how to provide more comprehensive community services to local children and teenagers in Xiaopiliu Village, Hunan Province.

Their collaboration has turned the village’s Mingzhi Library into a community center providing child welfare as well as cultural and educational services for the village’s left-behind children.

Xiaopiliu Village is located in Hunan’s Xiangxi Prefecture. Over 600 villagers – almost the entire local workforce — are currently working as migrant laborers in other parts of China. Of the 176 children under the age of 15, 74 are left-behind children with both of their parents working away.

Mingzhi Library was founded by Xiang Minzhi, a villager who was born with a leg disability that limits his mobility. Despite dropping out of school in fifth grade, Xiang did not stop learning. Instead, he maintained a keen interest in reading as his main means of understanding the outside world.

Noticing the lack of company, proper education and family support available to many local children, Xiang felt the need to think of a way to address the problem.

In 2016, he proposed the idea of ​​setting up a rural library and raised 20,000 yuan ($3,164) as an initial fund. Luxi County Civil Affairs Department and Tanxi Town government then stepped in – and together with Luxi County Disabled Persons’ Federation, Luxi County Culture and Tourism Bureau and other departments, they provided financial and material support for the library.

In 2018, China promoted the development of grassroots child welfare networks and teams, requiring each township to be assigned a child supervisor, each village (community) to be assigned a child director, and each village (community) to establish a children’s community center. Luxi County Civil Affairs Bureau followed the new policy and decided to designate Mingzhi Library as the children’s community center for Xiaopiliu Village, and Xiang was hired as the local children’s assistant director.

To help him carry out his new role, Xiang was trained by staff from the Child Welfare Unit of Luxi County Civil Affairs Bureau and social workers from the township social work center. He continues to pursue professional development, organize relevant activities, and archive children’s files according to the requirements of local children’s services.

In the past two years, Xiang has conducted an in-depth study of 54 left-behind children in the village and has established a relatively detailed and standardized system of keeping case records. At the same time, with the support of the civil affairs departments of Xiangxi Prefecture and Luxi County, a number of social work agencies have been tasked with guiding and coordinating Mingzhi Library to provide services such as book lending, cultural events and charity programs for left-behind children and villagers.

Serving as a comprehensive community children’s center, the library has hosted seminars, courses, workshops and a range of other events. For example, in October 2020, Xiangxi Feiyue Social Worker Service Center hosted training courses — inviting academics and practitioners to give talks on issues such as child welfare policies.

And this January, the Department of Internal Medicine at Xiangxi Prefecture People’s Hospital sent a team to offer free consultations and diagnosis to 34 left-behind children, as well as 50 elderly villagers, providing them with advice on health management.