All over the world, people from rural areas are moving into the cities to build a future for themselves. In China, the escalating level of urbanisation has resulted in children being left in the countryside when their parents move to the city to work and make a living. These children are the focus of a project in which Vara municipality in Sweden and Huangshan in eastern China have developed methods of helping the children left behind handle the position in which they find themselves.
“In Vara, we have children who are growing up in foster homes, rather than with their parents, and we’ve developed methods of working with these children that we use to make sure they can stay in touch with their families and learn to handle their situation. And it’s these methods that are now beginning to be used in Huangchan,” says Helena Torsell, Project Coordinator in Vara municipality.
The project revolved around the centres set up for the children left behind – centres at which leisure activities and a certain amount of support are provided for the children. Local schools were also involved.
“We worked with a school and a centre and the teachers were trained in how to use these methods,” recalls Helena Torsell.
The involvement of local level politicians in the project also ensured that Vara’s methodology could spread across China.
“They tell us that they have circulated the methodology amongst other centres and that levels of expertise regarding these left-behind children, and the understanding of their situation, have increased. State funding has also been provided to work with these children, and awareness of the issue has been raised at municipal level, resulting in an increased focus on the problem,” says Helena Torsell.
Maria Gilbertsson, from the Social Services in Vara municipality, was involved in the project, and says that Vara has benefited from a change in perspective.
“We have, for example, learned that we have different views of the whole group/individual thing. In China, they work more with the group, while here, we tend to focus more on the individual,” says Maria.
She was also interested to see how the methods that Huangshan took from Vara municipality were used in a completely different way in China.
“They absorb the knowhow, and then rework in their own image,” says Maria Gilbertsson.