Rural China

It was a terrible tragedy that brought Free the Children to China. In 2002, 38 children between the ages of eight and 11 were killed in a factory explosion while putting together fireworks to pay for their schooling.

Those 38 children lost their lives because they were forced into dangerous labor rather than being enrolled in school, a problem that can be seen all across China.

China’s education system is woefully underfunded and there is a shortage of schools in rural areas. That means many rural students must take a long, difficult, and often incredibly dangerous trek to get to class.

Other children can’t go to school at all. Going to school costs money, and the poverty prevalent in rural China forces many children to work to help support their families rather than go to school. In fact, more than five million Chinese children don’t attend school, and are working in situations of child labor.

What We Do

In response to the tragedy at the fireworks factory, Free The Children partnered with local governments to build and furnish more schools in rural communities.

There is great inequality between boys’ and girls’ access to education, so much of our work focuses on girls and women. By providing communities with access to Adopt a Village initiatives, Free The Children is empowering people with the tools they need to transform their lives.

Here are some of the projects we are proud to work on in China:


Most of China’s 1.3 billion people live in rural communities, so the vast majority of the country’s schools are in the countryside. But because there is great poverty in many rural communities, these schools are often under-funded, and the school-aged children face barriers to attending class. This is where Free The Children helps by:

  • Building schools, teacher accommodations and libraries
  • Outfitting classrooms with furnishings and textbooks
  • Providing students with school uniforms and supplies
  • Providing teacher training and capacity building

Clean Water and Sanitation

There are around 100 million people in China who don’t have access to clean or reliable sources of water, and nearly five times that number lack access to proper sanitation facilities, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF. This leads to a large number of health problems, including diarrhea, which can be deadly. We help by partnering to provide:

  • Hand-washing stations
  • Latrines
  • Clean water systems
  • Water and sanitation education


People who live in rural China suffer from the same illnesses and barriers to health as most people in other under-developed parts of the world: waterborne illnesses such as cholera; poor hygiene practices; inadequate medical care; and poor access to services due to the remote locations of villages. Leprosy, HIV/AIDS, smoking-related illnesses, tuberculosis and malnutrition are also major issues here. We help in our partner communities by:

  • Running health workshops for students and community members
  • Training community health workers
  • Supporting local health clinics

Agriculture and Food Security

There is huge disparity in nutrition and health among children in urban and rural parts of China. According to the Rural Education Action Project, 34 percent of children in rural China have iron deficiency anemia, and 40 percent are infected with intestinal worms. These children face life-long health issues as a result. In addition, many of the communities we work with face drought, creating serious challenges for rural subsistence farmers in their crop production and feeding their families. We help through:

  • Agriculture and development training
  • Seed distribution
  • Crop irrigation
  • Distribution of improved tools and resources

Alternative Income and Livelihood

Empowering the people in rural China with the tools they need earn an income is a key Adopt a Village pillar. Here’s how we help:

  • Teaching animal husbandry and providing community members with animals for breeding and income opportunities
  • Providing alternative income and livelihood workshops

Transforming a Community: Aluo, China

An innovative community that smiles in the face of adversity, Aluo has managed successfully to rebuild itself after a devastating earthquake, and Free The Children is proud to be part of the story. Here are some of the ways we’ve partnered to help this community re-build:


In 2008, the Aluo School was in session when an earthquake struck the region. Though students managed to escape, the school buildings were seriously damaged and unusable.

When Free the Children came to the community, students were attending a temporary school their parents had built out of mud. The school only accommodated Grades 1 to 3 and lacked space and resources. The rooms were dark and dirty with no electricity or heating. Students in Grades 4 to 6 were forced to attend school in a neighboring village. They walked there every Sunday night—a three-hour trek through the mountains—and returned home on Friday after the school week finished.

Since 2009, and with the help of community volunteers, Free The Children has built a new and much larger school for students from Grades 1 to 6.


  • Student enrollment has increased by 53 percent.
  • Community members continue to invest in their children’s education by ensuring that roads to the school are consistently in good repair after each rainy season.
  • Free The Children has distributed uniforms, school resources and textbooks, and built a library as well as offices and accommodations for teachers.
  • Free The Children continues to provide the community with support when natural disasters, such as flooding, impact the community, including interior and exterior renovations to the school, ensuring the children continue to have a safe space to access education.

Clean Water and Sanitation

The earthquake that demolished Aluo’s school also destroyed its water source, forcing girls to walk a kilometer outside the village for water.

Free The Children collaborated with the government to establish a water source in Aluo. A pipe from a local spring now connects the school to clean water.

  • Latrines have been installed directly on school grounds, helping students put their sanitation training in practice.
  • 100 percent of students have access to clean and safe drinking water.


The absence of clean water and sanitary practices meant that children consistently suffered from diarrhea and other diseases.

  • Free The Children was able to provide sanitation education as a first preventive course of action.
  • A community health plan was created which involved bringing a doctor in regularly to examine students.
  • The doctor also conducts health workshops with teachers and students.
  • The school also has a kitchen where fresh, nutritious meals are cooked for students.

Alternative Income and Livelihood

To ensure the sustainability of all these projects, the community needs to be self-sufficient. Free The Children’s alternative income and livelihood projects fill the gap. These projects in Aluo have two components:

  • The first is an animal husbandry program, which allows people to breed and sell livestock. Income earned from this project goes back to supporting students and community projects.
  • The second is a women’s craft program: a group of 20 local women work together to produce traditional local handicrafts. The success of this project will establish these women as business leaders in their community.


Empowerment In Action

Before the nutrition program started at Aluo Primary School, Grade 4 student Yi could only remember eating meat once a year. Her father had passed away a few years earlier, and her grandmother only had so many options for providing food for Yi and her brother. Her diet was low on protein, and she often went without any lunch to give her energy for the school day.

But then an alternative income program started up in Aluo. In 2012 we provided local farmers with a flock of 150 goats and sheep, which they breed and care for. Every time the flock grows above 200 animals, community members sell the surplus to raise funds for student lunches. Recently the sale of 35 sheep was able to pay for eggs for the school and help fund repairs to a crucial road that makes travel possible to and from this remote mountain village.

Now Yi has an egg at school every day. With this added protein, she and her brother have more energy to study. With a better diet and stronger immune systems, they are less likely to get sick and miss school. With the success of the alternative income program, we hope no student will have to go hungry again.