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