Moving center stage

Updated: 2011-06-07 08:12

By Lin Qi (China Daily)

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 Moving center stage

Children from migrant families perform at the Third New Citizen Children's Cultural Festival in Beijing. Photos provided to China Daily

A series of activities provide migrant workers' children with a permanent sense of self-esteem and community. Lin Qi reports.

Liang Yan used to be embarrassed when asked about her parents, because she felt ashamed they were migrant workers. Since the beginning of this semester, the eighth-grader at a migrant children's school in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, has been participating in an extra-curricular photography and video-making course every Sunday.

The students' short film, Raindrops of the City, depicts the hardships migrant parents endure in hopes of giving their children better lives.

"Unlike urban parents who have apartments and cars, our parents don't have money and live at the absolute bottom of society," Liang says.

"They are as inconspicuous as raindrops but still work so hard for us. After doing this film, I feel grateful to, and proud of, them."

The film moved audiences when it was screened at the Third New Citizen Children's Cultural Festival in Beijing on May 28. Many audience members also came from migrant families.

 Moving center stage

Migrant children at a group painting at the recent Children's Cultural Festival.

The festival was staged in Picun, a migrant community near the Beijing Capital International Airport. The event, intended to celebrate Children's Day on June 1, was attended by more than 500 students and teachers from Beijing's 19 migrant schools and others concerned about migrant children's welfare.

Organizers constructed a stage at the venue - an abandoned factory - for schools to give performances.

The also set up a flea market selling second-hand toys, school supplies and clothes. The walls were covered with children's paintings, photos and short essays. Two small trees were adorned with cards on which children had written their dreams.

"We set out around 6 am, because our school is in the other corner of Beijing," says Zhao Shengjie, headmaster of Shuren Migrant School in Shijingshan district.

"The students are usually confined to the community they live in. They can't afford to visit parks and museums in the city center, so it's rare for them to participate in such an activity. I've never seen them so thrilled."

Children enjoyed themselves, despite temperatures higher than 30 C and the occasional roar of planes that drowned out music.

It was the first and last time many of the children could participate, because they will soon return to their hometowns or migrate to another city.

"Beijing has more than 500,000 migrant children, who are integrating into the urban landscape and becoming new citizens of the city," says Sun Heng, director-general of Beijing Workers' Home, a social enterprise committed to the migrant community's self-growth founded in 2002.

"Not only do they need equal access to such public services as education and health but also they want to reconstruct their own culture and want their true voices to be heard by society."

The organization, headquartered in Picun, has an art troupe that gives regular performances in migrant communities nationwide. It also operates a migrant school, several second-hand shops, and a migrant culture and art museum that stages self-produced plays and screens films.

The New Citizen Children's Cultural Festival is but one of the many migrant children's educational programs Sun's organization carries out. Sun says the festival provides inter-school exchanges that allow migrant children to make new friends and showcase their talents.

"We are delighted that this year we have students from migrant schools in Guizhou and Guangdong provinces to celebrate Children's Day with their peers in Beijing," Sun says.

"What's important for these children isn't to provide them with charity but rather to help them develop self-esteem and hope so they can achieve progress."

Bu Wei, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a consultant for Beijing Workers' Home, says, "Every group has its own culture. As they move from place to place with their parents, migrant children will learn about, and communicate with, new cultures. Migrant children's cultures and exchanges among them have long been overlooked," she continues.

"The festival's purpose doesn't have anything to do with dancing and singing. It's about encouraging migrant children to discover, appreciate and discuss their own cultures, and tell people that they are growing up, tenaciously and confidently in the city."

Workers' Home has also promoted education programs in migrant communities in Guangdong's capital Guangzhou and Shaanxi province's capital Xi'an.

It opened a migrant children community center in Guangzhou's Panyu district last Spring Festival. The center aims to build a support network, provide voluntary academic assistance and emotional counseling for the children. "Many migrants' kids are unsupervised after school and on weekends, when their parents are working overtime in the factories," Sun says.

"These children are at high risk of being abducted and trafficked if no one is there to protect them."

He says the center also cultivates children's commitment to their communities.

"We take them sightseeing in the city center. They still feel strange about the city they live in. They can't fit in with metropolitan life."

Sun says the roughly 40 children who regularly frequent the center are mobilized for community service.

They've drawn up a detailed community map designating safe and unsafe playgrounds. They form teams to improve local sanitation and call for the public to keep the area clean and tidy.

And they stage performances, which brings community members together.

"The center has become part of these children's lives, and a sense of belonging to community has taken root in their minds."

Bu recalls many children kept their hands in the air and wanted to perform when the first festival ended.

"The host said, 'We must say good bye now, but we hope you will attend next year.' One boy shouted, 'No, I can't. I will be sent back to my parents' hometown by then!'

"Will there be such activities in his hometown? Will he still live with his parents (or with his grandparents)? What kind of life is waiting for him in his hometown?" Bu says.

"We can't find answers to these questions. But we should not forget his words."


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