Bordered by 14 countries and several seas, China is the most populated country in the world at 1.4 billion people (World Bank, 2020), and the fourth largest by land mass. Its fascinating history has given rise to some of the world’s most spectacular sites, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors.
China has much to offer the world, but also faces challenges, particularly in rural areas. Our history in China began in 2002, after we heard about a fireworks factory explosion that had killed 38 children. We realized that these children had been working at the factory to support their families, instead of going to school. This disaster brought to light the stark contrast between those living in urban and rural parts of China. Despite the country’s considerable economic development, the benefits have not been distributed equally throughout the country, and millions in rural areas are living in poverty.
Compared to their urban counterparts, rural communities are often without access to potable water, arable land or adequate health and educational services. While the Chinese government has made education free and compulsory for students in grades 1 to 9, in practice the country’s education system is underfunded, leaving rural areas severely short on schools. This means many students must make a long and dangerous trek to school—if they’re able to go at all. It’s estimated that millions of children work as child laborers due to the high cost of schooling and the economic situation of families in rural China.
Together with communities and in partnership with local governments, WE Charity began partnering with rural communities to implement our community-led, holistic, and sustainable programming across our five-pillar development model: starting with education. We supported education infrastructure, school programming and teacher training in rural communities, including building and renovating schoolrooms, libraries, teachers’ offices, kitchens, play areas and multi-storey and multi-room school buildings to accommodate large student populations.
All classrooms built were equipped with furniture and basic school supplies. In some northern communities, we install heating systems in schools to ensure a comfortable learning environment. Education projects also included programming for teachers and students. For example, teacher training programs focused on building teachers’ skills and deepening their expertise, particularly on strategies to encourage girls in the classroom and help prevent dropouts.
In many communities, we ran a daily breakfast and lunch program for students, helping combat malnutrition, ensuring children had the energy they needed to stay healthy and do well in their studies, and motivating children to come to school. Local community members were employed to help prepare meals in school kitchens, and agriculture projects in the community helped provide food for the program.
Another example of programming at schools in rural China is water education. Students learned about proper hygiene practices such as the importance of hand-washing, as well as how to safely treat water before drinking it. Students then shared what they had learned with their families at home.
Wu Jia Zhuang School Kids
Lu Cun School Kids