Since 2015, OneSky has supported left-behind children in China’s rural villages, helping to improve their development outcomes and care.
When OneSky embarked on supporting left-behind children in China’s poorest rural villages in Henan Province in April 2015, our pilot program proved extremely successful, garnering the support of families, desperate for their children to have a fair start in life.
Local officials provided space for OneSky to train and run family centers where children like little Yihan, whose parents work thousands of miles away and would return home only every two years, could come with her grandmother to learn and play together.
Over the past seven years, OneSky has trained 43,675 caregivers to provide responsive care to 27,485 vulnerable village children, whose lives have been impacted by economic migration and severe hardship, right from the get go.
And our program has been found to have important impact. OneSky’s consistent and effective early intervention has helped enable better parenting approaches and demonstrated positive child development – including improvement in children’s gross motor and social skills and their readiness to learn. See our impact page.
It has been our goal from the start to establish programs that become self-sufficient and sustainable, and, in late 2021, with the pilot program concluded, the Henan administration took over the program allowing OneSky to allocate training resources to new villages.
In early 2022, in partnership with the Guizhou government, we began supporting children and families in 10 low-resource villages. Modeled on what we had learned in Henan, and adapted where necessary to support local needs, we have trained family mentors to equip rural communities with science-based skills in responsive care and early childhood education.
Our “train the trainer” model has seen OneSky family mentors teach family skills to parents and grandparents, improving the ability of these loving adults to provide quality care to their own children or grandchildren. The programs have been very well-received by local villagers, some of whom have never received formal education. The OneSky-trained family mentors have also instituted well-received community events to gather and unite the entire village.
“In the past, no one came here to play with the children, and they did not have toys to play with. Now, there are many toys and teachers too, and children love to come here with much enthusiasm,” a grandparent and village resident named Tian Bihua shared.
Through our training, family mentor Hou Wencheng, has developed her responsive caregiving skills and is now able to better communicate with the children in her care. She in turn, is also teaching parenting skills to local families, helping parents who remain in the village, and grandparents, the importance of child-centered learning and loving care.
She said she is better able to establish relationships with the children now. “They respond positively and are willing to communicate with us. I’m so happy to see that gradually, some parents have begun to participate in children’s activities too, instead of just watching their children play.”
OneSky’s family mentors have organized many activities for the children to build their self-confidence, develop their self-identity, and enhance their resilience, thereby igniting children’s hope and imagination for the future. This past spring, the children were encouraged to adventure out into the fields to feel the new grass under their feet and observe the beauty of the blooming flowers.
Many recorded their impressions by creating petal paintings while others arranged flowers for their caregivers. All expressed their excitement and joy in exploring the landscape around them and observing the beauty of the new, unfolding season.
In the summer, OneSky launched a Happy Reading Month for the children to continue to develop their reading skills during the summer break and to encourage children and caregivers to read together. Each week the children discussed and shared the stories they had read, creating drawings and bookmarks to remind them of their favorite books.
One child, named Haohao, loves books with games or animals. When he and his grandmother first began coming to the children’s center, grandma was worried that her lack of education would make her a bad storyteller to her grandson. However, during the parenting skills training course she learned about the enormous benefits of reading to Haohao and how to choose a picture book that he would like. Now, she has the confidence to read simple picture books aloud to Haohao and they love their shared story time.
Hou, a OneSky family mentor commented: “Through parent-child reading activities, children and parents have gained a lot. We’re so happy to see teachers and parents supporting and cooperating with each other to create a warm reading environment for children.”
To create a nurturing environment throughout the villages, family mentors organize community activities to strengthen the bonds between families and children living close by to one another. Like painting a wall mural for the entire village to enjoy or helping families to manage through the pandemic during the past few years.
Family visits are a major component of the program, and family mentors regularly visit children’s homes, in some cases up to three times a week to check in on those children classified as “at-risk.”
Working closely with local government staff, family mentors observe and interact with children, and educate their guardians in parenting skills and child protection policies, creating a loving home environment for the children that supports their overall development. Often their biggest hurdle is reaching the remote and mountainous villages, accessible only via narrow and steep footpaths. Undeterred, they make the long trek, to ensure love and care can reach the children.
In all the work we do our goal is to transfer knowledge to local communities, empowering them with the training and skills needed to grow and adapt for the future. This is the case for the OneSky villages where we currently work. Looking ahead to 2023, the programs run in these villages will progressively be supported by their local administration.