The following blog is based on stories gathered during the The Centre’s 2019 Child Friendly Spaces programme implementation in China. CFS are safe, fun spaces in or near a factory for the children of workers (aged 3-13) to spend their summer holidays. The free spaces are run by professional teachers who provide the children with fun, creative and educational experiences while their parents can put to their minds to rest at work.
On July 30th 2019, staff from The Centre (formerly CCR CSR) headed to the Child Friendly Space at a printing factory in Dongguan for a mid-term evaluation. The factory is one of dozens of factories to have joined the CFS programme. During that visit, we spoke to the parents and children who were taking part in the programme. The aim was to learn about their backgrounds and to find out what they thought of the CFS.
“It exceeded my expectations,” Hu Kun (pseudonym) tells us numerous times during our conversation. Hu Kun comes from Shiyan in Hubei Province and has been working at the factory since 2002 – 17 years in total. During those 17 years, he grew from being an ordinary line worker to becoming a workshop director and from being a young lad to a father.
The pain of separation
Hu Kun’s son Xiao Gang (pseudonym) has been living in his hometown with his grandparents since birth. During the second half of this year, Hu Kun will start going to Junior Secondary School – a big milestone in a child’s education. But instead of unconditional joy at the big step in Xiao Gang’s life, Hu Kun seems overcome by a sense of guilt. When Xiao Gang was still very little his mother divorced his father and left. Hu Kun never remarried and has always sorely loved Xiao Gang. But even so, he has only ever been able to make it home for two weeks during the Spring Festival each year. As a result, he has missed out on so many of his son’s developmental milestones.
In the past, Xiao Gang would always stay at home during school holidays. Last year for the first time, Xiao Gang came to Dongguan to visit his father for a week. But Hu Kun recalls being overwhelmed by worry: he had to work during the day and leave Xiao Gang home alone unsupervised. Xiao Gang would spend the day playing on his mobile phone, watching cartoons or roaming around the factory premises like a “stray”, in Hu Kun’s own words. Hu Kun was so worried about his son’s safety that he couldn’t concentrate at work. After two days, Hu Kun couldn’t take it and asked the factory for leave. That experience left Hu Kun reluctant to allow Xiao Gang to come to Dongguan again – until he saw the advert for the 2019 Child Friendly Space.
A silver lining
With Xiao Gang attending the CFS this year, Hu Kun has finally been able to cast off the fear and worries associated with having his son unsupervised in Dongguan. On the contrary, Hu Kun has unexpectedly been moved emotionally by the CFS experience:
“Not long after my kid came to CFS, I took some food home and as I was eating I said to him that the soup will do for me. I asked him why he’s not eating the chicken legs and he said ‘you work so hard, you should be eating more. You’re the one earning money so that I can go to school’. At that moment I wanted to burst into tears, I was so moved!”
Hu Kun continued that although his son would be clingy during his visits home over the Spring Festival in previous years, he never said anything so moving to him before.
This summer, Hu Kun finally got to break the cycle of only being able to spend two weeks of the year with his son. Because of the CFS, Hu Kun and Xiao Gang spent one and half months together. The teachers at the CFS took the opportunity to teach the children about family etiquette and endeavoured to get the children to understand the hardships faced by their parents.
Apart from strengthening the bond between him and his son, the “exceeded expectations” that Hu Kun referred to did not end there. Growing up in a single-parent household without having experienced maternal love, Xiao Bo tends to act tough and has a strong sense of self-protection. He also tends to be cheeky having grown up without his dad there to reign him in. At school, this behaviour led to some hardships. The head of the class would give Xiao Gang a hard time in private, often trying to put him down and make him feel bad. As a result, Xiao Gang has been bottling up more issues than the average 12-year-old.
“The teachers at CFS however are totally different,” says Hu Kun.
One time as they were passing the entrance of the CFS, Xiao Gang proudly pointed to a picture he drew and said that the teachers have been encouraging him to draw. At that moment, Hu Kun realised that through these activities, Xiao Gang was gaining confidence and unlocking his creativity. CFS was therefore not only a source of education, it was also a place that brought out children’s potential and abilities.
At CFS, the teacher even assigned Xiao Gang to become a group leader, which made him really happy. Xiao Gang felt deeply honoured by the role and was motivated by the sense of responsibility that came with it. For Xiao Gang, it was such a big deal that he specifically called his grandparents to tell them about it. One weekend, the teacher assigned the class to take photos of “summer colours”. Xiao Gang took the assignment very seriously and was determined to do a good job. Together with his dad, they went to the local park to take photos. Although Xiao Gang never liked having his photo taken in the past, that day he enthusiastically took selfies with Hu Kun and even struck a couple of good poses.
As far as the CFS goes, Hu Kun doesn’t have any suggestions for improvement. He thinks it’s already pretty “perfect” as it is and has exceeded all his expectations. He did admit though that when the CFS programme was first announced to the workers, many parents were reluctant to jump at the opportunity since it was first time for the factory to offer such a programme. Many adapted a wait-and-see attitude and then ended up missing the registration deadline. Moreover, some children couldn’t take part because of the age limit, and Hu Kun has a feeling that next year many more parents will want to sign up.
“I really like it here and want to come again next year. As long as I’m with my dad, all is good,” Xiao Gang says with a smile.
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