The work of Half the Sky Foundation is focusing on helping children in institutions in China. Started by Jenny Bowen in 1998, HTS is one of the few NGOs permitted to operate in China, where the organization has developed ways of working in partnerships with large institutions that care for children who are orphans or handicapped and have no one caring for them.
The 4-day visit was part of the regular and ongoing monitoring of projects that Childhood performs to learn about the progress of projects the are funded. In this case, it was to find out more about Half the Sky's (HTS) work and the care of the children in their programs. Carma Eliot, Executive Director, and Zhang Zhirong, Managing Consultant for HTS, guided staff from Childhood to two sites, one in Changzhou, 200 km east of Shanghai, and one in the city of Hohhot, in Inner Mongolia.
Princess Madeleine participated in the visit in her role as project manager for China, and said "I have been to China in this capacity several times, but this visit was particularly important as HTS continues to expand in more regions in China.” HRH added that "meeting with the directors but more importantly, the staff at the centers, and being able to hold and interact with the children, makes our work real and contributes to the understanding of the program and how to help in better ways.”
HTSs model builds on incorporating an in-depth and staff-intensive direct services approach to caring for children who have been abandoned and live in welfare institutions, and those who don't receive proper care and education.
Since HTS started operating in China, the model has made significant inroads in both the local awareness of child protection around the centers that are applying the model, as well as on government levels. The success of HTSs approach is evident in that the program is spreading to all 31 provinces, as part of the Blue Sky Plan and supported by the Chinese government.
Anna De Geer, Deputy Secretary General for Childhood, is impressed with the work of HTS and how they are implementing their model in the orphanages. She also points out that "in the last year or so, we have seen that because of the improving economic situation in China, more families are able to keep their children."
The children in HTSs program range from newborns to 15-16 years old. Depending on their ages and needs, the children are simply held and cuddled to stimulate growth and mental development; or as with the older children, from 3 years and up, they have music and singing lessons, paint, lay puzzles, as well as have free play outside. All children are also given formal academic education. The Youth Services program focus on nurturing each child according to their mental, social and physical abilities.
The project visits are an important part of the regular evaluation and monitoring of programs. It also often sends a message to concerned authorities, for example, in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia province, where the vice mayor expressed his concern for the work that HTS is doing. Such attention helps elevate the rights of children in Chinese society.
As for the future work of HTS, "we find that the conditions between children in institutions are similar all over the world" says Anna De Geer. Ms. Eliot adds that "furthering contacts and sharing experiences are important to build a knowledge base of successful better practice models, as well as following the needs of the children, wherever it takes us.”
Text and Photos: Charlotte Brandin