You Dao was initiated in Shanghai when Columban Fr. Warren Kinne invited a group of friends to discuss the issue of migrant workers over dinner in June 2005. A lawyer at the dinner, Audrey Leung, later initiated a research project about the plight of the migrant workers. She did extensive research on all aspects of the phenomenon and started to give seminars to various groups including professional
and women’s leadership groups about the fruit of her research and her own growing commitment to do something helpful. The members of the You Dao Foundation work to better understand the situation of migrant workers and try to respond in appropriate ways to help them contribute to the development of their country.
Solidarity with those Living in Poverty in Shanghai, China’s Largest and Wealthiest City
I was born in Hong Kong and was brought up speaking Cantonese. I then went to the U.S. to the University of Wisconsin in Madison where I completed a degree in developmental psychology, with an emphasis
on the development of children. I then worked as a preschool teacher for two years and saw the need to work with parents as well as to coordinate what they and I were trying to achieve with their children. That motivated me to take a second degree in child and family studies at Syracuse University in New York. After my husband’s company transferred us to Shanghai, I began my work with the You Dao Foundation as a volunteer and was recently asked to take on the job of executive director, which I also do voluntarily. Our foundation works to raise awareness of the plight of migrants; we build alliances and partnerships to support migrants; we look for practical ways to support migrants. Working in a formal association with the local Church in the social apostolate is very complex, so we have decided to pursue our objectives in other ways. Also, due to government rules we cannot establish and run educational institutions. Some of our projects have prospered for a time but then, for reasons beyond our control, they might finish overnight. We take on what we do knowing that we are working in a gray, insecure area.
The local Church is reasonably good in its response to emergency situations created, for example, by an earthquake or a flood. However, it seems that it is difficult for the Church to take on longer term social outreach projects. First, the government generally does not want the Church systematically reaching out, as it opposes the development of a civil society independent of its control. Second, the Church has been pushed in on itself and, in a sense, is finding its way to get going again with its primary focus for now being the development of the Church itself as an institution.
We have projects in two places, Fengxian District (on the southern outskirts of Shanghai city) and Baoshan District (on the north western outskirts of the city). In the former we offer a number of scholarships to migrant children attending two kindergartens. They run a five day a week program from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The scholarship covers the cost of tuition fees, three meals per day and other miscellaneous costs. With the support of our sponsors we also are setting up a community center to support the ongoing formation of migrant children. Various social programs, including healthcare and education to the end of high school, are run to a certain extent as if they were independent countries throughout the 33 provinces of China. Healthcare and education are available in each province for all who are born there; however, such basic services are much harder to come by for those who cross provincial borders as internal migrants. This has become a significant social problem in the major urban centers along the eastern seaboard. The government is in the process of partially addressing the educational needs of migrant children in Shanghai by collaborating with some of the better run private schools, and offering the children free education from grades one to nine. However, such schools continue to offer a second rate education to the migrant children, who still cannot attend the state-run, fee-based kindergartens, a circumstance that our foundation sees as a window of opportunity.
When we first began to offer scholarships, the migrants were quite suspicious of our motives in offering the scholarships, with some wondering if we wanted to win their trust so that later we might kidnap their children and sell them. By visiting and talking to the people, we persuaded them of our honorable intentions and then what we did for their children won their trust.
We began with home visits to obtain basic information about the families applying for scholarships. Once we determined the list of children to receive scholarships, we arranged to visit each family monthly in order to update ourselves with regard to their work and health situations and how the children were doing. Our goal is to promote an integral formation of the child, which of course requires parental participation in the education of their children. In many parts of China, parents are forced to leave their children with their grandparents while they go to work in distant urban centers. As a consequence, thousands of children have grown up without knowing their parents, and the rate of delinquency among such children has risen. While the families with whom we work are poor, they are also together, and we want to help them remain that way.
In Baoshan District volunteers from two universities come to the small center that the local Catholic parish lets us use on weekends. The center was built perhaps 100 years ago in the town of Beiyaowan, which at that time was a rural town surrounded by farms. It is now hemmed in by small factories and workshops and is a temporary home to thousands of migrants from neighboring provinces, whose lives are a constant struggle to make ends meet. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons the children from the neighborhood are queued up outside the gate anxious to enter and get on with the afternoon’s fun. The university students, who for the most part are not Catholics, play games with them and do activities around tables with those who prefer that. One student commented to me, “We may not be doing much, but we are doing something, and I know that if I don’t do this I will not try to change anything.”
I support the volunteers with training sessions each quarter on child development, and I go to the center every two weeks to talk to the students about their experience with the children. We would like to have a student do an internship with You Dao and then take on a job of home visiting. This would be a step towards a partnership with a university. As in all our projects, we are always on the lookout for openings and coordinate as best we can to take advantage of them. For more details about the You Dao Foundation, please visit www.youdao.org.hk.