Visits home are to a place unknown
Hao Tong was brought to Shanghai by her migrant worker parents one month after she was born. For the 11-year-old girl, the place where she was born is somewhere she visits once a year during the Spring Festival.
Even when she is there, she cannot understand what her cousins are talking about, as she does not speak the local dialect.
“My mother tried to teach me to speak the dialect but I just couldn’t manage it,” she said. “People in my hometown are very nice, but they throw litter about. I do not like that.”
Many children of migrant workers who grow up in the city don’t have an emotional connection with the place where they were born. To make them understand more about rural life and communicate with their peers in the countryside, the Shanghai Jiuqian Volunteer Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free extracurricular education for the children of migrant workers, has organized visits to the children’s hometowns during summer vacations since 2007.
From July 28 to Aug 7, 30 migrant children aged from 11 to 17 traveled to four villages in Hongze county and Peixian county in Jiangsu, and Tengzhou city and Pingyi county in Shandong, said Yao Yuan, a volunteer in Jiuqian who led the tour.
They stayed in a local primary school when they visited Hao’s home village, and played games with the local children.
“The rural children are shy. But when we played together for some time, they became lively,” Hao said.
The visiting children are supposed to try to make friends with one of the children they meet. It was a girl in Nantang village in Tengzhou that impressed Hao most.
“I felt she was lonely,” she said. “Her father was a construction worker and worked away from home. The village is almost empty and there are very few children.
“We went to buy vegetables together and made a meal together. She showed me the chilies she planted. When we left the village, she cried.”
The rural left-behind children made Hao feel she is lucky to live with her parents. Hao’s father worked in the construction site when he first came to Shanghai. Then, when he has saved enough money, he started a printing factory. Her mother looks after Hao’s little brother, who was born in Shanghai.
Hao is studying at the public Changzheng Primary School in Putuo district. The cheerful and confident girl looks no different from her classmates.
However, without a Shanghai hukou, a permanent residence permit, migrant students such as Hao are not classified as Shanghai residents, which means they have to go back to their hometown to attend high school and take the college entrance examination.
But it is too early for Hao to worry about the future. “I have not thought about this,” she admitted.
The hometown tours for migrant children are often defined as a trip to find their roots, but Zhang Yichao, the founder of Jiuqian, insists that the purpose of the event is to enhance their communication with rural children.
A student (left), who took part in the Shanghai Jiuqian Volunteer Center’s visit to her hometown, has fun with a rural student in Peixian county, Jiangsu province.