Pro­file in courage: A teenager who lives by her­self

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COVER STORY - By SATARUPA BHATTACHARJYA in Fuyang, An­hui prov­ince

Fan Xiao­hui’s mother mostly man­ages to reach her daugh­ter over phone but the same can’t be said of Fan. There are times when Fan’s calls to her mother go an­swered be­cause her par­ents work at a su­per­mar­ket in Bei­jing and she lives in Taihe county in the out­skirts of Fuyang, a large city in An­hui prov­ince.

The 15-year-old, who has been liv­ing here since the past three years, is among the 4 per­cent of 9 mil­lion “left-be­hind” chil­dren in China who are de­prived of adult su­per­vi­sion by a close fam­ily mem­ber on a daily ba­sis. Theirs is a story of heart­break­ing re­al­ity.

Some so­ci­ol­o­gists ar­gue that the per­cent­age of such chil­dren is lesser than what es­ti­mates show, but th­ese cases even if in the mi­nor­ity, are of grave so­ci­etal con­cern.

While she un­der­stands her mother’s in­abil­ity to re­ceive phone calls at work, or the fact that her par­ents and a 10-year-old brother live in a crammed room in the cap­i­tal’s Haid­ian district, Fan is work­ing hard to cope with the psy­cho­log­i­cal fall­out from the fam­ily’s de­ci­sion to send her to Fuyang to con­tinue her school ed­u­ca­tion.

The be­spec­ta­cled girl, whose bright smile sel­dom be­trays her pain, was born in Hu­zong village in the same county. When she was aged 3, her par­ents, now both in their late 30s, mi­grated to Bei­jing along with her. There she stud­ied for a few years in a school for the chil­dren of mi­grant work­ers but even­tu­ally her par­ents re­al­ized Fan needed bet­ter ac­cess to re­sources that her home­town could pro­vide.

She was then en­rolled into the Cen­tral School of Hu­zong Town­ship in Fuyang.

In China, mi­grant work­ers aren’t of­ten able to send their chil­dren to schools of their choos­ing in host cities be­cause of the house­hold regis­tra­tion sys­tem or hukou.

A re­form of the sys­tem has been urged by many and could be ex­pected in the long term.

Fan lives in a fur­nished apart­ment that be­longs to a rel­a­tive who only oc­ca­sion­ally stays in it.

A typ­i­cal week­day in her life in­volves wak­ing up; go­ing to school, which is a few min­utes by foot; study­ing and eat­ing meals at school; play­ing chess and read­ing Rus­sian au­thors at leisure; and “meet­ing” child­hood friends on so­cial me­dia, most of whom are the so-called left­be­hind chil­dren.

On week­ends, she vis­its her ail­ing grand­fa­ther in the nearby village of her birth, where he lives in a di­lap­i­dated house. Fan can’t live in it, she says, “it’s fall­ing apart”.

She doesn’t need to shop for gro- cery or cook. She prob­a­bly washes her own clothes and does daily chores that aren’t un­usual for any teenager. When China Daily meet with her ear­lier this week, the in­ter­view was brief as she was study­ing for an up­com­ing exam. More ques­tions that could have pro­vided a deeper glimpse into her life couldn’t be asked ow­ing to a short­age of time.

Used to life in the big city, Fan ini­tially strug­gled to adapt to her new semi-ur­ban ex­is­tence. She was also afraid to live alone, she says. But her school seems to have played a sig­nif­i­cant role in eas­ing her sit­u­a­tion. Of a to­tal 775 stu­dents here, 543 are chil­dren whose par­ents work in cities out­side of Fuyang.

Guan Dongkui, the prin­ci­pal, says his school acts as a sec­ond home for such chil­dren. “We help them fight lone­li­ness.”

Fan’s par­ents and sib­ling usu­ally visit her dur­ing the week­long Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day. She also trav­els to Bei­jing when schools are shut for weeks in sum­mer.

I don’t have real dreams yet be­cause dream­ing isn’t al­ways prac­ti­cal.” Fan Xiao­hui, in her teens, who lives alone in Taihe county in the out­skirts of Fuyang, a large city in An­hui prov­ince

“I don’t have real dreams yet be­cause dream­ing isn’t al­ways prac­ti­cal,” she says, with the wis­dom of a per­son who has been forced to grow up ahead of her time.

But Fan isn’t to­tally dis­mis­sive of the fu­ture either. She would like to travel the world if she makes enough money, she says.

Zhu Lixin con­trib­uted to this story.

ZHU LIXIN / CHINA DAILY

Fan Xiao­hui, 15, is among the 4 per­cent of 9 mil­lion “left-be­hind” chil­dren in China who are de­prived of adult su­per­vi­sion by a close fam­ily mem­ber on a daily ba­sis.

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