Year 2011, We spotted kids in hunger in the mountain areas of Guizhou Province, which gave us a huge shock. Likewise, we saw those starving kids who could not have anything for lunch in Hunan, Hubei, Henan, Hebei and other provinces. We noticed that those kids were generally short and had a pale look.
Out of sympathy and care, we, 500 investigative journalists, together with China Social Welfare Foundation, launched the “Free Lunch” campaign. We revealed the truth of kids in starvation and appealed to others to strive together to solve this problem.
We started our first Free Lunch School at Qianxi County, Guizhou Province on April 2nd 2011. From then on, our fellow journalists became pioneers and went separated ways to promote Free Lunch Act - one team stayed in Guizhou Province, one team went to Henan Province and another team went to Hunan Province.
Lucky enough, our Hunan Team had a huge breakthrough. Xinhuang County, Hunan Province, which is 450 kilometers northeastern of Qianxi County, quickly embraced us. We formed a mode of government-people cooperation – With the government paying one yuan for canteen infrastructure, we pay another two yuan to make the kids a lunch. This mode quickly spreads out to the whole country.
What is even more amazing is that Hefeng County, Hubei Province, which is 488 kilometers northeastern of Xinhuang County, became our pilot field. We conducted a series of charity acts at Hefeng County, such as Free Lunch program, China Rural Kids Care program, Warm Current program, Children’s Anti Infringement program, Children’s Emergency Foundation program and Flying Boxes program(provide modular integrated school-housing for children in distant areas). With the direct help of Hefeng County government, we initialed these seven children-helping programs and formed a welfare cluster for children in rural areas to serve them in a more rounded way.
We have won dozens of prizes over these six years of time. However, we quickly found out the limitation of the whole charity system. The most vital issue for the kids were that their parents were not around them, and they grew up with very little love and care. We could only help very little if the moms and dads could not be there with the kids.
That is why we changed our mind to help the parents instead of helping the kids. We helped to promote the their farm products and to raise their income. We told everyone that trusted us that to purchase these products is to do charity to help the kids. We brought a lot of donors and their kids to these counties, making these charity events popular and bringing innovation and consumption to these counties.
To help the farm products out of home, is to help the children’s dads come back home.
However, we met new challenges because of our lack of human resources for this reform. There is no way for us to recruit young people from cities to stay in rural areas for a long time. Also, in the end the reform depends on the mind of local people and their own moves. That is way we began to draw on local resources and started our training and education programs. Firstly, we offered training courses for local welfare groups to help enhance their abilities to undertake tasks from outside welfare groups. Secondly, we gathered local youth to strengthen their skills and make more developments.
From then on, we created a “three-piece combined charity” – the combination of children welfare, rural economy and human resources training.
When we looked back, we were grateful for these two counties – Xinhuang County in Hunan Province and Hefeng County in Hubei Province and all the friends that have worked together with us. The counties were in distant areas and were with really poor conditions, but the people there were kind, sincere and down to earth, and also really open-minded to embrace the social groups, giving us chances to make innovations and reforms.
Social groups have also brought different energies to these two counties – funds, new minds, fame and popularity, these can all be known as the enablement of the society.
For these six years, the Free Lunch Fund has invested 1,886 million RMB in Xinhuang County, serving over 40,000 kids per year. Moreover, united with more funds, Hefeng County has received over 3,100 million RMB, also helping over 40,000 kids every year.
Thousands of millions of capitals does not show how wealthy or how hardworking our co-workers are. It is the growing society and people’s minds behind us that makes everything possible. People began to care about others, help others and participate in charity activities in their own way via the Internet.
What we have done was just to push from the back and made people gather together and make a move.
If we read a map and link these two most important counties, we will notice that this actually links the whole Wuling Mountain area, covering 71 counties throughout Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou and Chongqing provinces with a total population of 3,600 million. This area is one of the 14 areas that is named as the national-level of poverty area and is a typical less developed area.
In the map, this area is also a crucial place in China, yet however, because of its poverty, it was a crucial trouble and became a main battlefield in terms of the government’s aid for the poor. In November 2013, national leaders brought out the “pinpointed-aid for the poor” strategy in Western Hunan Province.
The truth is, we have already conducted lots of events in this area.
The Free Lunch program has already covered 154 schools in 12 counties throughout Wulin Mountain areas, helping a cumulative of 59,201 kids.
The China Rural Kids Care program has been conducted in 4 counties, helping 408,937 kids.
The Children’s Anti Infringement program have carried out 16 cooperative events, serving over 90,000 kids.
We noticed that in this area, all levels of government have been thriving, business entities were developing really fast and social welfare were also in good condition.
Social welfare does not have the authority that government owns, nor does it have the capital that business activities rely on, yet it has its own unique strength and irreplaceability – social welfare comes from the bottom and grows to the top, grows naturally, with passion, warmth, vigor, imagination, and it has the ability to try out new things and become innovative.
Our conduct can fully prove that social welfare can be the best thing to unite people, and it activates reforms and makes different circles to cohere. It is able to make new combinations to different resources and bring out new productivity.
In the future, we will try to unite more people and get into more counties in Wuling Mountain area. With our office moving to Hangzhou city, rooted in the economy area of Yangtze River Delta, the Shanghai-Chengdu and Shanghai-Kunming railways will link between the east and west , which will directly bring us to the Wuling Mountain area.
Therefore, we can unite more charity groups and business entities to bring the advanced minds, resources, technologies and tools to Wuling Mountain area, and as well, we could bring the farm products, and sceneries to the cities.
Aside from the Wuling Mountain area, we also helped kids at counties in Wumeng Mountain area, Dabie Mountain area, Funiu Mountain area and Taixing Mountain area, together with the help of the government.
Then, what shall we do?
There is only one thing we can do – continue to appeal to the public, to gather people around and to strive together.
In the area of Wulin Mountain, we will continue to link our government and business society with multiple ways, such as charity events, children welfare training events, and so on. All these events will bring out more value for the participants and let more and more people happily join us, to do whatever they can and gain whatever they need.
We could see that the Wuling Mountain area will be a place where transformations will happen, full of hope and strength. With the united power of the government, market and the society, we could build together and support each other.
We believe that with these done, all the beautiful things will naturally come along.
Within these six years, we were asked a thousand of times for why we always strived so hard. We answered that it was because every kid from the rural areas should have the fair condition to change their own lives and climb to higher social ladders, and rural areas of China should develop in dignity and sustainability.
For all these years, we have encountered multiple problems, we have encountered really exhausting moments, but we have never thought of giving up. It was the faces of the kids that always motive us to strive more for them.