Empower Children to Spread Health in Rural China

by Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation
Empower Children to Spread Health in Rural China
Xingqi participating in HEAL training
Xingqi participating in HEAL training

Xingqi is a nineteen year old woman from a village in Yunnan belonging to the Miao minority ethnic group. When CWEF’s team first came to Xingqi’s village, they discovered many hazardous health conditions. For example, farm animals lived inside the same houses with people. Livestock manure lay on the floor inside homes and throughout the village. Many families dumped trash behind their houses, and the trash continued to pile higher and higher. 

Xingqi's village has 23 households that all belong to the Miao minority ethnic group. There are over nine million Miao people in China today, and traditionally, the Miao are known for their elaborate embroidery and silver jewelry. 

In 2015, CWEF began a clean water project for village residents. After establishing basic facilities for clean water, several villagers volunteered to participate in a program called HEAL (“Health Education, Advocacy, and Literacy”). Through this process, a core group of residents were trained to become health advocates for their own communities. 

In Xingqi’s village, CWEF first implemented a strategy called Training of Trainers (TOT) where previously-trained health advocates from nearby Miao villages trained the Miao in Xingqi's village. This process reinforces learning for the recently-trained health advocates. Also, when local people train their neighbors, they speak in their native language and share their culture which makes the health training more effective.  

And who showed up to the HEAL training? Xingqi, who was just starting middle school, and her mother. While Xingqi and her mother seemed nervous at first, the CWEF team also immediately recognized that these two women possessed outstanding communication and leadership abilities, and both women quickly mastered the new health knowledge and skills. 

Through health trainings, Xingqi learned about many topics such as: the safe use of pesticides, the hazards of abusing alcohol, how to treat children’s fever and much much more. As a core health advocate in her village, Xingqi came up with creative methods for promoting health education in her community, including using sketch performances with self-made props!  

CWEF taught procedures for maintaining environmental hygiene which explained that poultry should be kept in captivity to prevent zoonotic diseases, that livestock and people should live separately, and that garbage should be allocated to one communal place.  

Xingqi said that the environmental sanitation and health conditions have changed significantly in her village. Now, one quarter of the community dumps their trash in a designated communal pit. And when you go out, it is rare to see livestock manure. All in all, Xingqi and her village enjoy a much cleaner and healthier living environment!  

Thank you for your generosity and for making it possible for people like Xingqi to have opportunities to grow and thrive through life-changing health education and community advocacy! 

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This article was written by Jenny, Senior Program Director in Yunnan; translated from Mandarin into English by Qian Qian, Volunteer; and edited by both Joshua Lange, Executive Director, and April Chiasson, Communications Manager. 

Xingqi organizing a health promotion skit
Xingqi organizing a health promotion skit
Xingqi with the team of community health advocates
Xingqi with the team of community health advocates
The health promotion activity site
The health promotion activity site
An aerial view of part of Xingqi's village
An aerial view of part of Xingqi's village
Xingqi wearing traditional Miao clothing
Xingqi wearing traditional Miao clothing

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Eye screening with Mr. Yin of Education in Sight
Eye screening with Mr. Yin of Education in Sight

It is often said that "eyes are the windows of the soul." Not only that; they are also a gateway for education and deeper understanding. 

During late November and December 2021, to serve students at Heshangzhuang and Zengyi Primary Schools in Yunnan province, CWEF partnered with staff from the local nonprofits Education in Sight and the Zhengxin Social Work Service Center in Wuding county to provide vision screening and to teach children about the importance of eye care.

The eye care activities for 134 students at these two primary schools in Wuding County are just one small piece of a broader, comprehensive program the schools have partnered with CWEF to facilitate, which is called HEAL ("Health Education, Advocacy & Literacy").

HEAL addresses the need for proper health-related equipment and resources, along with the deeper knowledge and behavior change needed for students to lead a full, healthy life.

Eye health is a key – and sometimes missing – piece, as one student noted:

“It was the first time we tested our eyesight, and we realized that eyes are so important. The world is blurry if you don't see well. If you are nearsighted, you should wear glasses with the correct prescription. We should develop good habits and do eye exercises carefully.”

Mr. Yin, the trainer from Education in Sight, reflected:

“The students were very curious to learn that the proportion of myopia among rural children is much lower than their peers in the cities.”

The recent global increase in myopia (or nearsightedness)is attributed to the increased use of electronics and screen time in young children. In addition to the training, books about proper eye care were given to the students, and all the students were screened for myopia.

Myopia can be most easily corrected by eyeglasses. Of the students tested, around 7% were found to have myopia. Most of these students were given free glasses available directly from Education in Sight, and the others were advised to go to the hospital for further screening.

Understanding proper eye care methods and providing glasses is important because without this intervention, more children are vulnerable to developing myopia or other eye issues. Working to prevent and treat eye issues like myopia can help the students in their general health and school education. The teachers at the Heshangzhuang and Zengyi schools reported that the screenings and health education activities were very meaningful, and will further give them the opportunity to follow up with ongoing health education related to eye care.

CWEF, together with our local partners, would not be able to facilitate the HEAL program or provide this free eye health education, eye tests, or glasses for these students from underserved communities without generous supporters like you.

Thank you for your generous donations. You are making a clear difference in these children’s lives and giving them the chance to see a bright future.

 

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Eye screening with Mr. Yin of Education in Sight
Eye screening with Mr. Yin of Education in Sight
Students in Wuding county practice brushing teeth
Students in Wuding county practice brushing teeth
Jenny of CWEF helps students see the unseen germs
Jenny of CWEF helps students see the unseen germs
Practicing the 7 Steps of Handwashing
Practicing the 7 Steps of Handwashing
Practicing the 7 Steps of Handwashing
Practicing the 7 Steps of Handwashing
Practicing the 7 Steps of Handwashing
Practicing the 7 Steps of Handwashing
Taking a break to enjoy good health!
Taking a break to enjoy good health!

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Students at Anla school practice brushing teeth
Students at Anla school practice brushing teeth

Students at Anla and Heshangzhuang Primary School in rural Yunnan province ended the previous school year and started the new school year strong and healthy. Students at both schools participated in TOT ("Training of Trainers") activities as part of the ongoing HEAL program facilitated by the CWEF team and our local partners. These student health advocates will go on to serve others in their families and school communities by sharing the knowledge and healthy habits they have learned through this series of HEAL training activities over the span of 1-2 years.    

Before their schools broke for the holiday, in June 2021 students at Anla and Heshangzhuang learned knowledge and practiced healthy behaviors related to personal hygiene, COVID-19 prevention, healthy diet, eye care, disaster preparedness, and basic first aid training.

These HEAL Training of Trainer sessions were delivered as a collaborative effort -- trainers from CWEF along with several partner organizations, including eye care and vision-focused non-profit Education in Sight, Zhengxin Social Work Service Center of Wuding county, and the Yunnan Mountain Eagle Rescue Service Center. Working in concert, our organizations can achieve more, and the training we provide to the students is more effective and has a stronger impact. 

Of equal importance is the varied mode of training that is used during these sessions. Our trainers use games, songs, videos, demonstrations, simulations, and other practical exercises to engage different parts of the students' bodies, brains, and emotions, so that the knowledge and habits learned will have a better chance of sticking with them, and later, spreading to others in their community.

Jenny Chu of CWEF shares: 

"This way of combining theory with practice makes students learn more intuitively. We are helping them to enhance their awareness first, and then to support their knowledge with action."

Most recently, in September 2021, students at Heshangzhuang Primary School participated in the third session of their HEAL student health advocate training. After learning to take care of their own health and that of their family and friends, they were introduced to the concept of caring for the health of the planet. The training facilitators framed this sometimes complex topic in more simple terms that connected students back to health concerns they are familiar with:

"The Earth has a fever. How can we help the Earth to be healthy?"

Through all of these in-depth and varied activities, our CWEF team and partners are helping students to be well-rounded in their understanding and practice of holistic health.

Because of your generous prayers and financial support, we are preparing them, along with their families and communities, to have healthy bodies, healthy minds, and hopefully, a healthy planet. 

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Students in Wuding county practice brushing teeth
Students in Wuding county practice brushing teeth
"Healthy Kids" coloring book at Anla school
"Healthy Kids" coloring book at Anla school
Students at Anla school "see the invisible"
Students at Anla school "see the invisible"
"Education in Sight" team fits student for glasses
"Education in Sight" team fits student for glasses
Disaster preparedness training at Heshangzhuang
Disaster preparedness training at Heshangzhuang
Disaster preparedness training at Heshangzhuang
Disaster preparedness training at Heshangzhuang
Learning to care for the Earth at Heshangzhuang
Learning to care for the Earth at Heshangzhuang
The visiting teachers are a hit at Heshangzhuang
The visiting teachers are a hit at Heshangzhuang

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Jianfang in 2016, age 11
Jianfang in 2016, age 11

CWEF’s vision is a world of “thriving communities, serving and inspiring hope in others.” This is not a “one and done” type of goal—change takes time and real sustainable change happens in the lives of individuals and the communities they serve and inspire. Sixteen-year-old Jianfang is a living example of the impact of becoming a student Health Advocate through the HEAL program.

In 2016, CWEF facilitated a holistic health project in Xishipo, Jianfang’s home village in Lufeng county, Yunnan province. CWEF partners helped to support the construction of various clean water and health-related infrastructure in the village, including a 30 cubic meter water cistern, pumping stations, solar-heated shower rooms, hand-washing stations, garbage repositories, and drinking water pipelines to each household. A hallmark of the HEAL (Health Education, Advocacy & Literacy) project is providing health education and hygiene training (the “software”) for adults and youth, alongside the new infrastructure (the “hardware”).

Jianfang, who is from the Miao minority group, was then 11 years old when the HEAL project was initiated. Jenny Chu, CWEF’s Health Director in Yunnan, shares about the 2016 training.

“This was the first time for CWEF to use the local language, instead of Mandarin, for the health training. Using the Miao language not only solved the difficulty of knowledge transfer due to language barriers but it also helped to better encourage feelings of solidarity among the participating villagers.”

The health training took place in two phases. The first focused on personal hygiene, environmental hygiene, and nutrition. The second phase of training included information to prevent common diseases, use of medicines, training for safe pesticide use, women’s health care, accident prevention, and substance abuse awareness. Jianfang was in the third year of middle school when she first learned the new information and became a Health Advocate committed to share her new learning with her peers.

Today, Jianfang is in high school and is learning English (by way of an app), together with her intense schedule of daily school work and regular preparation for the looming university entrance exam. The training she received as a HEAL health advocate five years earlier has played a significant role in her life. She shared that the HEAL training planted the seed of a dream. “When I was in primary school, I didn’t know what kind of person I would become in the future. I didn’t have ideas about a future career.”

During the training Jianfang participated in role play presentations for different health promotion activities. “I chose the theme of ‘prevention and treatment of a cold’ and played the role of a doctor. Through this role play I understood the significance of relieving the pain of others.”

Soon after, Jianfang experienced real-life struggles in her family when her sister needed the care of a doctor.

“It takes a lot of time to wait in line to see a doctor, and the result is not always satisfactory,” Jianfang recalls. “At that time, I deeply felt that if I were a doctor, this kind of trouble could be reduced and my family could possibly avoid going to the hospital when they were sick, saving a lot of trouble.”

She also noted the impact of COVID-19: “The whole world is in panic and isolation. When we see the medical staff who stay on the front lines fighting against the virus without sleep or lunch breaks, we are moved.” Now, Jianfang is all the more determined to become a doctor.

Jianfang is inspired to become an “international rescue doctor,” so that she can go to “more difficult places to help those who are really in need.” Because of your generous giving, young Health Advocates like Jianfang learn life-changing health practices and mindsets. In her case, health education planted a seed and opened her eyes to see how she could make a difference both as a youth Health Advocate but also one day as a doctor.

The vision of “thriving communities, serving and inspiring hope in others” has a name and face: Jianfang from Xishipo village.

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Jianfang in 2020, age 16
Jianfang in 2020, age 16
Xishipo HEAL advocates share with CWEF's Jenny Chu
Xishipo HEAL advocates share with CWEF's Jenny Chu
HEAL program activities in Xishipo
HEAL program activities in Xishipo
Sink for handwashing built with HEAL funds
Sink for handwashing built with HEAL funds
Drinking water cistern built with HEAL funds
Drinking water cistern built with HEAL funds
Xishipo's trash receptacle, built with HEAL funds
Xishipo's trash receptacle, built with HEAL funds
Xishipo community gathering
Xishipo community gathering

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Meili (center) with her mother and Jenny Chu
Meili (center) with her mother and Jenny Chu

“I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand,” is a well-known Chinese proverb attributed to Confucius. Active involvement in community health education is a hallmark of the HEAL program, through the training of adult and children health advocates.

CWEF’s Senior Programs Director, Jenny Chu, shares:

“There is a great advantage to training young health advocates since they easily learn and can change their behavior. Once they have new health knowledge—like the importance of hand washing or brushing their teeth—kids can develop good habits and improve their wellness.”

Nineteen-year-old Meili is a high school senior in Lufeng County, Yunnan Province. She is from the Miao people group, which has its own unique language and culture. Meili was trained as a local health advocate and played a key role in the HEAL training activity in her home village of Beiyinqing during December 2020.

“Most older adults and younger children [in Beiyinqing] do not understand Mandarin Chinese. Meili, who is bi-lingual, explained the health lessons in the Miao language and combined the information with her own personal experience,” shares Jenny Chu. 

A total of 18 children and 20 adults participated in the training session, which covered personal hygiene, coronavirus prevention, and safe use of pesticides for the adults. Proper handwashing has always been a cornerstone of the HEAL curriculum, but “now school teachers value this part of the project even more. What happened in 2020 has drawn more attention to the importance of health education and good hygiene habits.”

Beiyinqing village, as a part of the HEAL project, will complete construction of four new water cisterns in time for the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holiday. The new facilities will improve access to drinking water for the villagers, increase water access for domestic and livestock use, and increase irrigation reservoirs, improving farming and animal husbandry for the farmers in Beiyinqing. All of these improvements will improve the personal health and environmental sanitation for the whole community.

Parents in the village value their children’s education and support the training of youth health advocates and the subsequent education of their peers. The water and hygiene projects for the community can help to raise the quality of life and income for the families in the village.

A common path for those who are educated is to later leave Beiyinqing in search of better paying work, to help support their family members back in the village. The adults hope to raise the standard of living at home, so that their talented youth don’t need to leave for work, but can remain an integral part of community life.

Meili shares this outlook of internal motivation to solve problems and find solutions without waiting for outside help. Her mother has admired Meili’s persistence and enthusiasm for learning. She hopes Meili will be able to go to a good school and have a bright future.

Meili is an exemplar of a peer leader, having already volunteered in other public welfare activities in the summer of 2020. She brought valuable skills, ideas, and language ability to the CWEF health education training for younger students in her village. Students who participated in the health education training will serve as health advocates for their fellow students—teaching them important health knowledge and modeling good habits.

As she looks to her own future, Meili hopes to study theology at a university in Yunnan, so that she can continue to teach and serve her Miao people in their own language and culture.

Thank you for your partnership in making our shared vision become a reality—where villages like Beiyinqing filled with people like Meili can grow into thriving communities, serving and inspiring hope in others.

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Meili facilitates discussion during training
Meili facilitates discussion during training
Children and adults learn proper handwashing
Children and adults learn proper handwashing
Children's drawing of Beiyinqing
Children's drawing of Beiyinqing
One section of Beiyinqing village
One section of Beiyinqing village
CWEF's Jenny Chu leads advocate training with kids
CWEF's Jenny Chu leads advocate training with kids
"What are the biggest issues in the village now?"
"What are the biggest issues in the village now?"
Bringing in a harvest of veggies
Bringing in a harvest of veggies

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Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation

Location: Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon - Hong Kong SAR
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Twitter: @cwef_hk
Project Leader:
Joshua Lange
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon Hong Kong SAR
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