Lawrence J. Liu
Today, the Seminar’s participants began the first of two days focused on the role of legal professionals in child protection work. Over the course of the day, participants had opportunities to meet with a number of lawyers and other professionals who shared their powerful stories and experiences in advancing child rights, with meetings happening both at the Center as well as at Beijing Normal University. Adding to this day of inspiring stories from our guests and hosts were a number of insightful stories and comments from our participants.
For the morning session, the participants heard from Ms. Wang Yiwei, a seasoned child legal advocate and the current Vice President of the Beijing Zhongzhi Child Care Foundation. Through her stories, Ms. Wang illustrated the wide range of roles lawyers can take on both inside and outside the courtroom. To start, Ms. Wang introduced the New Start Child Victim Support Program, a program founded by the All China Lawyers Association and BCLARC in 2005. Kickstarted by a private donation from a Hong Kong lawyer and businessperson, the Program now raises money through the registered Beijing Zhongzhi Child Care Foundation. Recognizing that a favorable court judgment is only one small part in making child victims whole, the program began as a way to provide additional financial support for costs related to medical, psychological, educational, and other needs. Between September 2005 and March 2018, the Program supported 1300 child victims through donations totaling 1.5 million RMB.
While overall statistics tell one facet of the story, the most inspiring part of Ms. Wang’s presentation was the personal stories that Ms. Wang shared. Of the many inspiring stories, two will receive particular mention here. The first involves the work New Start does with child victims. In 2008, Mr. Luo was murdered by two individuals in Beijing. Although they were sentenced to 15 years in prison, they did not have the means to provide compensation to the deceased’s family members living in Sichuan province. To make matters worse, a huge earthquake struck Sichuan that same year, and the family’s home had been destroyed. Without Mr. Luo’s income and with the added devastation from the earthquake, the family’s two children moved in with their ailing grandparents while their mother moved to Beijing to work at a foot massage salon. At this point, New Start decided to stepped in to help. Accepting the 4000 RMB from Ms. Wang, the mother expressed her thanks through tears: “Before you, I felt so hopeless and did not think that there was anybody out there who cared about me and my family. Seeing your generosity, I am reinvigorated and renewed in my mission to help my children achieve their full potential.”
The second looks at New Start’s work with children in conflict with the law. Ms. Wang frequently visits juvenile detention centers to work with the children there and provide them with financial support for education and training. One training kids can participate in is learning how to cook. Ms. Wang recounted a story about one such student who many years ago encouraged Ms. Wang to try his yuxiang rousi dish. Excited to hear Ms. Wang’s reaction, Ms. Wang kindly (but frankly) stated that the dish was too salty and the color was wrong, but encouraged the student to keep at it. A few years later, much to her surprise, Ms. Wang received a video message that showed this student wearing a chef hat and receiving praise from his fellow chefs and satisfied restaurant patrons. Along with the video, the student personally invited Ms. Wang to go to the restaurant and try his now-much-improved yuxiang rousi.
Following a moving presentation, made possible expert translation from BCLARC’s Ms. Anna Niu, the participants engaged Ms. Wang in an equally inspiring Q&A session. Many shared similarly powerful stories from their own countries and experiences. Hishom Akbar, for instance, shared a story about a then-15-year-old young child who became the head of the household after his father passed away in a car accident and his mother became incapacitated with mental health problems. Tragically, this child succumbed to the backbreaking pressures of his new position and raped another member of his community. Through support and rehabilitation efforts by Hishom’s Surabaya Children Crisis Center, this child turned his life around and is now a member of Hishom’s staff. Others, like Mr. Bestone Banda, were curious about how to raise funds for this kind of program. Almost every participant who shared with the group began with an expression of amazement at Ms. Wang, both for her work but also for the youthful energy she still brings to a field she’s poured over 20 years of her life into.
Ending on a humorous, yet practical, note, Ms. Wang shared with the participants “four 8s” that she believes can keep them going through both good and bad times. First, they should drink “8” glasses of water a day, with the first glass being a glass of warm water before breakfast. Second, should eat up to the point when they are “80%” full, and thus should avoid buffets. Third, they should walk “8” thousand steps a day. And finally, they should sleep “8” hours a day and fall asleep before 11pm. Ms. Wang and the participants ended with a warm shared round of applause and a group photo, a sign of respect for each other and the work they do.
After lunch (and a brief midday rain shower), the participants hopped on a bus to Beijing Normal University for a visit to the China Philanthropy Research Institute (CPRI). Founded with the support of Jet Li’s One Foundation, CPRI Deputy Dean Gao Huajun greeted the participants with a warm welcome and introduction to CPRI’s mission and projects. Of particular interest for our child welfare advocates were two presentations by Ms. Zhang Yiran and Ms. Gun Yan on CPRI’s Child Policy Research Center and Child Social Work Center, respectively. After hearing about the Barefoot Social Worker project during their field visit to Chaoyue Child Protection Social Workers Association, the participants were especially excited to learn more about the history and work of the project, which was originally conceived by the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs and UNICEF in 2010.
The participants then had a chance to introduce themselves, their organizations, and their countries to our gracious hosts as a warm-up for the roundtable discussion to follow. During the roundtable, the participants and our hosts discussed a number of important issues, ranging from philosophical conversations about welfare v. rights-based models to more practical conversations about budget and supervision. CPRI staff then escorted the participants on a tour of the institute, and then the bus returned to BCLARC to wrap up the day’s events.