I will be graduating from primary school and entering secondary school this coming August. When we started our last semester, we received a semester-long project – a piece of art with the theme “artists’ respond to social issues to inspire change”.

The Responsibility of Artists to the Social Issues

Letian's draft

There are few key points:

  1. What do artists do?
  2. What are their responsibilities?
  3. What are the social issues?
  4. How do they inspire us?
  5. What changes can be done?
We needed to present our project in one semester’s time, and the results would be considered for our admission to enter secondary school. The project was a big deal and the time was tight, so this was my plan:
  • Week 1-2: Decide social problem
  • Week 3-4: Research
  • Week 5-6: Art action
  • Week 7: Presentation and exhibition planning
  • Week 8: Art exhibition
01 Decide Social Problem

The first stage was the toughest for me.

I spent a long time thinking, as well as discussing with family and friends, what are the social issues out there? Which of them concerns me the most that I want to make some changes?

Among those social issues, I chose the topic of poverty. My mother used to frequently visit poorer regions in the world since she was young. She took me to India when I was only five months old. We traveled across central India again when I was 10 months old, taking tuk-tuk cars throughout the whole journey. We visited many other places one after another, including Qiandongnan prefecture in Guizhou and inner Yunnan when my mother was pregnant with my younger siblings. She always says that we live in a bubble of happiness that is not the true reality. We should see more of the other sides of the world. (I began traveling across the world when I was merely a fertilized egg.) The only impression that these places had left me was “extreme poverty”.(We couldn’t shower for weeks; got bitten by insects all over; had the same food every day and slept with huge lizards. However, despite all these, I still enjoyed myself there and would love to visit there again.)
Since I had decided to work on the issue of poverty, I did some research. During the time, I also learned some research methods such as the structure of “viewpoint, argument, evidence and conclusion”, as well as the skills of reflection, communication, teamwork, and independence.

When I went to further organize the materials, I recalled the memories of our volunteering experience at “Pure View”.

What did I feel most strongly about during the activities? Was it poverty?

Not entirely. 

What touched me the most was the way that the kids look at me, clinging closely to my mother.

「Pure View®️Da Ga Ji village」Meet in Yun Nan

「Pure View®️Qi Tai Village」Meet in Qi Tai

I thought about it over and over again, and decided on the topic to work on – the children left behind.
02 Research
Letian's draft
But mom, all I need is you because I miss you so much. I miss my mom who kisses me at night before I sleep. I can’t express my feelings to you when you are calling me through cell phone … I hope that someday we will be a happy family and I want to hug and kiss you this time. I miss you mom and I love you.”-Sarah (16 years old child in the Philippines)
Who are children “left behind”?
Letian's draft

The phrase “children left behind” often refers to children raised at home by grandparents or family members, who have been left behind by their parents working in other cities. Those parents sometimes leave for a year and only come back once a year. Even worse, some parents can be away for five years.

Letian's draft
The data I found showed that there are about 70 million children left behind in the world. Most of them are in China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Tajikistan. There are around 61 million children left behind in China, 9 million in the Philippines, 1 million in Sri Lanka 100 thousand in Tajikistan, 350 thousand in Romania, and 180 thousand in Moldova……
What causes left-behind children?
Letian's draft

Nobody wants to leave their children, right? But why are all these children left behind? I did some research and found these reasons:

  1. Often parents live apart from their children because there are limited job opportunities in their community – or the available jobs do not pay enough to sustain a family. Higher-paying jobs elsewhere may allow parents to improve their family’s living situation. (In 2017, the total volume of remittances, the funds sent by foreign nationals to their country of origin, surpassed 466 billion USD, with much of the money used to support the health, education, and well-being of children left behind.)
  2. A lack of safe and legal pathways prevents parents from migrating with their children. The children in China are left behind mainly because of the system of “Hu Kou”, which determines the city household registers too. If the parents working in the city cannot get registered, the children would not be able to receive public education, public hospital, and welfares from that city. Hence they have to stay in their hometown with their grandparents where the household is registered to. There are benefits to the Hu Kou system as well. It keeps the population of an urban city in control. Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is crucial to track the population’s movement with the Hu Kou system.
When parents leave how does it affect the children?
Letian's draft
The impact of parents’ absence has on a child’s growth cannot be ignored.  Although there are policies that restrict the number of time parents leave home, the issue still exists when parents are driven by the responsibilities in life.
  • Mental Health

Children need continuous contact with their parents, as well as support by guardians and the community. They may be left in the care of grandparents, but without parents’ company, many children left behind can experience social isolation – and this is exacerbated when they are unable to participate in community life.

Many children are unable to communicate with their parents abroad, which can increase a child’s risk of psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety. Children “left behind” are more likely to experience psychological and emotional stress or loneliness, and may feel abandoned and have low self-esteem. This can further lead to acting out and other behavioral problems. This, in turn, can increase the risk of substance abuse and conflict with the law.

In some communities, these children are perceived to be “more arrogant, aggressive, and rude” than other children. In some worst cases, it can lead to crimes such as drug abuse and prostitution.

  • Education

The benefits of parents working in cities might be that they can help children afford school fees and supplies to avoid dropping out. Further, parents working abroad may gain a greater appreciation for schooling. For example, a study in India found that parents who migrated to urban areas became more appreciative of the value of education, and thus made sure their children received better schooling.

However, children with one parent leaving may be less likely to enroll in school, have declining attendance, or drop out early. Children lose an irreplaceable source of emotional support without parents around. Older children, in particular, may face increased pressure in the home to care for younger siblings. Like we have seen in the poor villages, a lot of children are responsible for taking care of the family, sacrificing their time to play and study. The chores increased the chance of dropping out, whereas giving up on education means giving up on a better career.

  • Healthcare
Health is of high importance to all of us, as it decided whether we grow up safely. Remittances sent to children by migrant parents can fund healthcare, medicine, and nutritious food. However, many “left behind” children are short and underweight measurements compared with others. We often see little kids left behind who are obviously lacking nutrition, skinny, and not very tall. Although the parents can make sure their children can access healthcare when they’re sick, it becomes more likely for them to have health issues without the care and love from parents.
  • Protection
It is miserable for children without their parents around. There is a 34% risk of them getting sexually abused. Some also at risk of physical and mental abuse. This makes it even sadder for those who already lack the care and concern from parents. Some of the left-behind girls get married at a young age. Without enough contact with parents and their protection, girls are pressured to marry for protection or to avoid being a social or economic burden for the family.
“Poverty and lack of jobs is the real problem here; migration is just a consequence.”Hissor, Tajikistan (Mother of an infant whose husband had migrated)


Letian's draft

With “Pure View”, we come into contact with many left-behind children in poverty-stricken areas each year. They are just like us, hoping to get warmth and love from their parents. I have thought of the following methods that can alleviate the issue:

  1. The government should increase regular channels for workers to move with their families, to help with the education and healthcare of their children in the city. The private sector can consider family-friendly work environments for all employees, including family visit time to allow workers to visit their family at home or abroad.
  2. Parents should have a pre-departure talk with their children, to lessen the potential emotional and psychological risks they might face. They should also maintain regular contact with their children, to express their love and care for their children.
  3. Ensure educational, healthcare, child protection, and social protection providers are sensitive to the needs of children “left behind” and have protocols in place to address child abuse, emotional issues, and other challenges these children might face. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of people who are voluntarily forming organizations devoted to children protection in local areas.
  4. Include children “left behind” when assessing a child’s need for social services and legal support, and ensure these children are not excluded from services and assistance.
  5. Gather more data on children whose parents have migrated and migrating families, in general, to better understand the challenges they face. In particular, focus on the mental, emotional, and physical health of children left behind. Encourage countries to adopt information management systems to monitor both children who receive services and those who are not receiving services.
03 Art Action

Which form of art should I make use to convey this idea? With music? Novel? Painting? Or Installation? I browsed some artworks, music, literature, and videos by artists, and finally decided to use the material that I’m most familiar with – clay sculpture. I wanted to show the isolation and helplessness I felt in the children’s hearts. 
04 Presentation and Exhibition
At the start of the exhibition, I was a little nervous when the first visitor came, but then I had gotten used to it. When I had to explain to the younger kids, I thought I would change my wordings to help them better understand. A lot of the visitors liked my project. I thought maybe I did influence a great number of them. There was a cleaner auntie from the Philippines who was so touched by the project that she shed tears. Perhaps her children are one of those who got left at home…This final project was indeed challenging for me to collect all those materials, research, and organize them. To be honest, I was really quite nervous when it was finally time for the presentation and exhibition.