Profile: A "substitute" mother's love for left-behind children

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CHENGDU, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- The left-behind children of Xishanping Village can feel the love and care they miss from their own parents during their summer vacation at a local companion home.

Several children sit in a circle inside the house drawing and doing homework. Around them, there are shelves full of books, and their artwork can be seen hanging on the walls. Outside, there are slides, swings and even a small stage.

Xiao Yue (pseudonym) is a seventh-grader who lost her mother when she was little and has lived with her grandmother since then. She has been guided by the care of Ma Xuemei, the "substitute mother" of 54 left-behind children in the village.

Ma, 29, could empathize with Xiao Yue since she was once a left-behind child herself and had also spent a lot of time away from her own child.

"Poor thing. My granddaughter lost her mom and has short stature," said Xiao Yue's grandma, who could not help wiping away her tears as she spoke. The 13-year-old girl was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency and needs long-term medication.

Ma frequently visited Xiao Yue's place and talked with her, enlightening and encouraging the girl with heroic stories, and also invited her to play with other children at the companion home.

Xiao Yue, who used to feel inferior and afraid of having contact with others, gradually opened her heart and became more outgoing. Her condition improved, and so did her grades.

"Look at your painting. How nice it is!" said Ma, who enfolded Xiao Yue in an affectionate embrace, telling the girl that she could think of her as a mom.

Xishanping is located in the city of Shehong in southwest China's Sichuan Province, where most locals migrate to cities in search of work to support their families.

To care about the children whose parents are not around, the local Communist Youth League organizations have set up "children companion homes" in rural areas, hiring and training educated, caring women as "substitute mothers."

The local Communist Youth League Committee bears all the expenses for purchasing books and other activities, according to Tang Yuwen, Party secretary of Xishanping. Police officers and firefighters are also invited to companion homes to give traffic and fire safety education.

The substitute mothers also communicate with the parents of the left-behind children, sharing videos of the kids doing homework and playing.

In March 2017, Ma signed a service contract and started working as a caregiver at the companion home. The first thing she did was to make home visits and records of more than 100 households with underage children. The job took her two months.

She found that some children had deficiencies in developing their habits and learning abilities since they were usually taken care of by aged grandparents due to the generational gap.

In addition to tutoring, Ma also organized activities according to the children's interests, such as drawing, handicraft making, watching movies and museum visits.

"I wanted to make the children feel like they were with their own mothers," Ma said. Enditem

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