A Strong First Step toward a Healthier Life: Wellness Guides for Migrant Factory Workers in China

China Wellness Guides

"With capable partners on the ground, the future of the Wellness Project seems bright. We look forward to the next phase of this project."October 21st was an exciting and memorable day for Pathfinder’s partnership to promote sexual and reproductive health and well-being among migrant factory workers in Changzhou, China under the China Wellness Project.

Eve Lee, Senior Advisor for the China program, and I were invited to observe project activities in two of the three China Wellness Project factories. We were accompanied by a diverse group of representatives from the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, the Asia Foundation China Office, the China Family Planning Association, and the Changzhou Family Planning Commission, as well as the Vice Mayor of Changzhou City, local administrators of the Changzhou Hi-Tech Economic Development Zone, and a team of videographers and photographers.

It was a special celebration to launch the first edition of the Wellness Guide, content for which was developed over two years based on needs assessment and focus group discussions which aimed to capture topics of most importance to migrant factory workers regarding their new lives in Changzhou and their health and wellness.

Each chapter of the Wellness Guide provides basic health information in user-friendly language with sections that outline what one could do to take actions, and where one could find more information and help. The project has received support from the local government, the Levi Strauss Foundation, the crowd-sourcing site Catapult.org, Oxfam Hong Kong, the Pathfinder board, and individual donors.

At the Fujitsu factory, which produces electronic parts, we presented male and female migrant workers with copies of the Guide inside the spacious and refurbished “Wellness House” that the local government financed as a recreation and educational facility for Fujitsu’s workers.

“I would like to have a better life here in Changzhou and help my family,” one 18-year-old female migrant worker told us as she was asked about her goals and dreams.

As she spoke, she broke down in tears, indicating the fragile emotional and mental state many of these rural-born workers are in as they try to find their identities in a new city, struggling with unfamiliar local dialects and fast-paced urban lifestyles.

Eve emphasized that the project is not Pathfinder’s project, but instead the Changzhou people’s project. Pathfinder’s role was only to facilitate the introduction of this new project model and participatory project development—the hard work was really carried out by local partners and a team of academic researchers from Nanjing who provided the data.“I would like to have a better life here in Changzhou and help my family,” one 18-year-old female migrant worker told us as she was asked about her goals and dreams.

The Vice Mayor and the local administrators gave their full endorsement to the project and appreciated the partnership between government, local NGOs, international NGOs, academia and companies as well as international donors and global experts. They vowed to document and publicize this project and its potential for success to other factories, cities, and provinces. The China Family Planning Association has also been promoting the project concept through its nationwide network.

In the back of the Wellness Guide is a pocket that includes a directory of services that guide workers to various referral points for information and services. Those referral points have to be further strengthened to ensure that migrant workers are given good quality of services and relevant information. Young people find it especially tough to discuss sensitive sexual and reproductive health matters with government clinical staff, so youth-friendly services need to be located or established, including at pharmacies and other peer education outlets. The directory will be updated regularly to ensure complete and accurate information.

At the end of the site visit to the Fujitsu factory, I had a chance to interview the Japanese manager, Mr. Toriyama, in my native language. Mr. Toriyama said the project came just at the right time when the factory was struggling with a high turnover rate among migrant workers who could not adjust to their surroundings and did not have a way to seek support. He is very thankful that the Changzhou government has shown such care and concern to his employees through this project, and that there is now open communication with the local administrators as well as service agencies. He repeatedly told me that he is very fortunate to have encountered this project and to have a chance to implement it at his company.

With capable partners on the ground, the future of the Wellness Project seems bright, even when Pathfinder’s technical assistance and capacity building efforts have been intermittent and remote. Pathfinder believes in the power of collaborations and does not intend to open an office in China at this time. We look forward to the next phase of this project, with more documentation of outcomes, packaging of the project model for scale-up, and advocacy for policy change. 

Sono Aibe

Sono Aibe is Pathfinder International's Senior Advisor for Strategic Initiatives.

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