Shanghai Journal – Day 5

June 8, 2011

More information! So I’ve learned some new things about the situation of the floating population and about conditions at Tongi village. Yesterday, I spent the morning teaching an undergraduate social work class. Professor Zheng, who teaches the class, has done research on migrant children in Shanghai so we had a lot to talk about – as best we could. After my visit to the village, I was kind of fixated on public health concerns. So, I asked a lot of questions. And while there was not a solid answer – yes, children in Tongi village are immunized, no children aren’t – it sounds as though there is some level of immunization and that many organizations like the U.N. are collaborating with the central government around immunization in particular. The complication around this issue and other public health issues in the village is the Hukou system that is still in place, although changing. In essence, migrants are the responsibility of their sending village regardless of how long they have lived or worked in Shanghai. Likewise, their children, no matter where they are born, are residents of the sending village – not Shanghai. Local governments have responsibility of provision of health care and the types of things provided depend on the wealth of the local government. So, a poor community may provide a basic complement of immunizations while richer communities provide a fuller range. The question to which I still don’t have a clear answer, is how a child gets even the basics, if they are born in Shanghai and/or brought here before they’ve completed an immunization schedule.

You may wonder why, as a social worker, this immunization business is bothering me so much. In some ways it is symbolic of the ways in which I think we sometimes miss the boat in the helping professions. There are some very basic needs that all individuals have – something to eat, a safe place to live, freedom from the diseases that we know how to prevent, a bit of heat in the winter, and a way to cool off in summer. Coming to a place like Tongi village forces me to think about the basics – in social work parlance – starting where the client is, making sure that I and the larger society have paid attention to those concerns at least as much as the issues that require clients to make lifestyle changes or confront difficult issues. And just to be clear, while I am reflecting on this in the light of Tongi village, the same tension is present in any social welfare endeavor in any state or country.

So you might ask, where does this leave the library? Were the resources used to put it in place misdirected – absolutely not. The spirit must be fed too.

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