In Conversation with Iris Cai, Coordinator of "Fewer Left Behind"
Iris Cai is a professional coach and personal branding strategist passionate about helping young professionals and entrepreneurs, including immigrants, create a life and career that matter. She currently works at UBC Sauder School of Business as a MBA Careers Manager.
On March 9, Iris coordinated an event named “Fewer Left Behind” at UBC, a night of learning and exploration featuring documentaries, photography and a panel discussion. The event covered this generation of Chinese "left-behind" children, as well as children all around the world who have similar struggles.
In China, approximately 61 million children are growing up without one or both of their parents due to migration to more developed regions of the country. This migration occurs in order to escape poverty, as income disparity between urban and rural China has been rapidly increasing. The problem is that these migrants cannot take their children with them to the developed cities due to various reasons, notably including the country's household registration "hukou" system. These children are referred to as "left behind children."
A few days prior to the event, Schema Magazine had the opportunity to interview Cai about her passion and the larger issue at hand. You can read the interview below:
Q: Could you explain a little about the event?
Iris: What is going to happen at the event is that there will be photo exhibits, featuring very prominent photographers in China at first then we will show two of long and short documentaries about Chinese left-behind children. After that, we will have a panel discussion which we encourage audiences to ask questions and interact in discussions. We will have three panelists – one is an expert on children and conflict and another is an expert on urban migration, who both are UBC faculty members. Another panelist is an economist as well as a long-term volunteer for a NGO called, “OneSky” which has been working for China for a long time to support orphanages and left-behind children. Also, there will be a quick presentation on some other initiatives that are happening in China and overseas about this event.
Q: What is the purpose of opening an event of this particular issue?
Iris: In terms of the purpose of doing this, I would say it is a two-fold. One would be generally for giving people an opportunity to learn about this issue and enhancing their awareness. Another one is for generating more dialogues and discussions to help people construct their thinking about potential solutions for the issue and how they can also take part of it because it actually has a global impact on the rest of the world, not just in China.
Q: What brought you to be engaged in this particular issue?
Iris: I came here from China when I was 20 and I saw many children in disadvantageous situations back in China in my earlier years. I always felt that I wanted to do something for them, not only for children but also for anyone in disadvantageous situations. But at that time, I was too young to initiate something by myself and I did not know what I could actually do for them. Then time has been passed and I moved to Canada. A couple of years ago, I was travelling in Beijing and I saw some photos of these Chinese left-behind children in a gallery. Somehow, I felt connected with these photos so I bought them. Soon afterwards, I determined myself that one day I would go back to China and take photos of these kids then come back to Canada to take an action to help them. That was my first idea to really do something for the left-behind children ever since I came to Canada.
Last year, I was in a leadership course and I was supposed to come up with an event project as a way to develop my leadership opportunity. At that timing, I felt that I was ready to do an event dealing with this issue. Then I had to do lots of researches and reach outs to get connections with other organizations and initiatives regarding this issue to start getting into an action for the event.
Q: Does this event only discuss about the left-behind children in China?
Iris: For the event itself, we are starting out about these Chinese left-behind children specifically, because it is easier to contain the stuffs about them as this issue is new to most of audiences. However when it comes to our organization or general “Fewer Left Behind” initiative, I plan to make it more global. It should not be just about left-behind children in China because this kind of situation does not only occur to blue-collar people with low income and I am sure there are many other social demographic groups who suffer from the similar issues, including migration in other countries.
Q: To what extent does Chinese government strive to help these left-behind children?
Iris: Chinese government has launched a few surveys to learn the exact number of left-behind children in China and the government is taking steps to address this issue further with a full recognition of this important issue. For example, some Chinese municipal governments have been attempting to implement policies to change the situation and the “houkou” system has been loosened. However, these are very slow measures and it is difficult to change and resolve the situation at once.
For more information about this issue and event, visit the website and learn how you can contribute yourself to help these left-behind children in China! https://www.fewerleftbehind.org