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    It’s a little before midnight. I sit at the end of the full bed I share with another Hua Dan volunteer, organizing my notes from tonight’s team meeting. The sound of crickets (or are they cicada’s?) blend softly with the murmur of Eddie and Takashi talking in the courtyard outside. It has cooled down these past couple of days (following a series of showers that wreaked havoc on the already temperamental internet connection). I wave my hand absently at two flies that are resting on my leg. I’m no longer as bothered by the ever-present insects as I was when we first arrived, but I make a mental note to purchase some bug-spray and a mosquito net when I return to the city the day after the next.

    As I read over the notes I’d written mere hours ago, my mind wanders back to the meeting we’d just had: all 12 of us squeezed into comfortably mismatched couches: an office borrowed from our campsite staffers.

    This is our last full day of camp for the week: we are to return to the city on Friday afternoons. As a result, today’s meeting is meant to be an evaluation of our first week here. First up is Yangyang.

    She tells us how proud she is of our team and the work we did this first week. She turns her attention to Xiaoqiang, this week’s main workshop leader. This is the first children’s workshop in Beijing that she hasn’t personally facilitated, Yangyang tells us. This is the first time that Xiaoqianghas surpassed his capacity as an assistant facilitator in his time with Hua Dan (3 years this coming fall). She is very proud of him. I learn from my previous conversations with Xiaoqiang that he was also a former Hua Dan workshop participant. He told me that he stopped going to school after the third year of middle school. He had been working for two years before finding Hua Dan. He is 20 this year.

    “No wonder he seems old for his age”, remarks Yiting or Gabi (a summer intern from Brown). She sits beside me munching on some green bean cake pastries brought by a Hua Dan staffer. They taste like soap, she grimaces, all the while reaching for another. I swat gently at a fly humming merrily by my ear.

    The conversation moves onto an anecdote from today’s evening workshop. A teacher talks about a barely averted argument between two girls. Gabi perks up at this story. “Oh, I know which girl they’re talking about”, she whispers to me. “The one with the perpetual whiny voice. You know, the super clingy one”. I nod my agreement. I had noticed her too.

    “Well you know, Lily* was a last minute addition to the camp”, a Hua Dan worker remarks. “She was living by herself in her school dormitories when we went by the school to confirm our schedule.”

    “Why was she at the school at all?”

    School is out for the summer, after all.

    Ta zhuzai nali. She lives there.”

    I also learn that Lily's* mother isn’t around. The why isn’t clear. All we know is that she lives mostly with her father, who is constantly absent as well (presumably for work). Every summer break, when the other children have gone home, she stays alone in the school dormitories.

    In light of all of this, Xiaoqiang comments, her extroverted personality is a pleasant surprise.

    “God I feel like such an ass”, whispers Gabi to me, with another grimace (though this time, at herself).

    I’m busy thinking about a 9 year old living alone for two months. Neglect! A part of me cries. But another part of me recognizes that if her father had the resources necessary to hire a nanny, he probably would have done so. As for child protection laws in China – of course they exist. On the other hand, the reality here is that laws are selectively enforced. Resources are pooled in certain areas while other are stretched paper thin. Migrant communities, made up of “illegal” internal migrants, have little hope of seeing any of these resources.



    *"Lily"'s real name has been changed to protect her privacy.



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