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Letters link college students and left-behind children

By Ma Chi | | Updated: 2017-10-12 15:38

In an era when people rarely write letters, a group of college students in Zhejiang province have built close links with left-behind children in a remote middle school by writing letters to each other.

The letter writing is part of the "dolphin initiative" launched in 2016 by Xu Jing, a psychology teacher with Zhejiang University of Water Resources and Electric Power in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang province.

Xu, who is also a psychology mentor with Dishui (Water Drop) Charity, launched the program after learning of the negative effects the lack of parental guidance have had on the left-behind children in a middle school in Guanling Buyi and Miao autonomous prefecture in Southwest China's Guizhou province.

After talking with junior students in Guansuo Middle School, Xu discovered that they lacked care and emotional connections because most of the students' parents had left home to work outside the prefecture.

"We thought of providing the children a channel to share their troubles and learn more about the outside world," Xu told

At first, she tried to address the problem by sending psychology instructors to help the children, which proved not so successful and inconsistent.

Then, Xu came up with the idea of letting college students communicate with the left-behind children, because they had just gone through the age of the middle school students and had a lot in common with them, she said.

Under the call of the Mental Health Association of the university, 40 freshmen were selected in November 2016 to be paired with the left-behind children in Guansuo Middle School, which is nearly 2,000 kilometers away. They were nicknamed "dolphin brothers" and "dolphin sisters".

The "dolphin brothers and sisters" are required to communicate with the left-behind students by writing a letter to each other every month for three years.

Xie Guiying is one "dolphin sister". She said she usually uses instant messaging platforms such as WeChat and QQ to socialize and it is easy to alter the contents she puts in the digital platforms. "But when I write letters, I have to think carefully and express my thoughts completely," said Xie.

"I look forward to receiving the reply (from my pen pal) each month, it's an anxious and wonderful process," said Xie.

She said that at the beginning the boy she exchanges letter with was reserved, and only talked about his academic performance and relations with classmates.

But after months of communication, he started to tell Xie about his family conditions and how he missed his parents and wanted them to come back home to be with him.

"I can well understand what the boy feels since I was a left-behind child when I was a kid. So I shared with him my experiences," Xie said. "Now the boy even cares for me, asks what troubles me and amuses me. I can feel the changes that have taken place in him," she said.

Some of the left-behind students also ask their pen friends personal questions such as relationship. And when the "dolphin sisters and brothers" face difficulties, they turn to psychology mentors for help.

"The kids used to be shy and did not know how to express their feelings. But this year, a kid made a phone call to his father on the Father's Day. And the students of the class even bought me a cake and decorated the classroom to celebrate my birthday," said a teacher surnamed Wang in the Guansuo Middle School.

Xu Jing said the initiative is mutually beneficial.

"The college students used to be pampered children at home. This activity enables them to learn how to care for others and think for others," the teacher said.

"Many participants now pay more attention to their studies and even learn new knowledge voluntarily to set a good example for their pen friends," she said.

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