The Mother Tutor Project was initiated by women who utilize their skills as mothers,
tutoring within Beijing’s Dongshagezhuang Village, and beyond.
Dressed in aprons, masks and gloves, the ‘sisters’ make nougat seamlessly, expertly cutting and heating the ingredients, and chatting and laughing heartily. In a room next door, their children are taken care of by other sisters of the cooperative, who are given a subsidy for their work. In this community economy project, all participants – whether childcare workers or bakers of nougat, biscuits and sweets – gain not just wages but friendship. The community wins too, with love-filled food, especially for the festivals!
Since 2016, PCD has been supporting community economy projects with women migrant workers through Beijing Mulan Huakai Social Work Service Centre (Mulan). As early as 2010, Mulan started serving migrants in a typical suburban migrant village Dongshagezhuang in northern Beijing, paying particular attention to the difficulty of women workers in adapting to city life and culture, Mulan applies community economy principles to address their livelihood, psychological, and social needs. The focus of the current phase is two-fold: exploring community economy practices and nurturing community leaders.
Community economy practices are implemented through developing community groups, such as a mothers’ handicrafts group, a fathers’ support group, and a cooperative consumption and production group. Members of the mothers’ handicrafts group have many skills such as sewing and crocheting, while those in the fathers’ group tend to have removal, electrical, and mechanical skills. The goods and services provided are exchanged at a community market – here, people’s talents and skills are valued as much as, or more than, money is.
Members also group together and purchase special food grown by their relatives and friends back home. This brings a wonderful sense of love and comfort to their lives. Affordable yet of high quality, these often hard-to-find food items have become popular among non-migrant locals too. Mulan has thus been sourcing more of the products, strengthening mutual understanding between migrants and locals, and enhancing rural-urban interaction.
The nurturing of community leaders is carried out through awarding residents with small grants to run community activities of their own design to address specific issues. One innovative project is Mother Tutor, a scheme initiated by mothers within the community. As mothers tend to possess certain skills, such as reading picture books to children and practising the basics of traditional Chinese medicine, they came up with the idea of tutoring within or beyond the community. Participating tutors discover a lot through this outreach – a new sense of identity, more confidence, clearer value sets, and better organisational skills. A peer tutor group has also been providing a supportive network and has fostered a community-wide interest in continued learning.
Community economy has been a learning journey for Mulan. The centre has been experimenting with various practices over the years. As one team member puts it, “Community economy is about making use of existing community resources to create a sustainable way of life, with a good sense of agency and autonomy.” Mulan has seen the journey as a very positive process, with more and more people becoming empowered as individuals, and also giving and receiving mutual help from others in the community.