‘Left-behind’ children: OneSky’s mission to support China’s economic orphans

Before Half the Sky, many children in China who lost their families were fed and sheltered at institutions. Deprived of loving attention, they could not thrive. Founded by Jenny Bowen in 1998, Half the Sky has served all children residing in China’s welfare institutions, regardless of the circumstances that brought them there.

Half the Sky’s responsive, child-centred approach focuses on nurturing the whole child. The goal is to prepare children to enter society at an intellectual and social level with their peers while surrounding them with a stimulating, healthy emotional environment. Its children’s centres have been so effective that they are now established in orphanages all over China.

‘It was touching to realise that everyone at the negotiating table shared the same view: for the children to have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and nothing is more important than that.’

Thu Huyen Nguyen

Freshfields has partnered with Half the Sky, recently renamed OneSky, for more than a decade, providing pro bono legal services from offices around the world including Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Hanoi, London, New York, Düsseldorf and Amsterdam. The partnership is not only based on the provision of legal services. Over the years, employees have sponsored an infant nurture programme in Huangshi, supported gala fundraisers in Hong Kong and London, participated in a charity hike in Hong Kong and volunteered at children’s centres.

Shanghai Associate Sherry Xu joined a field trip to Henan province last year to see a new village model for ‘left-behind’ children. In rural China today, more than 61 million children of migrant workers are left behind in the care of grandparents or relatives who struggle to simply keep them fed. Over a third of those children are under seven years old – left without nurturing care during their critical early years. They are China’s ‘economic orphans’ who see their parents only once a year, during the New Year holiday. Many of the children in OneSky’s orphanage programmes come from such places.

Sherry said, ‘I’m extremely touched and moved by Jenny and other board members for their enthusiasm, vision and devotion to this noble cause. During the debriefing of the field trip, many people cried when expressing their feelings towards the initiative. I’m happy and proud to be part of their team. What impressed me is the board members’ professionalism. They will challenge the management on their proposals but are philanthropists who actively fundraise for the children. I’m also impressed by their trust in Freshfields and their appreciation for our work. They come to us whenever they have legal questions and they follow our advice which they know to be practical. I think our relationship with OneSky is very functional and inspiring.’

Our Beijing office has participated in various social responsibility activities for OneSky and recently organised a volunteer day to visit a care home and spend time with the orphaned children. Associate Michelle Pang believes that ‘the legal profession and we as individuals should, by self-motivation, help the under-privileged, which in return could inspire us to think more about the meaning of our profession, about what we can do better with our knowledge and skills to make contributions to society’.

‘Over and over in the last decade, Freshfields’ immensely competent and energetic staff have brought smiles to the children. I cannot thank them enough.’

Jenny Bowen
Founder and CEO, OneSky

Riding on the success in China, OneSky is bringing its expertise to Vietnam to replicate the programmes there. Our office in Hanoi assisted OneSky to establish its first early learning centre in Da Nang. Associate Thu Huyen Nguyen said, ‘It is expected that the model will be replicated in other provinces in Vietnam for vulnerable and disadvantaged young children. I feel happy to be able to help the children. It was very touching to realise that everyone at the negotiating table shared the same view: for the children to have a new place to learn and develop and for them to have the opportunity to reach their full potential and nothing is more important than that.’

On the strong relationship between Freshfields and OneSky, CEO and Founder Jenny Bowen said, ‘I am so grateful for our incredibly productive partnership with Freshfields. Over and over in the last decade Freshfields’ immensely competent and energetic staff have helped us navigate the legal challenges inevitable in our work, pitched in at fundraising events, and brought smiles to the children. I cannot thank them enough.’

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