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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2012-07-17

Dear Parents,

Yesterday moring, we said good-bye to Yong An Hotel and came to a hotel near Beijing Guang Ai School. After lunch, we took a short bus ride to the school and did some waiting around as the students were still taking their daily after-lunch naps. Then, a group of students had the chance to teach English to 1st, 3rd, and 4th graders. (The rest of them were supposed to be making decorations for these classrooms, but the supplies fell through a little, so they were able to communicate with a 6th grade class for a short period of time). The students were able to reflect on how difficult it was for their teachers to do their jobs with students who seem uninterested, unengaged, and talkative. When several people (including me) questioned what use a 50-minute session with untrained students could do, Bonnie reminded us that all the English that the Guang Ai students know are learned from volunteers like us.

Our students wondered what type of child lives and learns at Guang Ai. It’s different from an orphanage, because it has the necessary conditions and heart to accept older students who would not be supported by a traditional orphanage; it’s different from a boarding school, which would be unequipped to deal with the needs of abandoned children. Bonnie shared with us the story of the school’s creation. The principal, Shi Qinghua’s neighbor had illegal fireworks to store on the top floor, and one day they sparked and caused a severe explosion disfiguring Mr. Shi's wife and son at home. So their village raised some money for them to go to Beijing to seek treatment for their scars, but the money quickly ran out. Shi Qinghua and his family were homeless, but 7 boys who were also on the street helped them, and at the end, the family was able to get media attention and therefore more money and help. But Shi Qinghua wanted to give back to the boys who had helped him, and that was how Guang Ai School started.

Anyway, after teaching, YingHua students were asked to clear a path along the back of the building (between the building and the school's back wall) that has been used as a “track” for the Guang Ai students’ morning run. The path was partially covered by weeds and littered garbage from years of neglegence. Even Bonnie was taken aback when she first saw it and was not sure what the students' reaction would be when they saw it. So she first took the "leadership team" to walk through it twice and suggested that they come up with a plan to divide-and-conquer the task.

Bonnie asked Zhang Laoshi of the Guang Ai School, who's also in charge of the academic program, to introduce the task to the students. Zhang Laoshi told the students that the current campus is much better that the one YingHua kids visited last year. However, when they first moved in, there were weeds everywhere due to years of neglengence. It was the students and the staff working together to pull all the weeds and level all the surface to create today's two basketball courts and a playground. They then used donated money to buy bricks to cover the playground surface and used professional help to set up the basketball courts. The students have been maintaining the campus themselves, e.g., keeping it mostly weed-free, but they have not done much to clear the path behind the building.

Zhang Laoshi also explained to our students that the school could not affort gloves so all the kids no matter how young had always been working with their bare hands and some most basic tools (such as shovels and brooms). She also said that she had heard great things about American youth - independent and hardworking and that she's expecting to see great results of their labor!

That set the tone for our kids in a very inspiring way. She then demonstrated to the kids how to pull weeds property (by pulling out roots) and let the kids started with pulling out the weeds. The leadership team initially had an idea for dividing the path into three sections, but quickly the YingHua kids just decided to do whatever was needed to clear the path. They were all busy pulling out the weeds. The building itself provided some shade making it a slightly better working condition than last year. Nevertheless it was hot and the task was tiring for our kids, who had hardly done anything like this.

Then a few Guang Ai kids came and put all the pulled weeds and garbage on a cart to the compost site.

It was tiring, dirty work, and thanks in particular to Justin and Pringgo for continuing their tireless labors until the last minute. Also, Narendra did a good job overcoming his aversion to all “dirty” things, and actually used his arms and hands to pick up weeds to put them in the cart.
We had dumplings for dinner before coming back to our hotel to rest. The walking distance between the school and the hotel is less than 20 minutes.

Today, we went to the “wild” Great Wall (one not really open to tourists and that has not really been maintained) with a group of 16 Guang Ai students. Because of a misunderstanding about the size of the bus, a group of 6 Guang Ai students were actually unable to come with us, and we also got a pretty late start. The hike took around 2 hours and 40 minutes (~2.5 miles) including 3 breaks. The trail  consisted of almost continuous ups and downs with no flat areas, and some of the sections we hiked were covered with slippery sand. Although there was no real danger, many of the unsuspected and inexperienced students fell on the slippery surface. Sarah probably fell the most, and said that her Guang Ai partner’s help during the hike "saved her life." Thanks to Remy, Tatum, Evita, and Narendra for sharing the supplies (e.g., bandaid) before the teacher arrived.

Our students were all impressed and a little jealous of how in-shape the Guang Ai students were — they were full of energy and always ready to go after breaks, and didn’t complain. In addition, the older kids took care of the younger kids, making Julia reflect that she’s thankful that she has time to be a kid instead of being responsible for others. Several students noticed the Guang Ai students’ seeming fearlessness when they stood on narrow ledges, and wondered what kind of life they had in order to be so fearless.

We had a very late lunch with the Guang Ai students. Wang Laoshi bought bananas for the students before lunch. At the lunch tables, we sat the YingHua students with their partners. Later several of our students reflected that a common language and culture is not a prerequisite for communication, and that as long as you try hard, you can make friends. Bonnie reminded a table to let the Guang Ai students eat first, as they really don’t have the chance to eat in a restaurant, or even eat much meat, since it’s expensive. However, by some sort of politeness ritual or for various other reasons, they didn’t want to eat first either. Students at my table as well as one other solved this problem by putting food on the Guang Ai students’ plates. This action was reciprocated—another type of communication that doesn’t require words.

Tomorrow, we will once again go to Guang Ai to help with various projects and teach various things (basketball, yoyo, etc).  Our leadership team (Rebecca, Sarah, Julia, Jamie, Karen, Eileen, and Alex) will help us design activities and assign groups, and become more involved with the scheduling this week.

Rachel & Bonnie


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