No Matter Rich or Poor, You Can Do Good if You Want to…

I think the essence of “do good” is just DO it, even if it is not much.

Series: Dreams in Action

“A homeless person came said to us: ‘I really want to help them but I don’t have money now. When I have some, I will definitely help them’. And a taxi driver said: ‘I have my own parents and kids to take care of. I don’t want to help these children even it takes only one dollar.” — — Gina

Meet Gina

Gina comes from Changsha, Hunan. She came to the U.S. for high school in 2010 and is now studying at Columbia University in New York, majoring in social enterprise management. She likes traveling, clubbing, fitness, and all kinds of adventurous things. She’s leading a social enterprise that focuses on providing educational support for children in remote rural areas in China and it’s been eight years since she started her journey. Her favorite saying: “Kindness is so gangster.”

Gina first engaged in social work in 2011 when she went to Friendship Primary School in Shanjiang Town, Xiangxi and worked there as a volunteer teacher.

At that time, the country had not begun the poverty alleviation program, the living conditions in the village were very poor, and the school buildings were very shabby. The children were thin, dark, short, but very adorable. During those days I gave them English classes and Ethics class; I spent time playing with them and we built deep connections. But I felt it was really hard to actually help them. There were so many poor villages and children in the country yet there was so little that I could do. I felt confused and powerless.

Until half a year later, a photo taken by our photographer at the time went viral on Weibo unexpectedly, and I surprisingly found that so many people wanted to help those children left in the mountains, and before long there were organizations starting to raise funds to renovate school buildings and establish programs like “Dream center”, “Free Lunch”.

It was then I realized although my own power as an individual is very limited, I can build a bridge, calling for more people to pay attention and to do something to help.

Gina started a “One Dollar Kindness” project in high school, asking people for $1 at Times Square to help children in China.

Inspired by the reconstruction of Friendship Primary School at that time, I thought I as an international student should also do something overseas to fulfill my social responsibilities. So one afternoon in March, I buried myself at desk and wrote a proposal of a dozen pages, and then called some friends to go to the streets together and raise money for the left-behind children in China. We set the amount at “one dollar.” For an ordinary person, a dollar is not much, but it is approximately RMB 6.5, which is enough to do a lot for children in the mountains. I was very shy when I started asking for donations on the streets. I didn’t even know how to ask.

There was this homeless person with a bag of discarded bottles. He spent a long time lingering around our donation spot, and he looked at the pictures and introductions of the children very closely. Then he said to us: “I really want to help them but I don’t have money now. When I have some, I will definitely help them. ”

There was also a taxi driver who said to us when he realized we were asking for donations: “I have my own parents and kids to take care of. I don’t want to help these children even it takes only one dollar.

Gina led volunteers to go into the rural areas in the mountains 7 times and she calls herself “child of the mountain”.

We use our spare time in holidays to go into the mountains and spend time with children there, teaching them some knowledge and social skills and values. The courses we give include some fundamental courses (health & safety, ethics & morality, sex education, science, cultural customs, etc.), art & sport courses (music, dance, P.E., art, calligraphy, etc.), innovation courses (leadership development, “growing up a happy girl”, career dreams). We would also play with the children after class, visit their homes, get to know their growth environment, and do some basic research work.

One little boy I met there three years ago has left a deep impression on me. When we first met, he was running around the classroom, coughing, pretending to faint, drawing attention from all the volunteers. One day I was giving a child next to him some disinfectant for a cut, he saw it and picked his scar himself and let me treat him. My guess then was he wanted the same care I gave to others. Another day it was raining heavily, he stood in the playground getting all drenched and refused to leave until we came with an umbrella to pick him up. At first, I was a little annoyed by these actions because honestly, I don’t like children who consistently ask for too much attention. But on the next day, I found he was still wearing the same clothes that were totally soaked in the rain the day before, and at that moment I felt something else.

This boy grew up with her grandmother as his father was not around since he was little and his mother was mentally ill. I didn’t know much about psychology then but later I learned this child might have a tendency of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If such children don’t receive adequate help or treatment when they were young, there is a high chance they will encounter more problems in developing a healthy personality in the future. I really hope more people would pay attention to children like this little boy, not just focus on the “promising” students with good grades.

Are those remote rural areas in the mountains really that poor and underdeveloped as people would often imagine?

The schools in the mountains I saw were not all dilapidated, dirty, or underdeveloped as people would imagine. In fact, with the support of the government, many schools already have a decent learning environment, and the school is likely to be the best building in the village. What is really lacking is the teacher. Since the location is remote, the pay and the living condition is not satisfying, very few people are willing to stay to teach. And many children don’t have access to courses other than Chinese, math, some basic English, and morality.

Another issue is sanitation. When I was there, especially in winter, there was no running water because it was too cold, so I couldn’t take a bath. Using the toilet was also a big challenge because there were no sewers, and most people were using a pit toilet at home, which was full of maggots. I had to hold my breath every time and never dared to look down.

The living conditions at children’s homes were not good either. Many children are still living in dilapidated houses; the electric circuits are a mess, which is a serious danger. Many children have no toilets at home, no running water, and the lights are very dim.

Gina thinks what students really need there are curriculums customized to their needs, and teachers who are willing to stay.

The lack of educational resources is mostly reflected in the lack of preschool education and essential-qualities-oriented education. Without good preschool education, children don’t have the chance to discover their talents and potentials at an early stage. Then after they get into school, the exam-oriented system gives them very limited space to develop their own interests, and many children would struggle because they can’t get high scores in exams. Then they may choose to give up their education and start working at a young age. I believe if these children could have the chance to develop their own interests and talents, it will make a huge difference for their future.

Gina is now leading a social enterprise to help children in the mountains and volunteers who are interested in teaching there.

We hope to “bring a diverse world to the children in the mountains, and bring simplicity and honesty back to the city. We are currently providing support for volunteer tour in those rural areas and international volunteer programs. We have sent three groups of volunteers to continuously develop an essential-qualities-oriented curriculum for children in Gaoyan Primary School, setting up courses in reading, art, and games. We are also working on building children’s multi-functional learning spaces. We are implementing the architectural design in collaboration with a design team in Guangzhou and planning to raise funds for construction.

In the long run, our mission is to promote the transformation towards essential-qualities-oriented education in rural areas in China so that every child has equal opportunities to learn. Our vision is to gradually establish a rural economic complex, starting with poverty alleviation through education.

For Gina, “helping others” has transformed from a hobby to a career with a cause.

I want to help more children in the mountains access quality educational opportunities and resources. Many of my friends would compliment me when they know about my work, but they would also say something like they could not do such work until they achieve some kind of “success”. But I think the essence of “do good” is just DO it, even if it is not much. No matter where you are, what social status you have, you can just do it if you are willing to.

The experience of studying abroad broadened Gina’s horizons and let her see more issues that need to be addressed.

I think the special education system in the U.S. is very advanced, and such a system has not been very well established in China. When I was interning in a public elementary school in the U.S., I learned that if a student has some special psychological or social behavior issues, a teacher would keep track of their status and give individual counseling and intervention after class. This is also one of the federal policies called IEP (Individualized Education Plan). I also think the education system here is very concerned about children’s social-emotional intelligence, which is important for helping children integrate into a community and a society.

Our domestic education is still more exam-oriented, not paying adequate attention to the mental health development of a child. There is still very little individualized counseling or support for children in China, and the so-called counseling room at school is often just an empty shell. I think this is something we should really work on.

Gina’s advice for other (future) social workers and social entrepreneurs:

  • Learn more, to proactively acquire knowledge in the related areas, especially about social innovation.
  • Look more, to analyze and understand how other organizations work, then figure out a solution based on your own strengths.
  • Do more, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Many successful and sustainable models are the result of continuous experiment and improvement.

Editor: Yinong | Translator: Yinong
Originally published on Feb. 4th, 2019
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