A Very Thought-Provoking Trip
Charity lies at the heart of Yew Chung International School of Beijing. Seeds of Hope, our foundation-wide charity established in the wake of the Sichuan Earthquake, continues to grow and change the lives of children less fortunate than our own.
For the past school year, YCIS Beijing has been raising funds for the first Seeds of Hope project to take place outside of China. In partnership with Kids International Ministries (KIM), our funds for Seeds of Hope have been going towards the construction of a much-needed Secondary school in Manila, the Philippines.
In the second-to-last week of term, fourteen YCIS Beijing students from Years 6 and 7 set off to Manila to lend a helping hand with the initial stages of the project, and meet some of the children who will be benefiting from the new school.
“I have so many thoughts about this trip”, said Mr Casey Fanning, who accompanied the students along with Ms Rachel Li. “I haven’t had time to process everything, but it really was an astonishing experience – very humbling, very thought-provoking. The things that we saw will stay with our students for a long time.”
Students were kept busy in a variety of ways during the five-day trip. They lent a hand with practical tasks such as cleaning and clearing rubbish. Some female students were invited to volunteer at the local pregnancy clinic, where KIM offers support to young, pregnant mothers who have little other help. Students volunteered at food distributions, where nutritious food was handed out to children and families. There was also time for helping out at the school during lessons, sightseeing and socialising with the local Philippine children.
“One of the most memorable moments of the trip came from our visit to one of the poorest areas of Manila” explained Mr Fanning. “We visited one of the city’s oldest landfill dumps, called Smokey Mountain. Here residents make their living by digging up old metal, wood and plastic and selling it for recycling. There was a very extreme level of poverty here. Barefooted children played amongst the trash, glass and sewage. Some were completely unclothed. I think our students weren’t expecting what they saw here. It really shed light on how fortunate we are, and made us think twice about what we value in our lives.”
“Another very memorable moment came when we were helping with a food distribution, and we actually ran out of food. Children were coming up to us with cups, and we had nothing to give them. This was very humbling – we have such an abundance of food back home. We have a school canteen with so much choice, we have so much food on our plates every day. But we had to tell children that there was nothing left. These kind of experiences make you think about what we have in a very different way.”
At the end of each day, the teachers led reflection hours with students. These were an important time to process the thoughts from the day and discuss some of the things that our students had been surprised by, challenged by and, of course, enjoyed too.
“We reflected on many things during our relatively short stay and the students shared some very mature thoughts. One girl commented how she had thought poverty came down to lack of education and some of the decisions that we make. However, meeting the people in Manila, she had come to realise that poverty is more about where you are born, life’s lottery, than anything within our control.”
Students also had the opportunity to hang out with the Philippine students, and this itself was an important lesson. Even when lives our lives are so very different, our students were all pleased to find much in common with their Philippine peers.
“It sounds clichéd when people observe how those with the least are often the most fulfilled” said Mr Fanning. “We cannot deny that their lives were hard and at times filled with struggle. But almost every student commented on the happiness of the people we met, and I think there is an important lesson in this. It is not our worldly possessions that bring us real happiness. Happiness comes from the things that money can’t buy – things like relationships.”
This is the first of what Mr Fanning hopes will be bi-annual or annual trips to the Philippines. There was much for our students to learn, but most importantly there is still more for our students to give back.
“Lessons aside, this trip is fundamentally about giving. It’s about being charitable and helping others. If there is one thing I hope our students can take away with them, it is about the importance of charity. We are very lucky individuals, and we also have the power to help others. I hope that every student who comes through YCIS Beijing can be made aware of this and can put their good fortune to good use.”