Once upon a time in China
Danielle Sendou Ringgit
One of the greatest pleasures in life is to wake up early on a chilly morning while it is still raining outside and then going back to sleep after realising you still have a few hours before you really have to wake up.
For the children of Xinmin village, China, sleeping in is not an option. As school starts at 9 in the morning, one can only imagine the children getting out of bed, hair still tousled from sleep, groggily rubbing their eyes before getting ready to set off on a four-hour walk from home to school. All without a single complaint.
Deeply amazed by the children’s perseverance and how they could still maintain a cheerful attitude, Kuala Lumpur-born Jianzhang Liang had accompanied the children to their school on top of a mountain and back again one day to experience the daily routine of the children in Xinmin village.
During his six-week visit to China last year as part of an AIESEC exchange programme, in which he spent three weeks in the rural village of Xinmin in the Guizhou province, Liang’s experience could only be described as absolutely rewarding and priceless.
To get to the village itself, Liang and four other AIESEC members and six volunteers from China had to travel three days by train where they would spend their time dedicating their knowledge and energy to helping the children in school.
Their group made up of 10 volunteers were divided into three teams, with his four-member team including volunteers from the UK, Indonesia, and Taiwan.
Located in a rural area, most of the children in the village live with their grandparents while their parents have migrated to a city near Guangzhou to earn money. Liang added that the parents could only afford to return to the village to visit once a year, which was during Chinese New Year, maintaining contact by phone.
When not in school, the children carry out chores around the village. But children will always be children. During his first visit to the village, the children could not help but be curious and excited to see a group of strangers in their school and probably wondering what they were doing there.
During his time spent with the children in school, Liang and the other members of AIESEC as well as the volunteers got an insight of what the children learnt and did in school besides interacting with them.
While describing his experience during his time in the village, Liang was clearly enthusiastic and passionate about what he did with the children. He remembered fondly how attentive and responsive the children were when they conducted lessons in the classrooms and how hyped they were playing games, singing songs and their visits to the children’s village.
Every morning the AIESEC members and the China volunteers would conduct morning exercises with the children in the schoolyard which they clearly enjoyed.
To start off their lessons, they began with a simple introductory use of English language. Instead of the regular routine where students sat listening dutifully to the teacher in class, the AIESEC members and volunteers chose an alternative and fun way to encourage the children to participate in the lesson by having them sing along to nursery rhymes such as ‘London Bridge is falling down’ to help them understand the meaning of the words and also with their pronunciations.
When it was time for lunch, the children were served potatoes and rice. According to Liang, the menu has been the same over the past two years.
From Mondays to Saturdays throughout their three-week stay, the members and volunteers dutifully conducted their lessons with the children until four in the evening. Thereafter, they would go down to the village from the school where they had been staying throughout their visit to spend some quality time with the villagers.
Expressing his sadness and sympathy for the villagers, Liang said that the children could only change their clothes once a week.
Even though Sundays were supposed to be their days off, it seemed that the children enjoyed their company so much they even came to visit the AIESEC members and volunteers at the school they stayed at without fail just so they could meet up and play together.
AIESEC which stands for Association internationale des étudiants en sciences économiques et commerciales (International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences) in French is the world‘s largest youth run organisation with over 86, 000 members spreading across 124 countries and territories.
For over 65 years, the international not-for-profit organisation has been facilitating youth leadership activities as well as international internships and volunteer experiences, to create a global learning environment and opportunities for organisations to engage and interact with the global youth network to drive innovative thinking.
Starting last year, Liang who is currently a second-year economics student from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) decided to establish a Kuching-based AIESEC group after he attended the largest national conference, Malaysia Leadership Development Seminar (MyLDS) at Universiti Malaya (UM) last year which addressed the topic of leadership and how one could bring a positive impact to society.
Feeling motivated and inspired by a lot of passionate leaders during the conference, the founder of the Kuching-based AIESEC group initially recruited a team of ten members – all from UNIMAS – to analyse Kuching and see how way AIESEC would be needed in the local community.
Today they have more than 30 members and counting. When asked about upcoming projects, Liang said that his group will be going to China, Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Europe this summer break.
So, if you think you would like to make a difference across the world by reaching out to others, the Kuching-based AIESEC group is looking for more members who are students or those who have graduated within the last two years to join.
To know more about AIESEC, visit their website at: http://www.aiesec.my/ or their facebook fan page at: https://www.facebook.com/AIESECinMalaysia