What can bring together rich and poor, Caucasians and Asians, local people and international jet-setters, young and old, people of strong religious convictions and those without, together into a harmonious and purposeful group? The answer: the universal desire to offer hope to the next generation, especially young women.
On February 21-23 a diverse group of 15 students and 3 teachers from HKIS, 8 seminarians, 3 members of Church of All Nations, and CWEF‘s Executive Director, Iantha Scheiwe, took off on Friday afternoon from Hong Kong and traveled 8 hours northwest to one of the poorer counties in Guangdong Province called Deqing.
While we did many activities with the girls to bolster their language skills – English lessons, speeches, poetry, and singing- the underlying purpose was to encourage these scholarship winners to remain hopeful and energetic in pursuit of their goals. The girls are all capable, having passed the national high school entrance exam, which permits them to study in the best school in the county. However, without the scholarship, the financial burden of the tuition cost, approximately $400 US, would force the girls to either quit school and enter the work force prematurely, or cause their families to be driven deeper into debt. Many of the girls’ families already have health issues to contend with that exacerbate the typical rural poverty that is endemic to this hilly region of northwest Guangdong Province.
One of the highlights of the weekend was to give the Deqing girls an experience with community service. Just as HKIS students find reaching out beyond their general circle of concern to focus on the needs of others to be not only rewarding, but even therapeutic , so too did the scholarship girls find that an afternoon visit to a local special needs school is an uplifting experience. The girls want to be more than recipients of other people’s gifts; they want “pay it forward” as well.
At the special needs school, students had the opportunity to play ping pong with a gold medal winner of the 2008 Para-Olympics in Beijing who is from Deqing. Students only won one point. Julia (pictured below) was able to slam an overhead winner past the world champion!
On Sunday morning, the Hong Kong group had the rare and precious opportunity of visiting homes of the girls, and to wish their families success in the coming year. These home visits helped the Hong Kong visitors to experience the living conditions of the scholarship winners, and to understand the challenges that families face, despite the close family bonds that are often evident.
One of the unique features of this trip was that two freshmen HKIS boys, Parker and Jordan, wrote and recorded a song dedicated to the girls. During the weekend the boys filmed some of the girls singing the song and collected additional footage. In weeks to come, the two boys will combine the video with their recording to produce what is hoped will be a moving tribute to the girls, and will also serve as a fundraiser to extend the dream of an education to other deserving girls in the area.
The presence of seminarians from Lutheran Theological Seminary also added a special dimension to the group’s experience. Thanks to the support of Church of All Nations, students from Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia, and US were able to join this trip. The trip allowed the seminarians to consider how young students can be easily motivated to contribute to the needs of others, if only given the opportunity to personally participate in a meaningful cause. The seminarian students also have the opportunity to consider how service learning can be an effective ministry involving international students.
One seminarian shared in a debriefing session on Saturday night that her family had struggled with poverty in her early years, but that the support of a World Vision program enabled her to receive an education. Now enrolled in a doctoral program at Lutheran Theological Seminary, her purposeful engagement teaching the scholarship winners spoke of her desire to pass on the hope that she had been given in her formative years to the next generation of Chinese girls.