Over the Easter holiday, a small group from HKIS journeyed to Deqing town, an 8-hour drive from Hong Kong, to make a short film to support a girls scholarship fund run by the Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation. This film will be shown at “Solstice,” the April 28th fashion show, the proceeds of which will go to support girls like Chan Man Jan above. The cost of sponsoring one girl’s tuition for a year of high school is 3000 HK ($380 US). The show’s organizers hope to raise enough money to allow more than 20 girls to receive a full three-year high school education.
Nicola Ho, HKIS sophomore, Dolphin Liu, CWEF’s Guangdong manager, and my parents Allan and Sandy Schmidt, joined Josh and myself on a 3-day adventure to interview scholarship recipients.
“If you want to change the world, invest in an adolescent girl.”
– From Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economics, p. xiv.
Our Canadian videographer, Josh, looked into the camera and quietly nodded. Elaine, dressed in her sporty green and white school uniform, directed her gaze into the lens and began in English, “Do you eat rice? Do you know where your rice comes from?” Then gesturing behind her with an extended right arm, she continued, “This is my family’s rice field.”
Elaine is a year two student at Fragrant Mountain High School (香山中學), the most prestigious school in the Deqing area. Every holiday Elaine makes the two-hour journey home to visit her father and her three younger siblings. We first interviewed her father, a well-built man with only the first hints of graying hair, and learned that he has unsteady work in the village and does not earn a regular income. Knowing the traditional Chinese preference for boys, we asked how he felt about his eldest daughter receiving an education. He gave his full support, remarking, “she can get a doctorate if she wants.” He concluded, “The scholarship program helps us greatly.”
Then we interviewed Elaine. Standing on a foot path leading to the rice fields, Elaine explained that her happiest memories growing up in this remote village involved sitting around the dinner table eating and sharing the day’s events with her family. Although we knew her story, we also needed to ask her to share painful memories. Somberly she recalled how just last school year she struggled to maintain her high marks in the high school pressure-cooker when her mother became sick. Later in the year her mother succumbed to cancer, multiplying the family’s financial burden.
Elaine has always received high grades and currently is a top English student at her school. She hopes to someday become a translator or an English teacher. But without CWEF’s help, Elaine and others like her could be forced to make the difficult decision to give up on their dreams and take a job in a city – selling shoes, giving foot massages, or delivering pizza – to help the family make ends meet.
When another scholarship recipient whose English name is Sally was asked about her future dreams, she responded, “My Mom has worked so hard to help me get an education. I want to get a good job, so I can give my Mom a good life.” With her high marks and clear English, we feel confident that our support for Sally now will enable her to keep her promise to her mother in the future. (To learn more about her family, see an earlier blog entry from summer, 2011 here.)
During the trip, we also visited with a young woman named Ocean, one of the five Fragrant Hill graduates that CWEF now supports in a newly formed university program. Ocean has recently completed her studies from Zhaoqing University (肇慶學院) with a degree in primary school education, and a concentration in Chinese language. Ocean, whose mother has struggled with health issues throughout the five years we’ve known her, has already started work as a teacher at the best primary school in the city of Zhaoqing. Her “transformation,” as Dolphin Liu describes her growth, from a high school student to a professional teacher has been profound. In our interview with Ocean, she spoke about bringing active participation and even service-learning – themes emphasized in CWEF’s once-a-month leadership academy held at Xiang Shan high school – to her classroom.
As the group prepared to leave Deqing, we stopped by a shop advertising the calligraphy skills of an older grey-haired Chinese gentleman. We asked him to write a traditional four-character expression befitting our charity fashion show. After some discussion, he took out his thick brush and black ink and wrote on two large red sheets, “Those who give away roses are left with fragrant hands.” The symbolism was hard to miss: the sweet spirits of “Fragrant Mountain” high school students like Elaine, Sally, and Ocean are an abundant by-product of their desire to give to their families and to Chinese society.
If you would like to donate to CWEF’s girls scholarship fund, please contact Marty Schmidt (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Zella Talbot (email@example.com). Your donation will enable more talented, but underprivileged girls to gain an education.
Note: I borrowed the term the girl effect from the popular video clip by this name. The website on the girl effect has many resources for research about this topic. For example, the site contains a report entitled, “Girls Grow: A Vital Force in Rural Economics,” which records as their first recommendation: “Expand opportunities for rural adolescent girls to attend secondary school” (p. 45).
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