Background: In July, Angela Fan, a grade 10 student at HKIS, participated in an English and Leadership Camp , a 3-day event facilitated by CWEF (Concordia Welfare & Education Foundation) and EMBER in Deqing in western Guangdong Province, China. The aim of the program is to empower girls who have received CWEF scholarships to see themselves as individuals engaged in the community rather than mere passive recipients of charity.
I love listening to life experiences. I love looking at people’s faces and their reactions while they’re telling their stories. Listening to the girls on this summer trip made me feel worthy because they could trust me with their stories. They could open their heart and feel comfortable around me.
We played a game called “Into the Fire,” where the ten most valuable things in our lives were written down on pieces of paper. We had to give these things up one by one, by throwing them into a figurative fire. At the end, everyone was left with the one most important thing in their lives.
It was a quiet night. I took a group of 10 students that I worked with the most, went outside, and sat on the cold floor in a circle. Every one of them looked so happy, and it gave a sense of warmth to the atmosphere. I was unsure of how this activity would go, but I gave it a shot anyway. Since they didn’t really understand the rules of this activity, I started first, and eventually they caught up. We went around the circle, ripping papers, throwing them into the fire, and explaining reasons why it was among their 10 most valuable things in their lives. The last piece from each one of them was the one that made me tear up and realize reality as it truly is. I was expecting something like “family,” “money,” or “happiness,” but I was completely wrong. I was struck by their stories, and somewhat ashamed of myself. One by one, the girls explained the most important thing in their lives:
- “Eyes – because without them, you could never see what’s around you and how beautiful the world is.”
- “Art – because last year, the school had an art class and that’s where I met my closest friends. In that class, I was able to express my feelings through drawing and share my feelings with my friends. However, they graduated, and I miss them so much. Now the school doesn’t have an art class anymore, and all I have are memories.”
- “Traveling out of Deqing – because I want to be able to see what’s outside of this small city. I want to be able to help the less fortunate, especially in Africa. They don’t have clean drinking water. I’d like to see the world, but that’s out of my reach.”
- “To gain more knowledge – because with knowledge, I can be successful and make a difference. I can get a better job, so I can repay my parents who used all their energy working to provide a better lifestyle for my siblings and I.”
Unconsciously, teardrops rolled down my cheeks. Even the story tellers were crying, because it was so hard for them. While I had seen in pictures and videos the less fortunate people that now surrounded me, it had always seemed surreal. But in this moment that wall of separation vanished, allowing me to see the world as it really is.
Sometimes people ask me, “What’s the point of doing service?” On this summer trip for the first time in my life I experienced the reality of life for girls like myself who grew up in far more difficult circumstances. Despite their poverty, they had so much to offer. I feel indebted to them for the lessons they taught me about humility and beauty.