One Week, Three Goals, Endless Memories at "Tulou"
One Week, Three Goals, Endless Memories at "Tulou"

March 23rd to March 30th was the Project Week for students of the graduating class of UWC Changshu China. They went to different parts of China to engage in various projects that they arranged by themselves focusing on themes such as service, Chinese cultural exploration and fact finding. This forms an important part of UWC education, which embodies the education philosophy of “Learning by doing.” 

Content

In this issue, Solveig Hillestad from Norway shared her experience during one week stay at Tulou, in the mountainous area of Fujian Province. She and her friends not only explored the culture of local village, but also helped design a curriculum for the local kindergarten, drew beautiful wall paintings and built a patio for the volunteer centre. It was one of the most meaningful and memorable experience during her two years as a foreign student in China.

 

I have always wondered if my almost two years in China as a foreign student had provided me with enough insight into this grand and vast country. A week in a Tulou in Fujian convinced me that there is still so much to see and explore.   The experience is enormously different from the small bubble that is UWC Changshu China.

  • Tulou

 

A Tulou is a circular earthen building, known for its unconventional architecture exclusive to the southeastern Province of Fujian. The majority of these Tulous were built between the 13th and 20th century and is part of the Hakka culture.

 

These buildings are truly well thought out structures - once providing protection and security they are now a tool in creating a close community and a village meeting point. In the Tulou that my group and I were lucky enough to visit, there was a small library, a kitchen, a gym/projector/canteen, and a tea room. The eight families living in this Tulou have their homes on the second floor, while utilizing the ground floor facilities during day time. Upon arrival, it became very clear to the entire group that this lifestyle had been highly successful in creating a tight, welcoming and warm community in the Tulou and the village surrounding it.

  • View of the Tulou

 

This welcoming spirit was one of the very first things that struck me when arriving at our temporary home late Saturday evening. I barely managed to get off the bus before the manager of the girls' house (and our closest neighbour) held my arm with a fast grip and led me to our room for the week. I had my first dinner in the kitchen with the vegetarians, then I got to meet the incredible women who would cook for us that week. That night, I also went to bed feeling like I had truly set foot in a very special place.

 

The next day, we all woke up after a much needed 10-hour sleep ready to take on the day. The plan for this day was simply to just walk around and get to know the village - and it was when doing so that the feeling I had when going to bed the night before was confirmed. Everywhere we walked, there were happy children running around. Through the open windows and doors, we saw countless smiles and welcoming faces. The spirit of this place seemed to be an ad for a 1950s neighbourhood. It was in particular the children that made me feel this way. It seemed to me that they were all friends regardless of age or gender, which is a stark contrast to the neighbourhood I grew up in where the grade-hierarchy  ruled. They were all either running or biking around together, trying their best to interact with us despite our sub par mandarin abilities. Shyness was really not a concern and at the end of the week we had all made some new friends.

  • Author (Left ) with her friends at Tulou

 

The village is also faced with some problems. It is located in a very rural area which means that most of the adults go to work in the city and leave their children with their grandparents. There is therefore a very noticeable lack of anyone between the ages of 15 to 60 around the village. Those who decide to stay, mostly take on underpaid jobs, if paid at all, and face a large limitation of resources. There is one local kindergarten in the village which currently has 13 students enrolled from 3 to 8 years old. Teachers in this village work for free and have no related education.

 

However, a quick visit to the kindergarten really impressed me and the rest of our group. Having been to other schools in China during DP1 Project Week and through Zhi Xings, the apparent creativity and colours of this place stood out to us all. There were art works hanging from the roof and on the walls, and it became clear that creativity was one of the main areas of focus in this kindergarten. It reminded me a lot of my own primary school, so when they asked who wanted to work with the teachers in designing a new curriculum, my hand went up pretty fast.

 

The following afternoon was full of hope and inspiration. I sat down with the rest of my group and started the outline of what would later become a pretty detailed and complex curriculum, full of English-learning and collaboration. We decided to allocate one topic we wanted to teach the kids about to each month in a school year. The topics ranged from Love to Talents, and when we introduced this idea to the teachers, they loved it. We all went to dinner that evening filled with joy for the week that was to come.

  • Kindergarten wall painting

 

The village is also faced with some problems. It is located in a very rural area which means that most of the adults go to work in the city and leave their children with their grandparents. There is therefore a very noticeable lack of anyone between the ages of 15 to 60 around the village. Those who decide to stay, mostly take on underpaid jobs, if paid at all, and face a large limitation of resources. There is one local kindergarten in the village which currently has 13 students enrolled from 3 to 8 years old. Teachers in this village work for free and have no related education.

 

However, a quick visit to the kindergarten really impressed me and the rest of our group. Having been to other schools in China during DP1 Project Week and through Zhi Xings, the apparent creativity and colours of this place stood out to us all. There were art works hanging from the roof and on the walls, and it became clear that creativity was one of the main areas of focus in this kindergarten. It reminded me a lot of my own primary school, so when they asked who wanted to work with the teachers in designing a new curriculum, my hand went up pretty fast.

 

The following afternoon was full of hope and inspiration. I sat down with the rest of my group and started the outline of what would later become a pretty detailed and complex curriculum, full of English-learning and collaboration. We decided to allocate one topic we wanted to teach the kids about to each month in a school year. The topics ranged from Love to Talents, and when we introduced this idea to the teachers, they loved it. We all went to dinner that evening filled with joy for the week that was to come.

  • "Tiger" patio

 

We are now working on setting up a system of online English tutoring in the village through our schools online teaching Zhi Xing PVO, and we hope that will be up and running in the near future. We are also slowly starting our fundraising - with the first step of selling some very fashionable hats the children made themselves. Our dream is that next year, the next generation of UWC-CSCers can visit the village in their project week and work with the kids in the brand new computer room.

 

After this week, I am filled with peace, hope, and gratefulness. It was an insight into a part of China I did not know at all, a reminder of the power of willpower and a boost of energy.

 

To the people of our new Fujian home,  our hosts for the week: a big thank you to you all.

Author: Solveig Hillestad, Norway

Photo: Chloe ten Brink, Belgium

Video: Jùlia Vieira Branco, Portugal