Project week in Nantai
Project week in Nantai

March 25 to March 31 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 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”. 

 

In this issue, Tony Wang shared his experience and reflection working with “Serve for China” an NGO founded by Chinese graduates from Yale University and Harvard University aiming at creating a sustainable impact in rural China.  This year is the second year students of UWC Changshu China worked with "Serve for China".

Content

Feeling the warmth of the flame passing through my finger tip, I sat there by the campfire and listened, carefully, to the stories that people shared from back then. This moment reminded me of the campfire gathering three years ago, across the earth under an equally starry night. I enjoyed those genuine ideas and stories that people shared as young and passionate UWCers in Global Leadership Forum of UWCUSA and I thought UWC was all about that genuineness, freedom, and caring at that time.

  • Group photo

 

Now, as a senior at UWCCSC, after all the sleepless nights stuck in between IB and everything else, I finally retrieved that same feeling of being free and enjoying life. It is not fair to say that this feeling of being UWC (the very first impression) came too late at this crossroad of life where you need to say goodbye to people who you might never see for the rest of your life; rather, what I have learned from these two years of experience is that by getting busy and being caring, you are at least doing something good, something beneficial to the cause.

  • At the hilltop for a bird's eye view of the village

 

For this year’s Project Week, we connected with Serve For China (SFC), an NGO founded by Chinese graduates from Yale University and Harvard University which aims at bringing remote and less developed villages out of poverty through business development. Our group of 17 from 10 different countries and regions, went to Nantai village which is on the boarder of three provinces—Guizhou, Chongqing, and Hunan. Our mission of this trip is to promote local tourism through connecting Nantai to the story of Biancheng (Biancheng is also the name of the book written by the famous writer Shen Congwen), developing tourist hiking routes, helping with the plantation and coming up with a more eco-friendly business plan. 

  • Making hiking paths

 

Considering the number of tasks and limited time we had, we divided ourselves into two groups. I was in the hiking group in which we were to fix the three hiking routes that the local SFC suggested and put up direction signs along the way. When experiencing the hiking routes for the first time, we were challenged by the difficulty of walking in the mountains and also surprised by the amount of trash in the mountains. For the convenience and safety of future tourists, we focused on building the stairs along the muddy slopes as they can get extremely dangerous during rain seasons. Also, ever since the first day of work, we carried a trash bag wherever we go to clean up along the trip.

 

The construction work was demanding but everyone was so ready to spend hours under the sun, carrying rocks and picking up trash through thorns. 

  • A short break after work (author, 4th from the right )

 

Aside from the labor-intensive work we did, we also tried to contribute something unique, something UWC. Impressed by the breath-taking view from the mountain top, we were also worried about the impact we were bringing to the village and the nature. Although the purpose of the trip and the SFC program was to develop local businesses, we didn’t want to see Nantai following the same path as in many other villages where traditional culture gets destroyed and the environment deteriorates through economic development. Throughout the week, we tried to find and discuss the potential businesses that the villagers can do without harming the environment. At the end, we made an eco-friendly development model proposal to Serve For China organization with the intention to share our experiences and maintain this joint effort to help the village in the long term. 

 

During our project week, we were very impressed by the passion that SFC volunteers have to make changes and improve people’s life in rural villages like Nantai. What truly distinguishes them is the fact that they are barely three or four years older than us but they are willing to devote three years of the best time in their life to this cause. Also, we got to know that there are many other groups of students coming to Nantai trying to contribute to the local development. Encouraging as it is, we were also concerned about some issues that may exist in these types of programs. Take the one-week program as an example: volunteers usually need a few days to get used to the local environment and learn about the local situation. If the village does not appear or function as expected, which usually happens as little information is available about these remote villages, the volunteers need to remake the plan and that would waste a lot of time. As such, it's difficult for short-term programs to do much efficient and meaningful work. To solve this problem, we made the following proposals to SFC: (1) Connect with certain schools and make this short-term program an annual activity so that the efforts can be continued; (2) Invite all the participants to upload resources (including pictures, videos and reflections) on to a shared platform so that the following groups would be better informed and make better preparations in advance.

  • With "Serve for China" volunteers at Biancheng Station

 

Of course, to ourselves, this trip has also been an amazing bonding experience for us the graduation class. It also acts as a reminder to us of living UWC mission and values outside school and in the future.

 

Our group supervisor, Rajarshi Roy from India, also enjoyed the project week, and his feelings were shared by all the foreign students in the group. "Overall, it was a wonderful experience to have a glimpse of rural China. The village gave us a wonderful communal feeling with everyone greeting each other as they passed by and never was a smile not returned by another. Language was the barrier for me and many others to get to know more about the village . An exciting dip into their culture and tradition was to taste the local food and to know how ‘tofu’ is made from soybeans. The host family extended every possible support during our stay and took us on the trip down to Biancheng, allowing us to connect with the story of one of the best selling novels of the same title authored by Congwen Shen.”